Understanding the Context

I inherited a large tool chest from my dad. He had been a tool salesman, so it was packed with goodies. I had always loved working on cars and other things as a kid. So I knew that tool chest well and relished everything in it. Almost. A couple of items defied understanding. One of them had a long t-handle and a swiveling head with teeth like a vise grip. Several times I considered tossing it to make space for real tools. The head flopped too much to grasp anything. Besides, I had a box full of pliers and sockets to tighten or loosen anything I could ever imagine.

A few years later, I laid on my back cramped under a new kitchen sink. I had replaced the sink and now needed to install the faucets. Getting to those crazy nuts underneath was testing my sanctification. First one tool then another. All were either too long, too wide or too clumsy to get through that tight space around the faucet nuts. As I stared in frustration, wondering if anything would work, I remembered the strange tool shoved into the recesses of the chest. The long t-handle slipped through that tight space. The funky swiveling head aligned perfectly with the nuts. Those vise grip teeth eliminated any slippage. Five minutes later the faucet was flowing perfectly with no leaks. I had discovered the joy of a basin wrench. Once I saw the wrench in its proper context, I realized its value.

This issue of Dedicated addresses several contexts for ministry. Like a basin wrench, facets of our ministry must be seen in their proper context. Dr. Annette Harrison compares biblical metaphors for sin with their usage in contemporary context. She helps us to become better translators of biblical truth on sin to our changing culture.

Dr. Sam Baker shares his research on spiritual types. His work reminds Christian leaders that believers and churches have spiritual personality types. Churches, schools and families have developed patterns that serve as the primary means of growing in the Lord. His conclusions encourage us to insure our patterns of discipleship minister to the whole Christian.

Our reviews also help clarify contexts of current issues in biblical studies and in cross-cultural ministry. Dr. Gary Derickson reviews Interpreting the General Letters by Herbert Bateman and Five Views on the Historical Adam. Dr. Kent Kersey reviews another of Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Dr. Annette Harrison reviews Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.


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Speaking of Sin: Conceptual Metaphor and Cultural Divide


As Biblical scholars are well aware, no single Hebrew or Greek word in Scripture translates literally as the English word sin. Instead, the Biblical writers used the language of metaphor to illustrate the complex concept. As Christians, our understanding of sin, how we talk about it and our personal responses to it have been formed by metaphors drawn from the Biblical texts. In essence, we have absorbed some of the culture and language of the Biblical writers. It is a mark of community membership that most Christians are able to talk about and think about sin in the same or very similar ways.

Non-believers, however, belong to a different community. It is no secret that American society is becoming more secularized and religiously pluralistic. Thus, when we attempt to have spiritual conversations with people who do not share our assumptions and conceptualizations of faith, we meet cultural divides, barriers to communication. In order to share our faith, as Lamin Sannah argues, we must become translators.[1]

We are familiar with the need to avoid “Christianese,” and some are adept at expressing Biblical truths in contemporary language. But good translators must go beyond substituting a word in the source language for one in the target language. Good translators also study the culture and the conceptualizations of the source community – in this case the Biblical cultures and languages – and those of the target community, i.e., non-believers.

This article presents an exploration of Biblical metaphors of sin, the associated implications for responses to sin, and what this entails for clear communication of the Gospel. First, it is necessary to introduce conceptual metaphors and why they matter in translation. Next, I will review conceptual metaphors of sin familiar to Christians, and then consider how our non-believing friends and neighbors may be thinking and talking about sin using examples drawn from media sources. In the end, it is my hope that we will all become better translators, equipped to bridge cultural and conceptual divides as we faithfully communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Metaphors are not just for creative writing; they are the way we express complex ideas, perceive the world, and formulate plans and actions. Traditionally, a metaphor is a figure of speech that uses vocabulary from one area of experience to represent some facet of a more complex or more abstract issue, phenomenon or event. For example, “education is the key to success,” uses what we know about how keys lock and unlock doors to express the crucial role of education in achieving life goals.

While traditional metaphors are easily identifiable by their structure, Lakoff and Johnson describe a metaphor that is less easily recognized, a cognitive associative reasoning structure called a conceptual metaphor.[2]  Using data from everyday language, they argue that conceptual metaphors serve our understanding and analysis of complex issues. They illustrate how pervasive conceptual metaphor is in our speech, and ontologically therefore in our thoughts and reasoning. For example, “He attacked every weak point in my argument” expresses a perception of an argument as a battle between two sides. Lakoff and Johnson formulate the conceptual metaphor as argument is war, in the expression “attacked every weak point,” and then provocatively point out that were we part of a culture that conceptualized arguments as finely choreographed dances, our arguments would most likely be carried out very differently.[3]

Other scholars have confirmed these ideas, demonstrating that conceptual metaphors reflect and shape the very patterns of thought and verbal expression of our daily lives.[4] Tannen goes so far as to demonstrate that the widespread use of adversarial metaphor (like argument is war) results in adversarial behavior in the classroom, between genders, and in the legal system.[5] And a recent medical study of responses to metaphor during cancer treatment supports the claim that how we talk about cancer is related to the steps we are willing to take to either prevent it or to treat it.[6] Conceptual metaphors facilitate thought, perspective and verbal expression; they also affect our responses and actions.


Biblical writers did not all conceive of sin in the same way, as evidenced by the variation in vocabulary and accompanying metaphors. Many different Hebrew and Greek words are all rendered sin in our English translations, and so laypeople are mostly unaware of these differences. Expressions in Hebrew include: chata’ “to miss the mark,” aven “crooked or perverse,” ra’ “evil/violence breaking out.” [7] An important role of pastors and teachers is to help us understand the Biblical text and to help us learn the Biblical metaphors, which in turn teach us to think “Christianly” about sin.

For example, in Sunday School and in Church, we sing about how the blood of Jesus washes away our sins, the metaphor taught through the Hebrew kibbēs “to wash away sin.” We may also speak about the terrible burden that sinners bear, a reflection of the most frequent Old Testament phrase nāsā’ ăwōn “to bear or carry away a sin.” [8]

Greek expressions for sin include hamartia “to miss the mark; to err; to offend,” parabasis “trespass; to step across a line,” anomia “lawlessness, wickedness,” adikia “unrighteousness,” akatharsia “uncleanness, impurity,” and finally, apistia “unbelief.”

All of these expressions are metaphorical – their original uses and primary meanings were in archery, governing, cultic acts and philosophy. In essence, Biblical writers were using what they knew about how the world worked to illustrate and explain a concept for which there was no single term in their own language and no simple, single-faceted description for their immediate audience (and for audiences they could not have imagined). In doing so, they were building conceptual metaphors in the minds of their audience: sin is weight; sin is uncleanliness; sin is trespass; sin is lawlessness, etc.

Cognitively, once a conceptual metaphor has been established, additional reasoning and appropriate responses are associated with it. If sin is weight, we must lay it down (at the foot of the cross). If sin is uncleanliness, we look for a way to wash and be clean. If sin is trespass, we do our utmost to obey rules and follow guidelines. If sin is falling short (or missing the mark), then we have not done enough and we must try harder.  By speaking (and singing) about sin and the associated reasoning and response, members of a community reinforce and reify the conceptual metaphors. Ultimately, speakers cease to be consciously aware of the conceptual metaphor, though their choice of vocabulary and behavior indicate that the metaphor is operational in their reasoning.

The Hebrew conceptual metaphor sin is weight, from the expression nāsā’ ăwōn “to bear or carry away a sin,” is translated into the English language and into American Christian culture through words like “burden” and “weighty.” The hymn There is Power in the Blood inquires, “Would you be free from the burden of sin?” [9] Billy Graham and many others plead, “Don’t carry your burden of sin any longer, but by faith believe that Jesus died for you, and receive Him into your life today.” And finally, Charles Stanley writes, “The burdens we carry come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. Many are weighty, but there’s one load that proves even heavier–and it can be traced back to the Garden of Eden.” [10] These examples demonstrate how well sin is weight has been learned and incorporated into Christian reasoning and speech.

Consider a second conceptual metaphor, Sin is falling short from the Hebrew chata’ and the Greek hamartia “to miss the mark; to err; to offend.” Though it is far from being the only source of the concept of standards in Scripture, when words like sin, standards and punishment appear together, the speaker is likely reasoning through the conceptual metaphor, as in Francis Chan’s explanation, “God is the only being who is good, and the standards are set by Him. Because God hates sin, He has to punish those guilty of sin. Maybe that’s not an appealing standard. But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards.”[11]

In keeping with Sin is falling short, John Piper recently compiled a list that includes “[Sin is] the glory of God not honored… The holiness of God not reverenced…The greatness of God not admired…The power of God not praised…The truth of God not sought…The commandments of God not obeyed….” [12]

On the other hand, the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” illustrates what Euro-Americans[13] believe is an appropriate response to missing the mark. It is not a big deal. Our culture teaches us to pick ourselves back up (by our own bootstraps), and get back to it! In fact, failure is touted by some successful businessmen and other well-known figures[14] as an experience that imparts wisdom and contributes to growth. Missing the mark is not a cosmic sin; it is part of practicing to succeed. The point is that even Christians are susceptible to misunderstanding the concept of sin because of conflicting conceptual metaphors drawn from more than one culture.


Consider again the conceptual metaphor taught through the Hebrew kibbēs “to wash away sin” illustrated by the words of William Cowper: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” [15] In a culture with a sacrificial system and deep understanding of ritual purity or uncleanliness, this expression communicates appropriately. However, the dominant Euro-American culture has no traditional or cultural equivalent to blood sacrifice. It is possible to argue that classical mythologies from Egyptian, Greek or European cultures, or even those from indigenous Indian cultures employ the concept of blood sacrifice. However, those mythologies and the activities of ritual sacrifice are not part of our everyday lives. An effective metaphor is drawn from a domain the members of the community know well from personal experience. When showering after a workout or washing our hands before dinner is the closest we come to washing away uncleanliness, it is valid to ask whether even Christians understand the conceptual metaphor sin is uncleanliness.

Despite our lack of everyday experience with ritual purity, even contemporary artists such as Matt Redman continue to write on that motif: “What can wash us pure as snow? Forever welcomed as the friends of God; well there’s nothing but Your blood; Nothing but Your blood, King Jesus.” [16] And as much as we love these songs it is important to recognize that we had to be taught how to think about Christ’s blood sacrifice, and even to feel the power and joy of release because of it. sin is uncleanliness is not “native” to our linguistic and cultural training, how much more the metaphor of washing in someone’s blood. The closest Euro-American metaphor bloodbath is one of combat and violence rather than of cleansing and purity. It is worth considering how well even Christians truly understand it, let alone non-believers to whom the Gospel is presented with these images.

Another metaphor to examine consists of enslavement and captivity. They are present throughout the Biblical narrative as consequences for disobedience, though to my knowledge none of the Hebrew or Greek terms translated sin refers precisely to those terms. [17] Enslavement and captivity have traditionally held deep meaning for the African American community, which may account for much use of the conceptual metaphor Sin is captivity in many contexts from famous civil rights speeches to beloved Gospel music. The Gospel/R&B sister duo Mary Mary sings, “Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance. I just wanna praise You. I just wanna praise You. You broke the chains, now I can lift my hands. And I’m gonna praise You.” [18] Whether or not members of the African American community have personally experienced captivity, it is an ever-present theme of identity, evoking historical roots and even current social struggles.

On the other hand, for those who have no experience of physical captivity, Sin is captivity is another conceptual metaphor that may not be part of the “native” thought and language. Again, I am not saying that concepts of captivity and enslavement are unbiblical in any way, nor that they are inappropriate for use by Christians. Many Christians have learned the metaphor and find much meaning in it. John F. MacArthur, among others, has referred to “the shackles of sin” in a number of his sermons, for example.[19] It is beautiful figurative language, but it is a conceptual metaphor drawn from a different time and a different culture.


Many American Christians have learned to understand and to speak in Hebrew and Greek conceptual metaphor. This makes them “bilingual” to some extent, whereas members of the non-believing community are not. The depth of the conceptual divide between practicing Christians and non-believers, as well as all the ways it is rehearsed and reinforced through everyday language cannot be underestimated. Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that our inability to identify our own conceptual metaphors and those of our target audience only deepens the communicative divide even if, or perhaps especially if, we are using the same words.

There is good evidence for non-believers using traditionally Christian terms in such a way that they are redefined through the linguistic process of reappropriation. Reappropriation includes the deliberate use of words in new social and linguistic contexts in order to alter their meanings. It is often an indicator of social change. The following presentation illustrates the reappropriation of sin, sinful and sinfully, and establishment of accompanying conceptual metaphors.

First there is “Sin City,” the nickname for Las Vegas, through which Biblical interdictions against drunkenness, adultery and related behaviors have been transformed into trendy and desirable experiences. Moreover the title of a new comedy sitcom “Sin City Saints” plays on exactly this image. It is apparent that sin is entertainment, even if New York Times critic Mike Hale is less than impressed when he writes, “[Sin City] Saints,” the first scripted series from Mandalay Sports Media, throws together young-male-viewer bait — sports, Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, Malin Akerman — in a comedy less coherent than the halftime scoreboard video at an N.B.A. game.” [20]

Secondly, missteps or errors in judgment are categorized as sin in the following two examples. “I don’t know if blowing off the court would be such a sin in the eyes of voters as much as going after the judge’s wife with a private investigator,” is the estimation of a source quoted in an article about the re-election bid of an Arizona sheriff.[21] And in an article from a sports columnist, “Texas fans would quickly forgive Hamilton’s sins – the relapses, the give-up swing, the “football town” comments…”[22] These uses and others similar to them signal a shift in meaning for the word sin in everyday American reference. Rather than a penalty deserving death, sin is being redefined as a mistake, a blunder, a miscalculation.

Scattered occurrences such as these don’t seem to provide the linguistic momentum needed for reappropriation, but a search of the archives of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reveals noteworthy patterns in the use of the word sin. These two publications are very large, influential, and they use news services like Reuters and the Associated Press that also feed other media outlets. Thus, they provide an adequate representation of the kinds of articles distributed around the country, regardless of other aspects of their reporting. The first pattern involves a weakening or trivialization of the concept of sin, and the second depicts those who talk about the religious concept of sin as strange or outdated.

There are 2715 occurrences of sin in the New York Times “News” sections (57% of the total). Many of these instances are in articles about political parties, candidates and elected officials, as well as stories of sexual abuse by priests, and coverage of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. This is perhaps not surprising; wrong-doing is news and wrong-doing by religious figures is even bigger news. On the other hand, the rate of occurrence in the “Arts and Entertainment” sections was higher than expected (2071 or approximately 43%).[23]

The sin is a mistake conceptual metaphor is easily identifiable in these sections. For example, singer Jamie Foxx’s comment that his weak performance of the National Anthem “was not a sin against America” was picked up by numerous media outlets and also tweeted. [24] The use of sin in reporting about arts and entertainment in combination with the conceptual metaphor sin is a mistake (or a minor offense) trivializes the meaning of sin.

The second pattern is evident in the way people who talk about sin as a religious concept are presented as newsworthy. One article describes a man who carries a “worn black Bible,” who “believes Scripture is unequivocal,” and who says that “homosexual behavior is a sin.” [25] Another article portrays the antics of a North Carolina man who “passed out fliers with Bible verses extolling nakedness as a way to cleanse oneself of sin.” [26] And a third article documents the arguments of a Utah state senator who wants to use cannabis: “As long as I’m not committing a sin in the process of doing this, then I’ll let my principles take me where they may.” [27] The quality of the beliefs of these three men is not necessarily in question. The position of each is stated more or less clearly because the writer of the article uses the subject’s own words. The point is that making a religiously-based declaration of sin is news.

Compositional elements construct a perspective that a religious belief in sin is out of the ordinary or outdated. Pictographic descriptions – the worn, black Bible, or the man standing naked in the doorway of his home – construct a character, and then he or she is quoted directly speaking about sin. The consistent format of physical descriptions of the person combined with stated opinions involving a religious belief in sin reifies the conceptual metaphor sin is outdated.

Widespread media use of sin facilitates the process of reappropriation, moving the word from the domain of religious doctrine to the area of mistakes or minor offenses.  Those who continue to use the term as part of their religious belief are depicted as outdated or even freakish.

Conceptual metaphors emerging through language use in the media include: sin is entertaining (shows in Las Vegas), sin is a mistake (the misbehavior of a baseball player, a song off-key), and sin is for religious fanatics (nakedness and cleansing from sin?). In short, sin is not serious. In contrast, when something is described as sinful, it is tasty, tantalizing and trendy as in the following examples.

A newspaper description of the actual delicatessen depicted in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” includes these menu items: “matzo ball soup, chopped liver with onions, hot pastrami sandwiches and sinful cheesecake.” [28] A New York Times article about a local bakery describes “sinfully sweet rings.” [29] The top ten hits of a Google search using the string “sinfully rich” reveals eight that describe a chocolate dessert; the other two describe Italian pasta dishes. In other words, sin is delicious (and perhaps high in calories).

Another article announces a physical trainer service called SIN.[30] The article explains that this is an acronym for “Strength in Numbers,” yet the lack of punctuation between the letters indicates that the name was probably designed to result in a catchy acronym. Investigating name brand choices that involve sin and related words like sinful and sinfully is beyond the scope of this article. Even so, the reappropriation of sin-type words in marketing is noteworthy because of its contribution to the formation of conceptual metaphors.

Sinfulcolors.com sells vibrant nail polish, stickers and manicure tips. Comfortable yet fashionable women’s clothing is available through Sinful Clothing for Women: “Sinful clothing for women make a bold fashion statement of strength and beauty infused with a heavy dose of rock n’ roll and a sophisticated twist.” [31] In other words, sin is fashionable.

These conceptual metaphors are powerful because we become so accustomed to using them in our perception and reasoning that we cease to be aware of them. They are also powerful because they represent the shared assumptions of a community about the nature of reality; they are products of culture. The examples and discussion so far have revealed two cultures divided by their conceptualization of sin.

Christian Metaphors Non-believer Metaphors
sin is weight sin is entertainment
sin is uncleanliness sin is a mistake
sin is trespass sin is for religious fanatics
sin is falling short sin is not serious
Sin is crookedness sin is delicious
Sin is captivity sin is fashionable


This leaves us with the question of how to cross the cognitive and cultural divide when we speak about sin. Though both communities are using the English language, we are experiencing the challenge of cross-cultural communication.


Translation is required if we are to faithfully and accurately communicate the role of human sin in the Gospel story. To their credit, some pastors and teachers have looked for other conceptual metaphors in their attempts to communicate to non-believing culture. For example, A.W. Tozer uses the conceptual metaphor Sin is bad stewardship: “A man by his sin may waste himself, which is to waste that which on earth is most like God. This is man’s greatest tragedy and God’s heaviest grief.” [32] This conceptual metaphor speaks to the American value system that includes an appreciation for return on investment, efficiency and good management.

Another conceptual metaphor underlies this phrase attributed to St. Augustine, more a summary statement from Confessions than a precise quotation. “Sin is looking for the right thing in the wrong place.” [33] It appears to be an adaptation of the conceptual metaphor Sin is falling short from the Hebrew chata’ and the Greek hamartia “to miss the mark,” but it is applied it to a different kind of activity: Sin is a mistaken search.

If nothing else, attention to the power of conceptual metaphor makes for valuable teaching moments, as the following excerpt illustrates. Jerry Bridges first reveals the conceptual metaphor sin is an enemy before arguing against it because of its effects on reasoning and behavior.

“Too often, we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated. We are simply disobedient. It might be good if we stop using the terms victory and defeat to describe our progress in holiness. Rather, we should use the terms obedience and disobedience. When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may in fact be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. (Pursuit of Holiness, 84)

As asserted early in this discussion, conceptual metaphors do more than facilitate thought, perspective and verbal expression; they also affect our responses and actions. And the link between an understanding of sin, and behavior regarding sin is essential for the integrity of our Christian message. This is why it is crucial that a conceptual metaphor communicate completely across the cultural divide. This final example appears to achieve that goal using words drawn from everyday language: “The crumbled pieces of the Fall are all around us:  broken people, shattered families, and fragmented communities. We know that this is not the way it is supposed to be, but we too often struggle to know how to respond…” [34]

“Broken,” “shattered” and “fragmented” are inchoative verbs expressing a change of state – an effect beyond a mistake, more serious than entertainment, and immediately relevant rather than old-fashioned. The paragraph’s dominant conceptual metaphor sin is brokenness expresses a dilemma that both Christians and non-believers understand from their experience in everyday life. Broken things need repair; broken people need help. Moreover, a broken object generally cannot repair itself. It needs someone more able and whole to return the object to its original, intended state. This conceptual metaphor works because it successfully associates common understandings with a behavioral response that is faithful to the Biblical concept of sin.


The cultural divide between Christians and non-believers is readily apparent in the ways that members of each community speak about sin. Christian understanding is complicated by conceptual metaphors drawn from languages and cultures foreign to our own. Even so, we have learned them so well that we no longer clearly recognize the conceptual metaphors so useful in reasoning and speaking about, and responding to sin. On the other hand, the non-believing community has reappropriated sin and words related to it with the result that Christians and non-believers may use the same word, but access different conceptual metaphors in the interpretation of meaning. The communicative challenge before us is to look for the life experiences we all have in common in order to develop shared conceptual metaphors that clearly communicate the complex nature of sin, as well as the appropriate, Biblically-based responses.


[1] Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989).

[2] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press, 1980).

[3] Throughout this article I follow Lakoff and Johnson’s convention of small capitals for the format of conceptual metaphor.

[4] Cf. Zoltan Kovecses, Metaphor: A Practical Introduction, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010).

[5] Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words (NY: Ballantine Books, 1998).

[6] David J. Hauser and Norbert Schwarz, “The War on prevention: Bellicose Cancer Metaphors Hurt (Some) Prevention Intentions,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41 (2014): 66-77.

[7]  Harold L. Willmington, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981), 718-726.

[8]  Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 16-17.

[9] Lewis E. Jones, There is Power in the Blood (1899). Online: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/h/therepow.htm.

[10] Charles Stanley, “The Burden of Sin,” Christian Post, October 14, 2012. Online: http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-burden-of-sin-83248.

[11] Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (David C. Cook, 2008), 36.

[12] John Piper, “What is Sin? The Essence and Root of All Sinning.” n.p. Online: http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/the-origin-essence-and-definition-of-sin.

[13] I use “Euro-American” to acknowledge that American culture is not a monolithic whole, and that the American cultural system I know best and can speak from has been heavily influenced by its northern European ancestry.

[14] Thomas Edison’s 1,000 attempts to invent the incandescent bulb are frequently cited as an example of failures that lead to success.

[15] William Cowper, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood (1772). Online: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/f/tfountfb.htm.

[16] Matt Redman, Nothing But The Blood, (ThankYou Music, 2004). Online: http://worshiptogether.com/songs/nothing-but-the-blood-redman/.

[17] Note that while the historical captivity of Israel in Egypt, as well as exile and enslavement in Assyria are related to sin and punishment narratives in Scripture, the closest term used in Scripture is the Greek aphesis ‘dismissal, release or pardon (from debt)’ (from Mark 1:4).

[18] Erika Atkins, Tina Atkins and Warryn Campbell, “Shackles (Praise You),” Thankful  (1999).

[19] Cf. John F. MacArthur, Jr. Christ is Everything, n.p. [preached 29 August1993]. Online: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-120/christ-is-everything.

[20] Mike Hale, ‘Sin City Saints,’: A Yahoo Basketball Comedy,” New York Times (March 22, 2015). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/arts/television/review-sin-city-saints-a-yahoo-basketball-comedy.html?_r=0.

[21] Jacques Billeaud and Ryan Van Velzer, “Arizona Sheriff’s Re-election Chances Called into Question,” Los Angeles Times (April 25, 2015). Online: http://www.latimes.com/nation/sns-bc-us–arizona-sheriff-racial-profiling-20150424-story.html.

[22] Kevin Sherrington, “What do the Rangers Have to Lose by Bringing Back Hamilton?” Los Angeles Times (April 25, 2015). Online: http://www.latimes.com/sports/sns-tns-bc-bba-sherrington-column-20150425-story.html.

[23] This may be in part because of the nickname for Las Vegas – “Sin City,” and also due to Spanish language titles of art performances, as well as other Spanish language articles (sin means “without” in Spanish).

[24] Christie D’Zurilla, “Jamie Foxx Says His National Anthem was ‘Off’ But Not ‘a Sin Against America’.” Los Angeles Times (May 5, 2015). Online: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/gossip/la-et-mg-jamie-foxx-explains-national-anthem-mayweather-pacquiao-20150505-story.html.

[25] Erik Eckholm, “Opponents of Gay Marriage Ponder Strategy as Issue Reaches Supreme Court,” New York Times (April 22, 2015). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/us/opponents-of-gay-marriage-ponder-strategy-as-issue-reaches-supreme-court.html.

[26] Greg Lacour, “Naked North Caroline Man Irks Neighbors, but Police Say No Crime,” New York Times (March 24, 2015). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/03/24/us/24reuters-usa-north-carolina-naked.html.

[27] Daniel Wallis, “Utah Lawmaker Invokes Morman Prophet Grandpa in Medical Pot Plea,” New York Times (April 22, 2015). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/04/22/us/22reuters-usa-marijuana-utah.html.

[28] Joe Yogerst, “Have Yourself a Treat With These Famous Movie Eateries,” Los Angeles Times (August 13, 2014). Online: http://www.latimes.com/brandpublishing/travelplus/summerseries/la-ss-have-yourself-a-treat-dto-20140813-story.html.

[29] Susan M. Novick, “Where Those Sinfuly Sweet Rings are Made Locally,” New York Times (October 25, 2009), LI11.

[30] Courtney Rubin, “For That Door-to-Treadmill Serivce,” New York Times (Dec. 17, 2014). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/style/for-that-door-to-treadmill-service.html.

[31] Online: http://www.buckle.com/womens/brand:sinful, accessed 11 May 2015.

[32] A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1955), 99.

[33] Augustine Confessions (trans.  by Henry Chadwick; Oxford University Press, 1991). Quote accessed online: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/6819578.Augustine_of_Hippo.

[34] Matt Lucas, “Picking Up the Pieces,” Corban University theme description, 2014.

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Spiritual Types among Emerging Adults in Higher Education



At the onset of adulthood, how does one determine which path to take in regard to faith? In the end, will one’s journey lead one toward a kataphatic form of spirituality, or an apophatic one? What do these words even mean? Should later adolescents, in their movement toward adulthood, be expected to know the difference? And are these historical paths to faith embedded into religious customs and catechetical models within their faith communities, or the Christian institutions they attend? How are churches and pastors addressing the issues of faith formation in their younger congregants, expressly as they transition from adolescence to adulthood?

On the part of those who investigate spiritual formation there seems to be an objective to codify, sort out, and better understand spirituality in terms of cognitive, affective, behavioral, and spiritual constants. How do “believers” demonstrate spirituality in terms of growing in “things of the Spirit?”[2]  What tendencies are observed in the way individuals articulate their faith?  Can such things be observed, analyzed, or explained?  What effects do such things as a fervent prayer life, devotional reading of the Scriptures, and daily practice of the spiritual disciplines have upon personal expressions of spirituality?

The questions are further attenuated when assessing the spiritual lives of individuals passing from adolescence into adulthood. As practical theologians and ministry practitioners seek to guide emerging adults toward a deeper sense of “life in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2), there seems to be a juxtaposition between ingrained catechetical models—commonly held within strong ecclesiastical borders—and the desire to accommodate a holistic sense of authentic Christian faith. The salient question becomes, “How do we help emerging adults acquire a dynamic, nurturing and developing sense of faith?”

The church in this postmodern era—and pastors especially—are uniquely burdened with these challenges and the need to provide specific attention toward fostering models of spiritual growth for all individuals across the lifespan. It is anticipated the following article will provide additional insight and application to the spiritual lives of emerging adults, specifically, for the benefit of ministry within the local church.


Since the establishment of the religious academy, students have tended to reflect their spirituality along the lines of their unique ecclesiastical training models. As Rhea has rightly said, “In the milieu of Christian higher education, many situational dialects exist and are fostered in order to contribute to the larger, comprehensive educational goal of a Christ-formed mind.”[3] One typically associates the visages of monasticism, asceticism, sacra-traditional liturgy, and High-Church tradition with Catholic and Orthodox forms of spiritual pedagogy. On the other hand, cognitive engagement, emotionally animated, extrinsic homiletic and pedagogical models of faith instruction have classically characterized the Protestant groups. As students enter the halls of their faith-based academies, they soon learn the particular facets of a unique type of spirituality taught to them by their professors.[4] Broadly speaking, Catechesis, in the context of both higher education and the church, “…shapes missional imaginations, which help us recognize God’s activity in Jesus Christ and in us, as Christ calls us to participation in his redemptive work in the world.”[5]

Emerging adulthood, most notably, takes on the resonance of transition and self-discovery in spiritually awakening terms. The twenties can be described as a, “…somewhat chaotic season of high-stakes decision making about jobs, lifestyle housing, and relationships. Young adults at this stage have been characterized as transitional, idling, flexible, trying or tinkering (emphases in original).”[6] As Dean notes, “Scholars now posit emerging adulthood as a youthful life stage of its own, since the development tasks once associated with identity exploration… are increasingly postponed. Most young Americans eschew the title of ‘adult’ until their late twenties or early thirties.”[7] Upon entering college or university, “Students at Christian institutions often find that the combination of Bible classes, chapels, small groups, and campus-sponsored ministries provides all the spiritual nurture that they need.”[8] Even interactions in class on singular subjects such as prayer are,”…not simply pedagogical in the classroom, but also institutional.”[9] In other words, the “curriculum” of higher education aids students in appropriating a particular type of adult spirituality.

Through a comprehensive understanding of spiritual typologies vis-à-vis the “Circle of Sensibility” (see below), differences and similarities between students can be observed and assessed. It becomes imperative to the overall goal of understanding the broader context of spirituality that both the professor and the student be made aware of their similarities as well as their differences. In this way a basic understanding of spiritual types enhances the greater goal within Christian higher education when individuals realize their own unique faith-expressed tendencies, and gain knowledge of the experiences and paths to spiritual growth of others.


In recent decades, researchers have designed instruments and constructed models to investigate and explain how people express their spirituality. Urban T. Holmes III, of particular interest, developed a phenomenological model of spirituality, delineating a concise overview of key concepts characteristic of Eastern and Western Christian traditions.[10]  Using a two-scaled model referred to as the “Circle of Sensibility,” Holmes provides a user-friendly model of understanding Christian spirituality, which is represented diagrammatically along horizontal and vertical axes, (see Figure 1).

According to spiritual type theory, within the Circle of Sensibility it is possible to locate every Christian type of spirituality. Imagine four points on a compass. The horizontal (East /West) axis represents the apophatic and kataphatic scale. By way of definition, “apophatic” and “kataphatic” originate in the Greek (apophatikos and kataphatikos), meaning “negation” and “affirmation” respectively. In historical theological terms, Kataphaticism has been associated within the domain of positive theology and Apophaticism within negative theology.

Kataphatic spirituality describes the revealed God. The kataphatic way makes use of words, symbols, and images to relate to and describe God. The kataphatic advocate uses images and symbols in speaking about one’s relationship and union with God. Kataphaticism “…underscores that God Himself has had a history and that the way to Him is through that history.”[11]

At the other end of the horizontal axis is the apophatic way, a type of spirituality that describes the mystery of God. The apophatic seeks to understand and relate to God through silence, going beyond images and words to mystical union. The apophatic way is one of darkness, emptiness, and the negation of images. Apophaticism “…underscores in an unusually powerful way that the human heart is satisfied by nothing other than God.”[12] Apophaticism “points to the ever-greater God, a God greater than our hearts, the ineffable, the Nameless, utter Mystery, who can be loved only because he has first loved us.”[13] Apophatic theology and kataphatic theology are both evidenced in a wide variety of Christian literature.[14]

The vertical (North/South) axis represents the mind and heart scale. At one end of the axis is an illumination of the mind, a thinking, cognitive, intellectual-oriented type of spirituality. The other end of the vertical axis is an illumination of the heart type of spirituality, which focuses on feeling, sensation, and emotion.

According to Holmes, the Circle of Sensibility, “Defines for us that sensitivity to the ambiguity of styles… and the possibilities for a creative dialogue within the person and within the community as it seeks to understand the experience of God and its meaning for our world.”[15] Or as Ware states, “It provides a tool and a method by which to conceptualize and name spiritual experience within a basic framework.”[16]

Sager, building on Holmes’ work, developed an assessing tool utilizing the Circle of Sensibility in evaluating individual tendencies toward a particular type of expressed spirituality.[17] When Sager’s preferred spirituality type inventory is administered, individuals become aware of dominant trends in their expressed spirituality in one of the four spirituality type quadrants (e.g., Apophatic/Mind, Apophatic/Heart, Kataphatic/Mind, Kataphatic/Heart). Sager’s assessment has proved helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of preferred spirituality types.[18]

Corinne Ware further applied both Holmes’ and Sager’s typology of spirituality to personal and congregational expressions of faith.[19]  She developed what is called “The Spirituality Wheel,” which provides a helpful picture-model of contrast and comparison of personal experiences, as they exist within the context of corporate worship, to a preferred type of spirituality. Ware’s theory is built on the premise that when individuals compare themselves to others in the context of communal experiences, they are capable of recognizing their own unique faith patterns and/or preferences.[20]  Ware, in addition to Holmes and Sager, provides greater viability to the potentialities and empirical uses of spiritual type theory.

When spiritual typology schemata have been applied to the context of historical Christian faith, there is generally thought to be a dividing line between expressions of spirituality over time.[21]  Theological disagreement, religio-political posturing, ecclesiastical disparity, and institutional-bound training have only exacerbated the extent of these differences. As a consequence, the sentiment typically shared by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians alike is that little or no commonality between the groups exists, rather, distinct and separate group differences. In many cases, training models have tended to provide the means by which these differences are encouraged and preserved.[22]



The participants in this study were selected from Corban University. Corban University was founded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1935. In 1943, the then “Phoenix Bible Institute” was turned over to the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC).[23] The university has gone through several organizational and operational changes throughout its history. The school’s current denominational affiliation is loosely associated with the GARBC denomination, and is more broadly evangelical—continuing to retain conservative and Baptistic doctrinal roots. Corban has drawn a broad cross-section of evangelical and mainline Protestant students to its campus in its recent history. Corban requires undergraduate students to fulfill twenty-four units of Bible and theology course work, subsequently earning a Bible minor, along with each liberal arts degree.[24]

Spiritual type data was collected by way of convenience samples in each of the spring semesters from 2008-2014, with a total of 227 participants involved in the study. All participants were enrolled in the same upper-division theology class—in the respective semester—from which the data was collected.[25]

The sample of 227 participants was comprised of 110 males and 117 females. The mean age for male participants was 21.3, and 21.5 for females. When asked, “How long (years/months) have you been a Christian,” the average number of years/months participants self-reported was 13.20 years. [26]  Breakdown of denominational affiliation among participants are as follow: 39% Baptist, 13% Evangelical Non-Baptist[27], 44% Evangelical Non-denominational, and 4% Mainline Protestant.


Aggregate spiritual type scores for individual participants were determined by administering a spiritual type battery assessment—incorporating self-reporting techniques of a written narrative, a forced-choice preferred spirituality type inventory, and a spirituality type selector test.

Spiritual type data was examined by means of using coding category analysis for the written narrative portion of the assessment (Part I), and verified self-scores on the forced-choice sections of the assessment (Part II and Part III). Correlation analysis for the importance and frequency of practice of spiritual disciplines was also determined.

Participants received all three parts of the spiritual type assessment battery in an inclusive packet. In Part I, entitled “Your Spiritual Story,” the written narrative section of the assessment, participants were asked to write freely on the subject of their self-perceived spirituality. Participants were given no other guidance beyond the initial set of instructions. In this way, Part I serves as a free-response, open-ended type of question, to which participants were asked to compose an answer.[28]  Data collected from the narrative sections of the battery was obtained, specifically crosschecking uniformity measures in Parts II and III of the assessment.

Analysis of the narrative section was carried out by means of coding category analysis.[29]  The coding categories for Part I are based upon patterns and regularities inherent in, and characteristic of, spiritual type theory, and the four spiritual types found in the Circle of Sensibility model. Summary scores for each participant was compared to the coding categories established for the study, and independent spiritual type scores was obtained for each participant based upon recurring words, phrases, and themes found in one of the four spiritual type quadrants. Thus, participants involved in this study who obtained a determinately summarized rate of 75 percent on Part I of the assessment were suitably assigned a spiritual type score within one of the four major spiritual type quadrants. If the 75 percent cut-off rate did not reveal definitive patterns and expressions of spirituality associated with the coding categories, a spiritual type score was not given. In the rare case a participant did not receive a spiritual type score for Part I, it most commonly had to do with the participant’s insufficiency to provide clear and adequate information related to their personal story of spirituality (e.g., a participant who only wrote one or two sentences at most, lacking comprehensible detail), or wrote nothing at all.

Part II of the assessment utilized the “Preferred Spirituality Type Inventory.”  The Preferred Spirituality Type Inventory contains 44 forced-choice items—divided across four subsets of paired couplings (subsets A, B, C, and D). Participants were asked to read sets of paired couplings across the page, and then circle the sentence in each coupling that comes closest to describing preferences and habits in their spiritual experience. Participants were asked to answer all questions. In the case that more than one answer applied to how a participant felt, they were instructed to choose only one answer for each pairing.

Combining scores found in subsections A & B and C & D revealed composite spiritual type scores for each participant on Part II of the assessment (e.g., K-/M-, A+/H-, K+/H-, A-/M+, etc.). There are a total of 36 possible outcomes of composite scores. “Positive” scores obtained on both axes (e.g., K+/M+, K+/H+, A+/M+, A+/H+) indicated a tendency in spiritual patterns and expressions of the respondent toward the extreme of a given spiritual type quadrant.[30]  “Negative” scores on both axes (e.g., K-/M-, K-/H-, A-/M-, A-/H-) indicated a tendency in spiritual patterns and expressions on the part of the respondent to be receptive to the diagonally adjacent, or parallel quadrant’s expressed patterns of spirituality, as well as those found in their own. Variations between the extremes occur as scores reflect both positive and negative mixings between the two axes.

Part III of the assessment battery included the “Spirituality Type Selector Test.” The Spirituality Type Selector Test contains twelve groups of statements regarding corporate and personal expressions of spirituality. The purpose of the test is to “draw a picture” of one’s experience of corporate worship in comparison with their personal style of spirituality.[31]  Each of the twelve groups in the test contains four statements; each corresponding to a particular facet of spirituality as related the four quadrants of spiritual types found within the Circle of Sensibility. Participants were first asked to read through each group of statements and select the statement(s) that best describe their experience with their place of worship group. Participants were then asked to go back through the same group of statements a second time, choosing statements that describe their personal preferences of spiritual experience.

Obtaining a spiritual type score for individual participants in Part III of the assessment consisted of simply counting the number of responses to the place of worship and personal “wheels,” and then assigning a spiritual type score to the quadrant with the greatest number of responses (e.g., K/M, K/H, A/H, A/M). In this way a self-representative and visual score was obtained for individual participants. In rare cases, participant scores resulted in a “tie” between quadrants (i.e., an equal number of responses in two or more quadrants). In the event a tie occurred, participant scores were adjusted according to displayed tendencies along the horizontal and vertical axes. In other words, participants tend to express their spirituality one way or the other toward kataphatic/apophatic and mind/heart extremes. If however, there was no way of adjusting a participant’s score along either the horizontal or vertical axes, then a “combination score” was assigned to the participant for Part III of the assessment.


Descriptive statistics and distribution of adjusted spiritual type scores of participants are reported in Table 1 and Figure 2. 92 participants (51 male, 41 female) obtained adjusted spiritual type scores of K/M (kataphatic/mind), reflecting 40% of the total sample (N = 227). 109 participants (49 male, 60 female) obtained adjusted spiritual type scores of K/H (kataphatic/heart), reflecting 48% of the total sample.  11 participants (5 males, 6 female) obtained adjusted spiritual type scores of A/H (apophatic/heart), reflecting 5 % of the total sample. 15 participants (5 males, 10 female) obtained adjusted spiritual type scores of A/M (apophatic/mind), reflecting 7 % of the total sample.

Descriptive Statistics of Spiritual Type Scores
Spiritual Type Frequency Percentage Total
K/MKataphatic/Mind Males -51Females – 41 Males – 22%Females – 18% 40%
K/HKataphatic/Heart Males – 49Females – 60 Males – 21%Females – 27% 48%
A/HApophatic/Heart Males – 5Females – 6 Males – 2%Females – 3% 5%
A/MApophatic/Mind Males – 5Females – 10 Males –5%Females – 5% 7%


Distribution of Spiritual Type Scores
A/M – Apophatic/Mind K/M – Kataphatic/Mind
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A/H – Apophatic/Heart K/H – Kataphatic/Heart
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Spiritual Type Outcomes

Of the 227 participants who participated in this study adjusted scores revealed spiritual types’ representative of all four quadrants in the Circle of Sensibility. The four types, when assessing groups of individuals, have been reported by other researchers as well.[32]  A higher percentage of scores was represented in the K/M (kataphatic/mind) and K/H (kataphatic/heart) quadrants (40% and 48%) for participants. And lower percentages of scores was represented in the A/H (apophatic/heart) and A/M (apophatic/mind) quadrants (5% and 7%).

For the K/M participants, self-reported data was oriented to K/M spiritual type patterns and expressions of faith: daily involvement in Bible reading, seeking spiritual insight from intellectual and scholarly pursuits, looking for spiritual guidance from classroom and learning interactions, seeking God’s will through meditation and what is revealed in selected passages of the Bible and observing ecclesiastical practices (e.g., Bible study, prayer meetings, campus related small group study and discipleship, participation in “Lord’s Supper,” etc.).

The data regarding prayer for K/M spiritual types revealed participants to be uniformly involved in sacramental symbol-oriented types of activities in their prayer life. This was articulated in a variety of ways in the written narratives: learning theology and doctrine in class, attending chapel, participating in Bible studies on/off campus, and praying with the Psalms and other biblical passages. The data also revealed a high concentration of spiritual effort in the area of cognitive-thinking oriented patterns found within the traditional K/M type. One participant noted, “I find prayer exhausting at times… Peace can be found through prayer of course, but more often than not I feel compelled to pray more for others than for myself. I find prayer lists to be helpful and keep me on task.”

The data from participants receiving adjusted spiritual types scores of K/H disclosed emphases focused on sensate patterns and expressions of faith: celebration of expressive worship—especially in chapel services, sharing my spiritual journey with others, times of personal examination and a desire to seek God through personal holiness. By way of example, one participant stated, “I would like to say I express my love to God the most through song, but I think it leans more heavily to the way I interact with people. God has given me the gift of love and compassion for people in my life.”

The data also revealed that for K/H participants’ prayer involves being fed by the Lord Jesus Christ through feeling and sensate expressions. Westerhoff maintains prayer for the K/H type entails: clapping, touching, body movement, shouting, and the free expression of emotion.[33] The written narrative data for K/H participants disclose these kinds of kinesthetic self-expressions. One participant expressed it this way: “I tend to move by body to the sound of the music [in chapel, specifically], and raise my hands if I feel led and moved by the Truths [sic] that are present in the lyrics. I often close my eyes or focus completely on the screen with the words to avoid being distracted by the worship team or anyone else that is present in the room.”

For participants receiving adjusted spiritual type scores of A/H, the data revealed the following kinds of spiritual dispositions: practicing the presence of virtues, seeking the movement of the Holy Spirit, meditation and contemplation, quietness, solitude, sorrow, private time for prayer and reflection and communal engagement through campus relationships. One participant typified the A/H orientation by stating, “…I similarly, ultimately lament the limits of knowledge of God, instead of a felt knowing of God… it has contributed much to my reflective and contemplative nature.”

For A/H participants’ prayer is deeply rooted in the mystical expressions of Christian faith. The data disclosed such expressions by participants are exhibited in the following ways: creating an evolving dialogue with God through prayer, contemplation, experiencing God in “soulful” ways, meditation, silence, solitude, praying in the dark, experiencing the spiritual journey through prayers laden with pain and placing one’s self in a position of engagement with God—specifically in locations on campus where distractions are limited. One participant poignantly revealed A/H tendencies by affirming, “I struggle with prayer existentially and intellectually… I don’t have this nice and routine prayer life. Most of my prayers to God involve questions and various thoughts, hopes, and fears… I think prayer and worship is your life.”

The data descriptions for A/M participants presented the following tendencies: obedience to what the Church requires, devotion to mission-focused engagement (e.g., university sponsored missions trips), consecration of life to God, religious acts of service, seeing Christ in the face of others and experiencing the sufferings of Christ. One participant reflected, “I want to glorify God by serving Him in all my actions. I want to stay saturated in Scripture and prayer so that I can know how to serve Him. I talk to other people about my beliefs/convictions.” This emulates the kind of “striving for justice and peace” associated most commonly with the A/M type.[34]

Prayer for A/M participants’ involves intercession for justice and peace in the world, advancing the mission of the church, seeking personal insight for service and praying for difficult people. As one participant insists, “I love engaging in quiet prayer or reflection with a community of believers as well as on my own. Those reflection times are never long enough though… I think it’s in the quiet that I most often feel and understand the things God is teaching me or processing the situations He leading me through.”

It is apparent from the data that participants view their educational experience as one which endeavors to develop the whole person, in light of integral models of spiritual and academic formation. This is chiefly represented in the collection of spiritual types found within the participants’ self-reported data, when compared to the theological and doctrinal position of their academic institution. The sample, a reflection of its greater population, maintains consistency in being able to accommodate K/M and K/H spiritual types predominately. Even though slight gravitation exists toward the apophatic axis (i.e., 5% AH and 7% AM), the school, nonetheless, seems to foster an environment aligned more so to a kataphatic type of spirituality. As one A/H participant aptly put it, “I’ve always wondered why I was so different from the rest of my peers!”


As Dean notes: “…every Christian community shares a certain amount of ecclesial DNA, which emerges in ways that are unique to every body of believers.”[35] The “DNA” of catechetical approaches observed within the context of the local church’s ministry can correspondingly be applied to the Christian academy. It is commonly understood that apart from the ministry of the church, the traditional base for training and development of Christian formation in the lives of mid-to-late adolescents happens within the walls of Christian institutions of higher learning. Historically, especially within the United States, a common design for faith formation has borrowed heavily on educational paradigms for information-processing, problem-solving, and application to broader experiences of religious life.[36]

The spiritual and theological pedagogies of Christian colleges and universities embed within their curricular endeavors ways of defining and developing the type of religious heritage they desire to pass onto their students. As Naidoo notes, “Many theology institutions are again envisioning theological education as a formational activity; an activity based on the assumption that the student’s personal appropriation of theology is the most central aspect of theological education.”[37] Setran and Kiesling also state, “Christian colleges move students systematically through a curriculum, educationally mapping a degree that forms a coherent worldview… establishing a clear mission and ethos, identifying a grounded theological vision of spiritual maturity.” [38] And, as already illustrated, these catechetical models tend to borrow heavily from ecclesiastical and denominational historical patterns, forms, and appropriations of Christian faith.

As is often the case, when a parent sends off a son or daughter to university, they hand off the responsibility for religious instruction and training to “experts,” who in turn will provide opportunities for engagement, reflection, and application for a growing and sustaining faith.[39] In youth group we’ve invited “…teenagers to set up chairs for the ice cream social and call it ‘mission.’ We assign teenagers one Youth Sunday a year and call it ‘worship.’ We play games in youth group and call it ‘Christian fellowship’.”[40] The expectation, on the part of youth pastors and college professors alike, is to move beyond these “fake peripherals,” and advocate for a deeper and more responsible outlook on spiritual formation instead.[41]

Dean offers, however, a word of targeted warning to the academy by asserting, “… the best guides for faithful reflexivity are not scholars, but mystics—contemplatives who understand the necessity of temporary apartness from society in order to become detached (decentered) from self-interest…”[42] Her advice is that, “…Christian teaching seeks morphosis, an epistemological transformation so profound that it changes not just what the learner knows, it also changes the learner. Transformative learning reflects the paideia’s emphasis on wisdom and wonder more than modern education’s insistence on data and deconstruction (emphases in original).”[43] This is where the value of an integrative approach to spiritual type theory helps.

A framework for assimilating spiritual type theory into catechetical models for Christian colleges acknowledges the power of an inclusive historical approach to faith formation. As Setran and Kiesling note: “It is absolutely critical for emerging adults to learn and to use the distinct language of Christianity: the creeds, the doctrines, and the biblical vocabulary that shape the contours of the faith community.”[44] Utilizing spiritual type theory, broadening catechetical perspectives to include all of Christian history’s approaches to faith formation’s practices, therein becomes imperative. One cannot expect to accomplish the task of helping mid-to-late adolescents’ spiritual faith formation without acknowledging, learning from, and incorporating the dynamics of both kataphatic and apophatic approaches to spiritual growth.

Individuals at the Christian university “…may feel that their spiritual health is ensured simply by virtue of having ‘accepted Christ’ and prayed a prayer for salvation and the forgiveness of sins.”[45] We must, out of necessity, “…develop a posture of formation that attends to both the external challenges posed by cultural shifts and the internal theological challenges posed by false gospel and the imposter religion of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”[46]  As Smith affirms, “In trinitarian [sic] teaching we are reminded that we are deeply dependent on the ancient creeds to provide the contours or, one might say, the grammar, the architecture for our catechesis and thus for our growth in wisdom… We long for transformational teaching, teaching that leads to wisdom and thus spiritual maturity…”[47] Thus, in catechetical models of Christian higher education’s pedagogy, the divine objective allows a student to encounter the “opposite,” in order to engage with potentialities for continuing spiritual growth. In this way kataphatic engagements set forth what can be said and should be learned and confessed by Christians propositionally, while apophatic engagements invite adolescents to fellowship with God in ways that transcend human capacities.[48]


Based on the findings of this study, recommendations for continued research, utilizing spiritual type theory, are noted. First, an investigation of catechetical curricular differences between the four spiritual types is warranted. The intention here is to use spiritual type theory in analyzing preferences most commonly found in Bible and theology classes—determining where excesses and deficiencies exist. In an effort to offer a well-round, and holistic, model of catechesis, adjusting to a balance between the extremes is a reasonable response. As this study illustrates, curricular tendencies exist in catering to more heavily kataphatic theological and biblical locations in some settings. In an effort to appropriate a “balanced” approach, apophatic engagements, curricular wise, need to be considered equally. This recommendation should equally extend beyond the halls of academia to spiritual growth patterns exhibited within the local church itself.

Second, a localized study, focusing on investigating the spiritual types of specific denominational church youth groups, is recommended. In an effort to broaden an awareness and understanding of spiritual type theory, observing, analyzing and interpreting adjusted spiritual type scores of participants is warranted. In this way, denominational investigation of spiritual types among youth group participants would enhance a greater understanding of adolescent faith development. This type of investigation would equally uncover the religious instruction advocated within a particular denomination and its potential deficiencies. This, in the end, is an admirable goal for youth ministries seeking to develop well-rounded and effective catechetical models.

Finally, individual pastors and churches should make use of spiritual type theory in assessing their own approach to faith formation within their unique ministry context. This could easily be accomplished by assessing spiritual type outcomes among pastoral staff member, board members, and other key lay leadership positions within the local church. This would expose a general tendency toward either kataphatic or apophatic propensities within their ministries. In addition, an overall assessment of biblical and theological educational methodologies is necessary. In this way, the individual church will note where biases and deficiencies may exist, thus motivating the church toward broadening its overall approach to faith development for all of its parishioners.


[1] A longer copy of this article can be found in the Journal of Youth and Theology, 14 (2015) 45-71, published by Brill (http://www.brill.com/products/journal/journal-youth-and-theology).

[2] Romans 8:5 – Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (NIV). 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 – 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments (NIV).

[3] Rob Rhea. “Exploring Spiritual Formation in the Christian Academy: The Dialects of Church, Culture, and the Larger Integrative Task.” Journal of Psychology & Theology. 39, no.1 (2011), 4.

[4] T. Edwards. “Spiritual Formation in Theological Schools: Ferment and Challenge. A Report of the ATS Shalem Institute on Spirituality.” Theological Education, 17, (1980) 7-52. S. M. Schneiders. “Spirituality in the Academy.” In K. J. Collins, (Ed.). Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 249-269.

[5] Kenda Creasy Dean. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 63.

[6] Richard Dunn and Jana Sundene. Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults: Life-Giving Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 26.

[7] Dean, 9.

[8] David Setran and Christ Kiesling. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 89.

[9] Mary Kate Morse, “The Teaching of Prayer in Bible Colleges and Seminaries” (2004). Faculty Publications – George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Paper, 1.

[10] Urban T. Holmes. A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1980, 2002).

[11] H. D. Egan. “Christian Apophatic and Kataphatic Mysticisms.” Theological Studies, 39, (1978), 424.

[12] Ibid, 422.

[13] Ibid, 422.

[14] Two classic works in particular typify the orthodox Christian traditions of apophatic and kataphatic theology and practice. On the apophatic side of the scale, the fourteenth-century devotional classic The Cloud of Unknowing, whose author remains unknown, provides an excellent example of apophatic thought. The Cloud “urges forgetting and unknowing in the service of a blind, silent love beyond all images, thoughts, and feelings – a love which gradually purifies, illuminates and unites the contemplative to the Source of this love” (See Egan, 1978, 413). On the kataphatic end of the spectrum the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyla, written in the sixteenth-century, presents a highly structured symbolic-image oriented approach to spirituality that continues to the present (See also, Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 2001), 495).

[15] Holmes, 5.

[16] Corinne Ware. Discover your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth (New York, NY: The Alban Institute, 1995), 7.

[17] Allen Sager. Gospel-centered Spirituality: An Introduction to our Spiritual Journey (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1990).

[18] Ibid, 31.

[19] Corinne Ware. Discover your Spiritual Type.

[20] Ibid, 35.

[21] H.F. Wit, de. The Spiritual Path: An Introduction to the Psychology of the Spiritual Traditions (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University press, 1994, 1999). Trish Greeves. “Nurturing Spirituality in the Local Church.” Clergy Journal, 78 (5), (2002), 5-7.

[22] Greeves, “Nurturing Spirituality in the Local Church,” 7. Holmes, A History of Christian Spirituality, 4-5.

[23] Corban University. “Picture of Our Past: Corban’s History,” Corban University, accessed October 25, 2014. https://www. corban.edu/history.

[24] Corban University. “Frequently Asked Questions,” Corban University, accessed October 25, 2014. https://inside.corban.edu/visitor/ frequently-asked-questions.

[25] TH463: Biblical Spiritual Formation. Corban University, Salem, Oregon.

[26] Responding to this question required participants to determine the year and month they asked Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of their lives—making a conscious and complete commitment of faith and obedience, as a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Note: this question did not take into account when one was baptized, confirmed, or catechized into a particular church or denomination.

[27] For example: Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, Foursquare, Assembly of God, Christian & Missionary Alliance, etc.

[28] For further description of free-response, open-ended narrative analysis, refer to: C.M. Charles and C.A. Mertler. Introduction to Educational Research, 4th ed. (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2002), 269.

[29] See for example: R.C. Bogdan and S.K. Biklen. Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1992).

[30] See Sager and Westerhoff.

[31] Ware, 49.

[32] See Paul Bosch. “I was a teenage Kataphatic.” Paul Bosch’s Worship Workbench, Essay 24 (January, 1999), accessed October 17, 2002. http://www.worship. ca/docs/ww­24.html. Sager, Gospel-Centered Spirituality. Ware, Discover Your Spiritual Type.

[33] Westerhoff, 56.

[34] Ibid, 58.

[35] Dean, 105.

[36] Ibid, 115.

[37] Martin Percy in Marilyn Naidoo. ” An Empirical Study on Spiritual Formation at Protestant Theological Training Institutions in South Africa.” Religion & Theology 18 (2011) 118.

[38] Setran and Kiesling, 77-78.

[39] Dean, 117.

[40] Ibid, 145.

[41] Ibid, 145.

[42] Ibid, 165.

[43] Ibid, 172. Paideia being the prototype for the church’s earliest forms of education, according to Dean.

[44] Setran and Kiesling, 78.

[45] Ibid, 26.

[46] Ibid, 27.

[47] Gordon Smith. Called to be Saints: And Invitation to Christian Maturity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 203.

[48] James Payton Jr. Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition (Downers Grove, IL IVP Academic, 2007), 77.

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Book Review: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

I recently saw a meme featuring a picture of Karl Barth and Emile Brunner. The text read, “For every theologian there is an equal and opposite theologian.” This axiom seems especially apt for the many “Views” books published over the last few years by Zondervan.

Zondervan’s recent volume Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy is especially helpful. This text accurately summarizes the various views possible within the parameters of evangelicalism.

This book strives to gain an overview of five different ways of understanding the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The five contributors are Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary; Peter Enns, Affiliate Professor of Biblical Studies Eastern University; Michael Bird, Lecturer in Theology at Ridley Melbourne Ministry and Mission College in Australia; Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and John Franke, Professor of Missional Theology at Yellowstone Theological Institute in Bozeman, Montana.

The book follows the same formula as other “Views” volumes. After an introductory chapter each contributor presents his view and then each of the other authors respond.

The Evangelical Theological Society’s first article in its doctrinal statement reads, “[t]he Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” (The second, and only other, article affirms an orthodox belief in the Trinity.) According to the book’s introduction, ETS’s statement was created because “there was a direct correlation between believing in the accuracy of Scripture and reading Scripture accurately.” (Kindle Locations 59-60).


I want to highlight four overall strengths of this book, and then I’ll point out a weakness.

The first strength is the book’s demonstration of the broad differences among current theologians regarding biblical inerrancy. On the far right we have Al Mohler who holds to a very conservative view of the doctrine; on the other extreme, Peter Enns is well known for his opposition to nearly everything Mohler and other conservative theologians stand for.

Mohler and Enns draw the borders of the conversation, and it’s up to the other authors, especially Bird and Vanhoozer, to highlight the nuances.

Mohler’s penchant for confessional theology is betrayed when he announces his allegiance to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI). He states,

Without reservation, I affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I affirm               the document and agree with its assertions in whole and in part. To be true to the                 Scriptures, I believe, evangelicals must affirm its stated affirmations and join in its                 stated denials. (Kindle Locations 679-681).

Without reservation? That’s quite a pledge of allegiance. I wonder if Athanasius could have affirmed the Nicene Creed without some reservation. Anyway, Mohler’s wholehearted affirmation allows him to use the Chicago statement as an interpretive tool. When he exegetes some tricky biblical passages he frequently says, “according to the Chicago statement . . . .” Mohler, then, clearly shows us the most conservative position on inerrancy.

Many critics of the contemporary strands of confessionalism (especially amongst Baptists) wonder if confessionalism might be a form of credalism. Confessions are descriptive; they tell us what a group thinks. Creeds, on the other hand, are prescriptive in that they tell a member of a group how they should think. When Mohler uses the Chicago statement to guide his interpretations it seems this statement has morphed from confession to creed.

On the other extreme, Enns doesn’t even want to use the word inerrancy. One wonders why Enns still wants to be associated with evangelicals when he seems so intent on disagreeing with so many fundamentally held beliefs like inerrancy and the historicity of Adam. Enns rightly points out that “inerrancy has been a central component of evangelicalism for its entire history, a response to the challenges of biblical higher criticism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” (Kindle Locations 1373-1375). If, as he mentions, inerrancy is a part of evangelicalism’s DNA, why not just join a different community with a less stringent view of the truthfulness of the Bible?

The second strength of this book is that it clearly locates inerrancy as a culturally bound expression of Bibliology. The doctrine of inerrancy cannot be historically separated from Schleiermacher nor epistemologically separated from Descartes. In other words, the doctrine of inerrancy is a way of saying that the Bible is completely truthful at a particular time in a particular culture.

Orthodox Christians have been forced to describe the Bible’s truthfulness in more relevant terms because of theological liberalism’s critical mass. This doesn’t mean inerrancy is an innovation; it means that the belief about scriptural truthfulness might be described in ways not familiar to Luther and Calvin. It is anachronistic to say that the Reformers or Church Fathers believed in the Bible’s truthfulness in exactly the same way we do. There is no way that they could have communicated the specific dangers of form criticism’s potential to divorce the Bible from its historical setting.

Bird, an Australian, is particularly helpful when he essentially holds to the tenants of biblical inerrancy without using the specific word. He believes inerrancy carries a lot of bad press outside of the United States. Bird avers, “the American inerrancy tradition, though largely a positive concept, is essentially modernist in construct, parochially American in context, and occasionally creates more exegetical problems than it solves.” (Kindle Locations 2454-2456).

We need to listen closely to our brother from Down Under. In another helpful section Bird builds the context even more. “Here is the problem: there are thousands of churches around the world that are both evangelical and orthodox and get on with their ministry without ever having heard of the CSBI and without ever using the word inerrancy in their statement of faith.” (Kindle Locations 2606-2607).

The third strength of the book is its establishment of inerrancy as a descriptive rather than a prescriptive doctrine. Many errors are the result of going beyond inerrancy’s claim that the Bible is inerrant to the claim that a particular interpretation of the Bible is inerrant. As Vanhoozer states, “After all, what is inerrant is the text, not our interpretation.” (Kindle Location 1121).

Vanhoozer skillfully unfolds a necessarily complex and nuanced understanding of inerrancy that is worth the price of the book:

I propose the following definition: to say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith             that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make                             affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers               read rightly). (Kindle Locations 3569-3571).

The idea of “right readers reading rightly” is brilliant. When Franke, in his chapter, eschews any notion of strong foundationalism he fails to offer a good epistemological alternative. Vanhoozer’s notion of “reading rightly” leaves room for a way of seeing knowledge as more dependent on the Holy Spirit’s intervention. Vanhoozer’s definition might make possible a view of epistemology that combines the strengths of a thoroughgoing correspondence theory with Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology. The Bible is completely true, and the Holy Spirit confirms this through a properly functioning sensus Divinitatus.

The fourth strength is the inclusion of two of the most refreshing theologians writing today, Kevin Vanhoozer and Michael Bird. Vanhoozer shines in these view books because he is forced to succinctly summarize his complex views in a limited amount of pages. Bird’s sense of orthodoxy and humor is very refreshing in a theological landscape that often celebrates dry prose.

Some of the more “serious” authors don’t seem to get Bird’s jokes, but he really is funny. For example, Bird reports that Enns’ views on the Bible “have courted more controversy than Kim Kardashian’s attending a Jihadists-for-Jesus fundraiser.” (Kindle Locations 2018-2019).

In great humor, Bird makes a serious argument:

To insist on inerrancy as the singular doctrinal device for global evangelicalism’s affirmation of scriptural authority makes about as much sense as insisting that African, Asian, or Australian sports fans abandon their enthusiasm for local sports and start following American football instead. We internationals have our own form of tackle football; it is called rugby. We like it better than American football because American football looks wimpy in comparison. Rugby is an international sport with a world cup, while American football is played by the USA— oh, and Canada. Rugby is continuous, whereas American football has more breaks than a Harley-Davidson on Route 66.

Rugby was the game played by the great Scottish missionary Eric Liddell, while                American football was the game played by O. J. Simpson. I rest my case! (Kindle Locations 2896-2902).


The only real weakness in the book is the editors’ desire to have each author interpret three different passages to show how their view of inerrancy plays out in the real biblical world. It was never really clear why these sections were even in the book. Some authors didn’t spend a lot of time in interpretation and others dedicated a lot of their chapters in this exercise. These exegetical exercises didn’t really help explain their specific ideas about inerrancy and the book would have been better focused without them.


In the world where a new “views” book seems to be published every month, it’s hard to know which ones deserve our time and attention. You will do well to invest in this book.

Inerrancy might be the most important in-house discussion happening among evangelicals today. This book will surely draw the borders of the debate while also educating us about how we should understand the book that defines who we worship and how we worship.

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Book Review: Interpreting the General Letters

As a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I was taught how to begin with Scripture in the original text and end with a sermon that grew naturally out of my study of the text. This involved translating, analyzing, and organizing the material in order to communicate the message of the author in a way that was relevant and clear. This approach to study has proven a powerful tool and an effective practice for Bible expositing preachers around the world. Herb Bateman has encapsulated the six semesters of training into a single book, using the General Epistles from which to draw examples.

Dr. Bateman begins this fine work discussing Greco-Roman letter writing. This chapter is an excellent resource for those unfamiliar with the subject. Additionally, he provides a helpful discussion of pseudonymity and the use of an amanuensis to defend the apostolic authorships of Peter, James, and Jude.

His discussion of background information (Chapter 2) is helpful to see the broad picture of the history and cultural developments in Judea as they might impact the New Testament writers and audiences. He is balanced in his approach toward the use of historical background in understanding the General Epistles. For example, though he notes similarities between James and Qumran’s wisdom literature, he rejects the idea of James being influenced by the Essenes, and suggests rather that both spoke from the larger context of a Jewish understanding of wisdom characteristic of their society and evident in the literature from every area of Judaism (73-79). He places the biblical theology of the General Epistles under the rubric of “God’s twofold strategic program,” “to reestablish his kingdom rule on earth and to redeem a people to enter into that kingdom” (91, italics his). He provides an excellent discussion of the various Old Testament covenants and their relationship to Israel and the Church. Their fulfillment has been “inaugurated” in the church age, but their ultimate fulfillment awaits Jesus’ return (95-116). He says that the General Epistles affirm that “the redemptive portion of his [God’s] program has been achieved in the humanity of Jesus” (106) and that God’s “strategic plan” will be “consummated” in the Millennial kingdom (113). Thus he is a consistent dispensationalist in his interpretive approach to the Old Testament.

As he moves toward the practical aspects of study and sermon preparation, he first discusses the specific biblical theologies of each of the General Epistles. He does excellent work in synthesizing their major contributions and summarizing the details of the theology of each epistle. Though one might not agree with every detail of his interpretations in this section, he explains his views clearly and concisely in such a way as to be very helpful.

The strength of this book is the process it provides for the exegete. Dr. Bateman accomplishes this by describing a nine-step process for studying the General Epistles (Chapters 4-6). Though the General Epistles remains his focus when illustrating each step, this process is just as applicable for the study of any other literature in the Bible. His nine steps are:

  1. Translate your passage from the Greek text.
  2. Find the interpretive issues in your passage.
  3. Identify major textual problems, whether it is noted in an English or Greek text.
  4. Interpret its structure.
  5. Interpreting style, syntax, and semantics.
  6. Interpreting words.
  7. Making an exegetical outline.
  8. Identifying the central idea of a passage in order to communicate it.
  9. The sermon itself (last step).

Some of the most helpful material from these sections included his discussion of structural outlines, chiasms and inclusions, the exegetical outline, and the subject-complement statement. His definition of a structural outline and explanation of its purpose are both clear and helpful (173). His discussion of chiasms and inclusions is clear and convincing that these are important literary structures to look for in large passages as well as sentences (187-91). He provides examples that are helpful is seeing the process and product of an exegetical outline. And he explains a subject-complement approach to summarizing the author’s message that shows its usefulness to the exegete (231-32). In all of this he provides excellent examples from his own practice that are easy to understand and appreciate the point he is making.

This is a very practical book, well written, and a valuable resource that will not just sit on the shelf. For the experienced preacher or Bible teacher, it provides great reminders and new insights into the study and communication of Scripture. For the student who wants to develop exegetical skills that will provide a solid foundation from which to preach or teach, this is a great instructional manual.

I commend this work and appreciate the contribution is can make to all who study it.

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Book Review: Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, Leader’s Guide and Participant’s Guide

Corbett and Fikkert move beyond the argument that short-term mission trips are harmful to communities and demonstrate poor stewardship, to a careful explanation of how these trips harm. Then they lay out a comprehensive solution and provide a set of resources for short trips that includes a Leader’s Guide, Participant’s Guide and online videos.

The Leader’s Guide is divided into four sections of short, thought-provoking chapters that conclude with “Takeaways” so that the reader can immediately apply what was learned. In the brief introduction, the authors explain the “why” of the book and give suggestions about how to use it. “Part One: A Different Sort of Trip” guides the reader through an assessment of short term trips, describing both positive and less-than-positive outcomes. The authors argue that the cumulative effect of approximately 1.6 million adult Americans attempting to alleviate poverty in one to two week chunks is actually harmful to the visited communities, as well as to long term mission and development efforts. (This material is a condensed and slightly reorganized version of a chapter from When Helping Hurts by the same authors.) The next chapters present a vision for how to participate in God’s mission to reconcile the world to Himself in wholeness, including an explanation of poverty, again drawn from When Helping Hurts. Finally, the authors lay a foundation for brief trips that will do the most good and least harm based on the principles outlined in preceding chapters. The new paradigm is three parts discipleship to one part trip. The goal of the trip is to promote fellowship between the sending and receiving communities. Participants build understanding and demonstrate good-will as they discover resources, needs and priorities for service together.

The third section of the book consists of concrete and practical guidance for discovering potential partners on the field, deciding upon an approach, sharing vision, identifying leaders, gathering a team, and designing a program of discipleship around the trip.  More pages of the book are dedicated to the implementation of the new approach to short trips than to theory. The emphasis is on providing guidance and practical tools in order to apply concepts of healthy and effective cross-cultural work. The final section of the book is a replica of the Participant’s Guide that includes notes for the leader on effectively guiding interactive training sessions.

The Participant’s Guide provides brief readings to accompany the videos, along with questions to provoke reflective self-discovery and group discussions. It covers some pre-trip training, though more pages are dedicated to facilitating reflection and processing during the “trip” and “post trip” segments. The focus of the Participant’s Guide is on informing, encouraging and holding participants accountable with the goal of a transformational experience.

The videos repeat essential points also covered in the Leader’s Guide, as well as some thoughts that echo ideas in When Helping Hurts. A video format is well-suited to a generation who are more accustomed to taking in information through video than through printed materials. On the other hand, some viewers may become bored with shots of each of the authors presenting points from the book against a black backdrop. While the Participant’s Guide includes QR codes for the online resources, it would be helpful to make DVDs available as well for those who lack the appropriate apps and/or reliable internet access.

The books are written in personable and non-judgmental tones. The reasoning and explanations are clear and focused. Statistics and credible sources make convincing arguments. The authors suggest enough resources to guide and satisfy the person who wants to know more without overwhelming him or her. Suggestions and recommendations for developing and carrying out a trip are immensely practical. It is readily apparent that the authors put their real life knowledge and experience to work so that their audience will not have to reinvent the wheel or make the same mistakes.

Corbett and Fikkert are knowledgeable and experienced guides explaining complex realities and carefully reviewing relevant details of the terrain ahead. Straight-forward, balanced, kind, and humble, their writing demonstrates that these men have the best in mind for all parties involved – short term teams, sending churches, donors, long term workers, receiving communities, and most importantly God and His honor and glory. Though Helping Without Hurting resources were specifically developed for short-term teams in poverty alleviation contexts, the authors’ descriptions of paternalism and typical cultural misunderstandings of short term visitors, along with the questions provided for reflection and discussion are valuable for any short term team.


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Book Review: Four Views on the Historical Adam

The debate over origins within the Evangelical community continues to morph into new issues. With the continued influence of critical scholarship on evangelical scholars, it has become more and more acceptable to interpret Scripture as an almost purely human work, with the authors trapped within the worldviews of their neighboring cultures, and God accommodating His truth to match their mistaken scientific perspectives. This has now led to differing perspectives on the reality and role of Adam and Even in the history of mankind.

To this new debate, Zondervan has contributed another helpful comparative work in which four “Evangelical” views on whether Adam is a historical person or not are presented with interaction between the for contributors. I found this very helpful and would commend it to anyone wishing to stay current with the continuing debate over the age of the earth and exactly how God created it.

Dennis Lamoureux presents us with a distinctly minority view within evangelicalism in his chapter, “No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View.” He sees the Genesis account as an example of God accommodating revelation to the scientific level of the original audience “in order to communicate inerrant, life-changing spiritual truths” (41). He considers nature as “the Book of God’s Works” that reveals truth equal to the “Book of God’s Words,” the Bible (42). Genesis 1-11 is “a unique type of literature (literary genre) that is distinct from the rest of the Bible” (44). He argues that “the Holy Spirit graciously descended to the level of the inspired authors and used the science-of-their-day as an incidental vessel to reveal inerrant Messages of Faith”(55). He eventually concludes: “Adam’s existence is based ultimately on an ancient conceptualization of human origins: de nova creation. To use technical terminology, Adam is the retrojective conclusion of an ancient taxonomy. And since ancient science does not align with physical reality, it follows that Adam never existed” (58). Ultimately the examples of accommodation he uses from the New Testament proves to be hermeneutically unsound and are readily answered by the other three respondents.

John Walton gives us a second view on Adam in his chapter entitled, “A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View.” He argues that Adam and Eve were real people, but not especially the first humans. They only represent all of humanity but were not the original parents from whom all of humanity came (89). He believes their role in subsequent Scripture (NT) is always archetypal and therefore need not be historical figures (90). He sees them and their literary role based on the ANE literature and is therefore using that literature to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 (90-91) though he later admits that there are no parallels among the ANE creation accounts (98-99). For him the description of Adan’s creation is literary and archetypal rather than literal (98). He uses poor hermeneutics and misses the figurative language and figures of speech, all of which point to literal things. Often he uses arguments from silence to discuss or explain passages and make them archetypal uses of Adam. I would describe his approach as creating a literary category the authors of Scripture were not thinking in.

C. John Collins addresses the issue from an Old-Earth model in his chapter entitled, “A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View.” In his view the six creation days “are God’s workdays, analogous to human workdays and not necessarily the first six days of the whole universe. Genesis 1 presents God as if he were a workman, going through his week, so that we can celebrate the creation as a magnificent achievement” (145, italics his). He, too, builds much of his argument from ANE literature, and even argues they did not take their stories literally (152). I would disagree in that there is nothing in their literature to indicate that they did not take their stories literally. In fact, it is far more likely that they did! He is very helpful in answering evolutionists and has some great insights. For example, he argues, “To the extent we base our inference entirely on, say, features of DNA, to the exclusion of other relevant kinds of evidence, we must also include such things as the aspects of human existence that are universally human and that are uniquely human” (165, italics his). He then shows the difference between humans and chimpanzees and gorillas in such things as language acquisition, art, craving for justice, and a sense that things are not the way they should be, all which he feels may constitute the image of God.

Finally, William D. Barrick addresses the issue from a Young Earth model in his chapter, “Historical Adam: Young Earth Creation View.” He spends little space defending his Young Earth view, which is good. His arguments tend to be more theological and focuses on the impact the story has on theology (219). He responds well to the misuse of ANE literature, and should be quoted at length “Similarities between the Israelite and the Mesopotamian materials need not require Israelite dependence on the Mesopotamian. Past and present scholars sometimes overstate the similarities while understating the differences. Genesis 1 does not offer a specific or direct ideological polemic. The biblical account of creation contains no description of God at war in any cosmic conflict among the gods, nor any victory enthronement motif, as one sees with these ancient Near Eastern myths. … With regard to the historicity of the biblical Adam, the Genesis account distinguishes itself from the ancient Near Eastern stories by the clear declaration that God created only one human pair (monogenesis) as compared to the polygenistic beliefs of other ancient peoples in the region.” (224)

Reading this book has renewed my interest in the origins debate as well as alerting me to the dangers of accommodating ourselves to science or extra-biblical sources, all of which are limited in what they can and do tell us about origins. I recommend it for those who wish to know more about the hermeneutical issues and the impact these views have on other areas of theology. It does matter what we believe about origins, not so much with regard to our justification, but very much with regard to our trust in the Scriptures.


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Word from the Front Lines

Paul taught us that we fight a spiritual battle, both within ourselves and in our world. Both fronts will ultimately be conquered in the end through Christ, but today the battle rages. Fortunately, the Scripture and Spirit continue to empower us for our combat.

In the first of our two feature articles, Mark Jacobson tackles the ever-difficult passage of Romans 7:14-25. He focuses on the contexts of Romans 7 that help answer whether Paul is talking about a believer or unbeliever when he describes one who desires the follow the Law but cannot. In the second article, I discuss two challenges we face when we study and teach Proverbs. The first challenge is how we approach the uniqueness of a proverb. Is it true? Sometimes true? The second challenge deals with how we handle the seeming randomness of Proverbs 10-30. What do we do with what appears to be a series of disconnected sayings?

Our two book reviews also tackle common issues of ministry today. Paul Johnson reviews A Better Way. It calls us to add a new model of missions to our current mindsets by investing in missionaries trained in every vocational field to go and disciple throughout the world. This approach especially opens doors in “closed” countries. Gary Derickson reviews Women, Slaves and the Gender Debate. This book will open your eyes to an emerging hermeneutical approach that threatens to rob many evangelicals of authoritative biblical convictions.

Thanks for serving at the front lines. We hope this issue of Dedicated encourages you in the spiritual battle.

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Understanding Proverbs without Overpromising or Undermining

Proverbs has presented peculiar challenges for church and classroom. These obstacles may discourage some from teaching or preaching Proverbs. “With the exception of Leviticus, it is doubtful that any biblical book is viewed with less enthusiasm by the preacher.”[1] Some see Proverbs as “nothing more than a deserted stretch of highway between Psalms and Ecclesiastes.”[2] This reticence is not new. Some rabbis doubted that Proverbs even belonged to the canon.[3] More recent “ministers” have misused the proverbs to the injury of the Church. “Riches and honor are for the person that gets wisdom. This is prosperity. If you get wisdom…riches are not far behind.”[4]

Still other interpreters jump to the broader wisdom context of Job and Ecclesiastes to prevent misuse of Proverbs. Longman argues that Job “guards against an overreading of the covenant and of the book of proverbs. It denies a mechanical application of the connection in Proverbs between wise behavior and material.”[5] Others leap quickly from Proverbs into the New Testament to make sense of the sayings. “The Book of Proverbs is like a thousand-word puzzle with no picture to show us what the puzzle is supposed to look like. But we have found the picture: Christ.”[6] While other wisdom contexts and the New Testament certainly join the interpretive process, the book of Proverbs itself has spoken more clearly than it is often given credit.

The purpose of this paper is to consider two key elements that demonstrate how Proverbs communicates its intent. These elements, the book message and literary context, often omitted or slighted in the Proverbs interpretive process, can clarify the meaning of individual sayings and correct some abuses of Proverbs. This paper will examine the book message and its relationship to individual sayings and then consider the potential for immediate literary context for understanding specific sayings.


Reading Individual Sayings in Proverbs’ Message

The starting point of finding the meaning of any passage is grasping the message of the entire book. Osborne notes that “through the influence of form criticism, the emphasis to date has been upon isolated parts rather than upon the whole of a section, and scholars have dissected books into separate and independent units before analyzing their meaning.” However, he concludes, “Only when the message of the whole passage [in his example a biblical book] is considered can the parts be studied for details of the central message.”[7] Elliott Johnson also, “Thus the basic unit of meaning as regards the author’s intent is not the word; rather, it is the author’s text considered at first as a whole. The process legitimately goes, not from the smallest unit to larger ones, but from the largest context to smaller ones.”[8] As with other biblical books, the message of Proverbs defines the meaning of its constituent texts.

The overall message of Proverbs bubbles from multiple springs. The nine chapter prologue sets the moral and religious stage for all individual sayings that follow. Opening that prologue is a seven verse introduction (1:1-7) both spelling out the purpose of Proverbs and voicing the book motto. Following the prologue are strategically scattered Yahweh sayings and comparative sayings. These serve to cast Yahweh’s shadow across the entire proverbial landscape and to highlight the pinnacle virtues of Proverbs. Funneling these springs together ought to establish an overarching message that clarifies the meaning of the individual sayings in the collection.

Introduction and Prologue/Epilogue. Unlike other biblical books, Proverbs clearly articulates its purpose and major emphases. Scholars widely acknowledge that section comprised of chapters 1-9 “serves as a thematic introduction or preamble to the whole document.”[9] Here the competition for the learner’s heart rages between Lady Wisdom and Madame Folly. Having established the poisonous enticements of folly and the exquisite rewards of wisdom (chs. 1-9), Proverbs then offers specific sayings (10-31) applying this overarching theme.

Opening the prologue, Proverbs spells out the specific purposes for the collection of wisdom sayings. The series of infinitive phrases in Proverbs 1:2-7 utilizes a “grand array” of wisdom terms to express the collection’s purpose.[10] John Johnson synthesizes these statements into four key purposes: 1) “To impart an intimate acquaintance with discipline and wisdom (v. 2a);” 2) To impart understanding of wisdom sayings;” 3) to impart moral insight (v. 3);” and 4) “to identify the intended recipients of wisdom.”[11] For the intended learners (all are learners as seen by the use of the merisms simple/young with wise/discerning [1:4-5], the collection serves to instruct in grasping the sayings themselves so that they can be appropriately applied with disciplined wisdom and moral insight.

This introduction surfaces the essential virtue of discernment (בִּינָה / בִּיןvv. 2,5,6) for grasping wisdom sayings. Later sayings build on this foundation by demonstrating the importance of proper appropriation of the proverbs. Proverbs 26:7 and 9 vividly describe the misuse of a proverb as effective as a lame man’s legs and as dangerous as a drunk waving a thorn bush. Further, surely the requirement of discernment of proper proverb application rests at the center of the Proverbs 26:4-5 answer/don’t answer a fool conundrum. Any individual proverb rests in the context of the necessity of applying sayings with discernment.

So the prologue highlights the priority of seeking wisdom in its full array. Its introduction further specifies this righteous pursuit as rightly grasping the wisdom sayings for the purpose of growing in understanding, discipline and discernment; growing wise. The introduction concludes by surfacing the motto of the collection. Growing wise in literature and life must be rooted in a reverential awe of Yahweh.

Motto of Book. Proverbs’ introduction climaxes in revelation of the source of all true wisdom:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (1:7)

John Johnson likens the seven verse introduction to a foundation with this motto the cornerstone.[12] Van Pelt and Kaiser agree, concluding that “the relationship between the fear of Yahweh and both wisdom and knowledge serves as the theme for the entire work.”[13] This motto is rehearsed in 19 more proverbs throughout the collection.[14] The repetitions include 9:10 where the motto serves to complete the inclusio of the nine chapter prologue. The motto also reappears as a conclusion in the epilogue of Proverbs 31. These three crucial literary locations demonstrate the significance of the motto for grasping the meaning of the collection.

The word for “fear” (יִרְאָה) ranges from terror to respect, but in this context refers to a reverenced worship that drives one to proper moral response (Prov 3:7; 8:13; 14;16; 16:17; 28:14). This reverenced worship is the beginning and focus of wisdom and knowledge. The term רֵאשִׁית (“beginning” 1:7) refers to that which is the beginning of an action in time (cf. Gen 1:1) or that which is superior among choices (cf. Deut 33:21). The matching term in 9:10, תְּחִלָּה, refers more specifically to that which comes first in time (cf. 2 Sam 17:9). With the use of the two terms, it is clear that Proverbs intends that reverential worship represents the first requisite to wisdom.

Both repetition and strategic location communicate that this recurring motto represents a seminal theme of Proverbs. One cannot be truly wise if the wisdom does not follow the primary step of fearing Yahweh. As a starting point of wisdom, all wisdom sayings ought to be understood in light of this reverential worship.

Shadow of Yahweh. As seen in the motto, Yahweh rules the center of biblical wisdom. Proverbs is not a collection of secular wisdom for temporal life. Instead, it discloses worship that infiltrates work, words, all the ways of life. Contrary to the secular reputation of Proverbs, when compared to other Old Testament books, Proverbs mentions Yahweh as often as books such as Genesis, 2 Samuel, Ezra and nearly as often as many of the prophetic books.[15] So though His name is not constantly repeated in the collection, Yahweh appears enough and in crucial places to cast His shadow over every saying.

While the motto demonstrates that Yahweh stands at the starting line of wisdom, key proverbs show that He also determines the outcome of the race. This divine prerogative colors the expectations of reward for righteousness.

Agur recognized that ultimately wisdom resided only in God. In language reflective of Job’s confrontation with God, Agur acknowledged his inability to grasp God’s wisdom and ways:

I am the most ignorant of men;

I do not have a man’s understanding.

I have not learned wisdom,

nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. (30:2-3)

His humble confession results from the reality that God alone has established this world and its ways:

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?

Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?

Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?

Who has established all the ends of the earth?

What is his name,

and the name of his son?

Tell me if you know! (30:4)

Yahweh’s knowledge extends from eternity past in creation to the human heart today. His eyes see all that happens on the earth (15:3). He sees even the motives of mankind. Using imagery of weighing on a scale and testing in a crucible, the sage teaches that Yahweh discerns the intents of His human creation (16:2; 17:3).

God’s power extends past His knowledge into control of all outcomes. No wickedness or wisdom succeeds against Him (21:30; 22:12). Each planned course, decision and word ultimately spring from and accomplish God’s purpose (16:9; 16:33; 16:1). All flows toward His directed end (16:4).

The divine prerogative theme serves to clarify the intent of the individual sayings in the collection. They cannot simply be formulaic, turning God into a heavenly vending machine, but rather must be understood in light of God’s sovereign reality. One cannot presume to know his own way, if God directs each step and every journey (20:24).

Comparative Sayings. Another key element that serves to clarify the author’s intent in Proverbs is the group of comparative sayings. These are typically characterized by the comparative מִן, coupled with טוֹב (“good” or in these contexts “better”). They place the temporal rewards of many proverbs into proper priority.

People often wrongly equate prominence and power with God’s blessing. The proverbs remind us however that meager resources surpass one who merely projects importance (Prov 12:9). Further, the ability to conquer angry urges (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם) impresses the sage far more than greatness (גִּבֹּור) or military subjugation (Prov 16:32). So place and power may result from piety, but they cannot become the goal of the learner.

For the one seeking riches through righteousness, the comparative proverbs draw attention to a more significant bottom line. Many virtues exceed prosperity. A reputation (שֵׁם) and favor (חֵן) bring greater value than many riches (Prov 22:1). One who lives among the oppressed, but possesses humility (שְׁפַל־רוּחַ) stands in superior position to those enriched by plunder but impoverished by pride (Prov 16:19). A millionaire, though self-impressed, is surpassed by a poor individual with discernment (דַל מֵבִין – Prov 28:11). Riches also fall to a distant second behind other virtues, such as integrity (תֹּם Prov 28:6), righteousness (צְדָקָה Prov 16:8), and love (אַהֲבָה Prov 15:17). In fact, with the trouble often associated with riches (Prov 15:16), the sage asks for the financial middle road, lest in his riches he forgets Yahweh (Prov 30:9). So though riches may result from the exercise of personal virtues, the virtues themselves ought to draw the learner’s primary attention and energy.

Finally, the twin peaks of Proverbs, the “fear of Yahweh” and “wisdom,” tower above the foothills of prosperity. After their establishment in the introduction as the key concerns for the learner, these lofty virtues peak through on occasion throughout the book to remind the reader of their importance. Proverbs 3:13-15 emphasize that the one who lays hold of wisdom has grasped a richer treasure than silver and gold can ever provide. This theme echoes in Lady Wisdom’s call in 8:11 and 19. To choose her is to choose true riches. The wealth of wisdom appears again in 16:16 and then shines a final time in the actions of the Proverb 31 portrait. The fear of Yahweh also echoes from the introduction. This reverence makes a little (מְעַט) to exceed the capacity of multiplied treasure rooms (אֹוצָר) (Prov 15:16). The resounding triumph of fearing Yahweh rings again in the epilogue of Proverbs: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov 31:30). The appearance so often longed for fades so soon, but righteous virtue glows always.

The authors of Proverbs do not intend to shift the learner’s focus to the result of wise living. Though enjoyable results often come, the central virtues themselves stand as the true reward. The comparative sayings make it clear that the learner’s investment strategy needs to accumulate moral assets over temporal possessions.

Proverbs, therefore, educates all comers in the godly discernment of words and life for the purpose of producing a worshipful wisdom worked out in every sphere of human existence. This broad message; established in introduction, capped in epilogue, and buttressed throughout; serves to clarify each saying in the book.

Reading Individual Proverbs in Literary Context

After the book message, the next largest context that shapes meaning is literary context. To discuss the role of literary context in interpreting Proverbs opens a hermeneutical mystery. Is there actually context? Von Rad declares that “each sentence, each didactic poem, stands on its own and does not expect to be interpreted on the basis of similar poems.”[16] Longman adds that “reading the proverb in context does not change our understanding of either proverb. It doesn’t even enrich our understanding.”[17] Is there truly no literary context for a proverb? Is the literary genre so unique that the ordering of the text makes no difference, while in all other genres the text order carries great significance? Are scholars searching for context among the sayings close to finding the Giant Panda or fruitlessly seeking Bigfoot?[18]

The discussion at hand will assume that the interpreter already works within the historical-cultural contexts as well as within the literary genre of wisdom literature. Attention instead will focus on the issue of existence and extent of literary context of Proverbs. While scholars acknowledge that one may study Proverbs topically, recognizing that remote proverbs on the same subject may be gathered for study, this section will focus on the possibility of immediate or cluster context for interpreting an individual saying.

This question of literary context for a proverb refers specifically to those individual sayings in chapters 10-31. Chapters 1-9 have long been recognized as a unit serving to introduce the major themes of Proverbs. One should also note that chapters 10-31 contain some units of proverbs, such as the Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:22), Sayings of Agur (30:1-33), and the climactic Noble Wife Poem (31:10-31). With these brief exceptions, the chapters seem to be a random collection of wisdom sayings. Do these “random” collections in fact reflect a divine ordering and therefore an interpretive demand to discover this order and its implications?

Current evangelical scholars answer this question in three ways: No! Yes! Maybe! Tremper Longman notes that since 1980 we have “seen a growing consensus among interpreters that there is more here than meets the eye.”[19] Spurred by the groundbreaking work of Gustav Boström in 1928,[20] several contemporary scholars have pursued possible connections among the individual sayings of 10-31. Connections may show through aural links (consonance, assonance, alliteration) or through rhetorical devices (catchwords, parallel syntax) or through theme (similar circumstances or theological emphasis). Longman, however, remains suspicious of such arrangements. He notes that no prevailing scheme has surfaced. “There are as many different nuances in the schemes suggested to unravel the mystery as there are scholars.”[21] He suggests that Proverbs follows the random pattern of other ancient Near East wisdom collections. Perhaps as well, this randomness is intentional and “reflects the messiness of life.”[22]

Daniel Estes follows Longman in his approach to the proverbs, but with less skepticism of design. He interprets individual sayings and then compares the result with the interpretation of sayings of similar theme and content. He concludes that one best understands an individual saying as part of a larger picture within all of Proverbs. “That portrait emerges only when all of the relevant sayings on the topic are considered together.” He does believe though that in seeking immediate context links “promising efforts have been made by Whybray (1994b), Murphy (1998b), Heim (2001) and others.” However, at present it remains to Estes “difficult to discern the order to the proverbs, especially in chapters 10-31.”[23] Therefore, Estes does not attempt to interpret individual sayings within literary units.

Bruce Waltke represents the definite Yes group. His commentary introduction traces the attempts to discern structure within Proverbs 10-31. He describes approvingly the work of Skladny, Boström, Whybray, Goldingay, and others as well as his own efforts in discovering proverb arrangement.[24] He concludes, “By knowing the poetics biblical narrators and poets of all sorts, including sages, used to give their compositions coherence and unity, the interpreter can discern unstated and often implicit, not explicit, connections between verses.” Further, “By matching the text’s surface rhetorical techniques (or syntagmatic connections) with the deep structure of its meaning (paradigmatic connections) one may discern a proverb’s or saying’s meaning-rich literary context.”[25]

Waltke’s commentary then demonstrates his understanding of the arrangements and their significance by defining the units and then interpreting individual sayings within the unit context. He concludes the single-line “educative” proverbs serve as a heuristic guide, pointing out the beginning of larger units. Within those units, a number of rhetorical devices reveal sub-units.[26]

Some examples help illustrate the possible significance that this literary context may have for interpretation. First, intentional placement in the editing process seems likely in the arrangement of Proverbs 10:24-11:11. The frequency of the use of righteous/wicked terminology seems to be the magnet that draws these sayings into a unit. Terms for righteousness and wickedness (צַדִּיק and רָשָׁע ) appear 20 times in this brief section. This forms a centerpiece for a larger unit (chs 10-13) in which these terms occur more than 68 times. The concentration of these righteous/wicked sayings appears to extend the emphasis of the prologue (1:8-9:18) into the more thematic sayings. Therefore, an individual saying within the group ought to be interpreted in light of the surrounding proverbs and in relation to the wisdom-folly competition for the heart in the prologue.

A second possible example is the oft problematic verse of Proverbs 22:6. Too many parents have expected guaranteed results or shouldered unfair blame for their children’s lives. Though debated by some, most acknowledge that this proverb emphasizes the parents’ role in moral training of their children.[27] Waltke places this saying in a unit emphasizing Yahweh’s sovereignty in wealth and in moral instruction.[28] Within this unit, the saying in 22:6 ought to be understood along with the 22:15 reminder that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. A parent has a tremendous responsibility for moral training, but it does not remove the sin nature nor the moral obligation of the child. Further, the introductory saying for the next subunit calls on every learner to be a responsive hearer: “Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise” (22:17). So the danger of formulaizing Proverbs 22:6 may be answered by clarifying statements in its immediate context.

A third potential example clarifies the blessing of wealth in the well-known sayings of Proverbs 3:9-10.

Honor Yahweh with your wealth,

with the firstfruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be overflowing,

and your vats will brim over with new wine.

An uninformed overreading of the text suggests that honoring Yahweh produces massive agricultural success. However, the intent of the proverb becomes clearer in light of surrounding texts. Proverbs 3:13-16 declares that the virtues of wisdom exceed temporal success. The value is more than silver, gold, or any temporal prosperity. The true value rests in the virtue itself, apart from potential reward.

A final example shows how textual arrangement may affect interpretation. Waltke suggests that Proverbs 10:1b-16 form a unit contrasting the righteous and wicked in the arenas of speech and wealth. An introductory “rearing proverb” (10:1b) marks the unit beginning. A mix of chiasm, paronomasia (pun), and catchwords adhere the sayings into a cohesive unit. The strategic use of life (חַיִּים) and death (מָוֶת) in each of the three subunits (2, 11, 16) serves to heighten the significance of the individual sayings. “In short, the stakes are high: one’s deportment with money (vv. 2-5, 15-16) and speech (vv. 6-14) are matters of life and death.”[29]

The above examples demonstrate that indeed if Proverbs 10-31 represents cohesive design, then the contextual setting of the design can impact the interpretation of individual sayings within a unit. If this is the case, then the intent of the authors/compilers of proverbs into Proverbs is expressed not only in individual pithy sayings, but also in carefully constructed units of sayings. Perhaps, since a single proverb encases such a narrow slice of life, groups of sayings better deal with the complexity of life. If cohesive design exists in these chapters, an interpreter hears not a series of solo voices, but a harmonious choir.

At this stage in the study of textual arrangement of Proverbs, one cannot make dogmatic assertions. Longman’s observation concerning the diversity of schematic arrangements and their seeming subjectivity rings clear. Literary design and subsequent interpretive context cannot be decisively demonstrated. However, as Waltke noted, there are some clear evidences of literary design within Proverbs. If some have clear arrangement, perhaps arrangement of other proverbs will be discovered. So current scholarship as a whole answers the literary context existence question with a definite maybe, leaning toward Yes. It seems interpreters may actually on the verge of finding the Panda rather than imagining another Bigfoot.

Two considerations surface before dismissing possible text arrangement in Proverbs. The first is historical. Parallelism was essentially unknown until discovered and explained by Robert Lowth in 1753. Until then an important textual arrangement of poetry was unnoticed and unused. Now it represents a basic element of interpreting Hebrew poetry. The arrangement existed, but took centuries to surface. A similarly delayed discovery rose from the Old Testament psalter. Past interpreters of Psalms seldom interpreted an individual poem in light of its canonical context within the collection. However, most current books on Psalms now discuss the overall significance of the collected arrangement.[30] The second consideration is philosophical. If as evangelicals we believe God has inspired the writings of Scripture, we recognize that involves the arrangement of the text. This seems obvious with the logical arrangement of epistles or the narrative arrangement of the Gospels. It appears important as well in the design of prophetic oracles and psalm collections. Therefore, if inspiration includes literary arrangement and context in other biblical genres, may it also be a part of the divinely guided composition/compilation process of Proverbs?

Given the clear examples, along with the historical and philosophical considerations, one concludes at this point that interpreting an individual saying should involve checking for possible literary context. If an interpreter discovers clear linkage of a saying with surrounding sayings, these should influence the understanding of the single proverb. The clearer the cohesion of the unit and thematic connection of the sayings within it, the more certain one can conclude that the arrangement expresses an element of the author’s intended meaning.


This study has shown that the message of Proverbs, worshipful practical wisdom produced by discernment and producing moral virtue, ought to guide our interpretation and application of individual sayings. While wisdom genre, broader context of Job and Ecclesiastes, and the still broader New Testament context are important elements of interpreting Proverbs, they should not be used to the exclusion of the book’s message and literary context. In fact, these two closer contexts should have higher priority than more remote ones. Rather than having other biblical texts interrupt interpretation by speaking too soon, it is better to let Proverbs finish its own sentences.

Further, this paper has shown that enough evidence of cohesive literary design exists for an interpreter to seek to locate a saying within a literary unit. These units must exhibit clear literary and thematic consistency. The stronger and clearer the connection, the more influence the unit should exert on the interpretation of a single saying. Allowing these two voices to speak in the Proverbs interpretation process at their proper time can lead to a clearer interpretation and communication of the intended meaning of this beloved portion of Scripture.


[1] John J. Collins, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Knox Preaching Guides (Atlanta: John Knox, 1980), 1.

[2] Thomas G. Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 53.

[3] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), p. 48-9.

[4] Robert Tilton, successinlifeonline.org.

[5] Tremper Longman III, How to Read Proverbs (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), p. 87.

[6] See for example, E. Langston Haygood, “How to Preach Christ from Proverbs,” Preaching (November-December 1991): 48-51.

[7] Grant Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove: IVP, 1991), p. 22.

[8] Elliott Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), p. 10.

[9] Daniel Estes, Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), p. 19.

[10] Robert Alden, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), p. 21.

[11] John Johnson, “An Analysis of Proverbs 1:1-7,” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 1987): 419-432.

[12] Johnson, “Proverbs 1:1-7.” 430.

[13] Miles Van Pelt and Walter Kaiser, “ירא” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 2:533.

[14] Prov 1:29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2, 16, 26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22;4; 23:17; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30.

[15] A search of the relative frequency of “Yahweh” in Proverbs reveals it is found 12.5 times per 1000 Hebrew words. This compares to 8.0 in Genesis, 13.5 in Judges, 13.7 in 2 Samuel, and 9.5 in Ezra.

[16] Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (SCM Press, 1972), p. 6.

[17] Longman, Proverbs, p. 41.

[18] The Giant Panda was thought a mythical creature by the West until Pére David, a French priest and scientist, found one in the mountain bamboo forests of China. Bigfoot remains a mythical beast J

[19] Ibid, p. 38.

[20] Paronamasi i den alder hebreiska Maschallitteraturen, (Lund: Gleerup).

[21] Longman, Proverbs, pp. 38-9.

[22] Ibid, p. 40.

[23] Estes, Wisdom Books, p. 220.

[24] The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 14-21.

[25] Waltke, Proverbs, pp. 45-48.

[26] Ibid, 21.

[27] See Longman, pp. 404-5 for discussion.

[28] Waltke (Proverbs II, pp. 196-7) marks off the unit as 22:1-16 by thematic elements, repeated catchwords and by inclusion formed by 22:1 and 22:14-15.

[29] Waltke, Proverbs I, p. 450.

[30] For two current examples, see Estes, Proverbs, 145-146 and C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), pp. 58-82.

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The Contextual, Thematic and Literary Context of Romans 7:14-25


This article complements an article that appeared in the Fall 2011 Dedicated Journal.[1] That article proposed an interpretation of Gal. 5:16-18 that promotes a more encouraging prospect for living a godly life than is often communicated in popular presentations. My purpose in revisiting this theme with a survey of Rom. 7:14-25 is that this passage, more than Gal. 5:16-18, has been used to throw considerable doubt on the believer’s chances to live a life freed from the domination of sin. This passage stands at the heart of this controversy; it is the crux interpretum for those desiring to understand Paul’s view of the power of the sinful nature in the heart of the believer.

Getting this passage right is critically important, especially for pastors and teachers whose goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). If Paul himself so struggled with sin that he despaired of being able to do what was right—a common interpretation of Rom. 7:14-25—then what chance does the not-so-motivated, weaker Christian have of doing what is right? A careful study will show that this passage should not be interpreted to mean that the believer is unable, despite the best intentions and will-power, to live a life of mastery over sin. Its message instead conveys much more hope.

Brevity demands clarity. Romans 7:14-25 has nothing to do with the struggle (It is a struggle!) of the believer to live a godly life. This passage does not address the sinful nature within the heart of a believer; it does not depict the conflicting desires within a Christian. This passage does not speak about sanctification; Paul is not writing about his present struggle with indwelling sin.[2] Rather, it concludes Paul’s teaching on how sin used the commands of the Law to secure unbelieving Jews in their sinful state and how the (Jewish) believer has been set free by the Spirit from sin and the Law to live a life characterized by righteousness. Paul has another purpose in mind that is very important to him: to defend the Law (really, to defend Paul himself) against the charge that it somehow is an ally of sin, that the Law itself is sinful.

This study supports the “unregenerate” view of Romans 7:14-25. This is the view that the struggle Paul describes in 7:14-25 is not that of a believer, but of an unbeliever. The struggle described is not that of just any unregenerate person, certainly not that of a Gentile. Specifically, it describes the struggle of a Torah-observant Jew to do what Yahweh has commanded him to do, but who finds it impossible to do. Is it then autobiographical? Does Paul allow his audience a glimpse into his own personal struggle with sin as a Pharisee before his conversion? This is possible, but not necessary. This could simply refer to Everyman Jew, given that Everyman Jew is Torah-observant, a lover of Torah who desires to please Yahweh by abiding by it. We should also leave open the option that in his powerful rhetoric declaring his failure to do what is right, Paul does some back-reading, describing his failure from the perspective of a converted Jew looking back on his pre-conversion days.

The title of this article suggests that contextual, thematic and literary concerns will be addressed in an effort to support the thesis stated above. If this passage is removed from its contexts, as it usually is in popular presentations, the struggle with sin sounds familiar—try as you might, you still sin. Who doesn’t have some “besetting sin” that seems to hang on despite our best efforts? For this reason this passage, when taken out of its context, continues to resonate with audiences. But audience response should not shape our hermeneutics. When remove passages from their contexts, misguided interpretations are almost inevitable. Such is the case here. Paul certainly deals with the believer’s struggle with indwelling sin, but not here in Romans 7:14-25.

These three elements—context, theme and literary devices—will be interweaved throughout this study since at times they overlap. As we think of the widest context for Paul’s remarks, we must begin with Paul himself at the time he wrote Romans and what has come to be called the “Jew-Gentile controversy.”

The Cultural/Theological Context: The Jew-Gentile Controversy

At the heart of the controversy was the relationship, if any, of Torah to the Gospel that Paul preached.  The Jews assumed that Gentiles needed to come to God through the institution of Judaism. That had been the way God had operated for over 1400 years; why change now? Gentiles, very understandably, said, “No way are we going to be circumcised and live by the rules of the Law!  Neither one is essential for our salvation.” Paul himself fueled the controversy because he evangelized the Gentiles as Gentiles, not as Jewish proselytes. To do that he believed and taught that the Law as a rule of life had come to an end for Jewish believers and believing Gentile proselytes to Judaism. The controversy became very personal for Paul when he was wrongly accused by the Jews of turning his back on his Jewish heritage, claiming that he had no more use for the Law of Moses, and that he actually advocated not living by it. Worst of all, they accused him of teaching that it did not matter if you lived a life of sin, because grace covers all sin!

Since Gentile conversions had become more prevalent than Jewish conversions, the issue could not be ignored. In fact, with so many Gentiles being saved and so few Jews becoming Christians, it appeared that a major shift in God’s plan of redemption for mankind was underway. This was extremely confusing to everyone—Gentiles as well as Jews. In the midst of this confusion, suspicion, and rumors Paul wrote Romans. Paul’s letter to the Romans, then, like all other New Testament epistles, is situational. While it rightfully can be called Paul’s treatise on salvation, that treatise is firmly set within the context of the Jew-Gentile controversy, at the center of which was the nature and function of Torah.  A helpful way of reading Romans is to imagine in the background a group of frowning, hostile Jews, ready to jump on anything that Paul says that might be construed negatively toward Judaism in general, and Torah in particular. Now nearing the end of his ministry, Paul has often felt the sting of their opposition. He writes Romans with this group always in his mind, being careful at every opportunity to defend the Gospel and himself against charges of antinominianism and betrayal of Judaism and Torah.

Throughout the first five chapters, with the current controversy in mind, Paul cannot help but lay himself open to the accusation that he has adopted a negative attitude toward Torah. He has had to explain the Gospel vis-à-vis the Law, and in doing so has given the impression that somehow Torah has been linked with sin. Consider how the following statements could have been misinterpreted by this behind-the-scene group of Jewish antagonists who loved their religion and were completely dedicated to observing Torah. To obey Torah was to honor Yahweh; to speak against Torah was to blaspheme him.

  • “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20a)
  • “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation” (4:15)
  • “but sin is not imputed when there is not law” (5:13b)
  • “And when the Law came in that the transgression might increase” (5:20a)

Paul was not unaware of how his objectors would react to him repeatedly linking Torah with sin. He knew that at some point in his treatise he would have to explain more fully the relationship between sin, Torah and the Jewish unbeliever. This he does in Romans six through the first part of chapter eight.

The Thematic Context of Romans 6:1-8:17

We can now narrow down our study to the literary unit where 7:14-25 resides, beginning with chapter six and extending into the first half of chapter eight. The trigger that sets off the exclamation in 6:1, “What shall we say then?  . . . By no means!” is Paul’s climactic conclusion to the Adam-Christ contrast of Rom. 5:12-21. With a dramatic flourish, Paul extols the grace of God in saving sinners, both Jew and Gentile. But he does so with an apparent knock against Torah: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:21). Paul’s adversaries now have all the evidence they need to confirm their suspicions about Paul! Did not Paul just say that it does not matter what sins a person commits (“sins”=laws of Torah disobeyed), grace covers them all?  So why not live a dissolute life in violation of Torah? Paul spends two and a half chapters to debunk this notion, explaining how that his Gospel has set the Jew free not only from sin but also, necessarily, from the Law. In so doing, he will make sure that his audience understands that he has never been opposed to the Law. He will explain that the Law’s main problem was that it could only command; it was powerless to produce a godly life. It condemned the sinner; it could not justify the sinner. That was the role of the Spirit through the Gospel.

As mentioned at the outset, one of the mistakes made in interpreting chapter seven is lifting it out of this thematic context. Throughout this section Paul employs a number of thematic contrasts to explain what happens when a Torah-observant Jew believes the Gospel and is saved: old man/new man; bondage/freedom; Law/Spirit; death/life. The nature of these contrasts is important to note. They do not describe the difference between an obedient Christian and a disobedient Christian; they describe the difference between the unsaved (Jews primarily) and the saved. The following chart highlights the contrasting themes that are central to these chapters.

Contrasting Themes in Romans 6:1-8:17

The Realm of Law and Sin(unsaved) The Realm of the Spirit and Righteousness(saved)
Old Man


Alive to sin and

dead to God


A slave to sin and

free from righteousness



New Man


Dead to sin and

alive to God


Free from sin and

a slave to righteousness


Eternal Life

These contrasting themes are very important to recognize. They set the theological background needed to interpret properly any text within these two-and-a-half chapters. As the chart indicates, Paul has not left the general subject of justification (chapters 1-5) to now deal with sanctification. He is still dealing with the subject of justification, now taking the time in these chapters to apply the doctrine in a way that addresses concerns regularly expressed in the ongoing Jew-Gentile controversy.

The larger thematic context of our passage narrows its focus in the specific literary unit that comprises Romans six and seven. While these two chapters remain connected thematically to the first part of chapter eight, they more tightly connect to each other than to chapter eight.


The Literary Unity of Romans 6 and 7

Paul structures Romans 6-7 by means of one of his favorite literary devices, the rhetorical “What then?  May it never be!” or its equivalent. This occurs in the four stages of his argument: 6:1; 6:15; 7:7; 7:13. They serve as subject headings and thus indicate the flow of Paul’s argument throughout these chapters.

6:1 What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?  May it never be!

Inconceivable! Once you die, that is it; no more of that life. We have become new people because of our union with Christ. We died to sin and now we live for the glory of God. So act like the dead (to sin) and the resurrected (to a new life of righteousness) people that you are!

6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!

No, the change from living under the Law of Moses to this age of unparalleled grace in Christ provides no basis for a life of sin. Just the opposite is the case. Our life now in this age of “grace” is characterized by righteousness. It is completely different than when we Jews were under the Law.  Then we were slaves to sin; now we are slaves to righteousness.

This section begins with the question, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace?” One would think that the answer, which immediately follows, would say something about the Law of Moses. But Paul does not mention the Law again through the end of chapter six. We must ignore the chapter break in our Bibles; the section carries on into chapter seven, which does deal with the Law.

Paul’s illustration of the married couple in 7:1-6 is one of those illustrations that you don’t want to press too far. Neither the husband nor the wife represents the believer, yet in a way both do. The point is that Jews who have come to embrace Christ have died to both sin and also to the Law and now are freed to live a righteous life for the first time in their experience.

7:7 What shall we say then?  Is the Law sin?  May it never be!

The Law was in no way responsible for the spiritual death of those under it. The only reason that “Law” and “sin” can be thought of together as resulting in spiritual death is that Law made the Jews aware of what sin was. It defined sin. It created new categories of sin. It made it possible to sin in ways that nobody had sinned before. Unfortunately, however, it did nothing to remedy sin, so Jews died in their sin.

Romans 7:7 begins a defense of the Law that will be set forth in two complementary sections, the second being 7:13-25. In 7:7-12 Paul says that the Law cannot be sin, because it reveals the will of God; it tells us (Jews) what is right and what is wrong. He then explains that sin is the real culprit, not the Law. Sin took advantage of the fact that the Law could only command; it could not enable the unsaved Jew to obey it.

7:13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?  May it never be!

No, the Law did a good thing. The Law showed me the right way to go. But without the life that the grace of God provides, I am completely helpless to obey it. Try as I might I cannot do anything right, anything at all that pleases God. I am a slave to sin. So it is sin, and only sin, that kills, not the Law.  The only remedy for this is the freedom from sin and death that the Spirit makes possible.

Romans 7:13-25 restates the thought of 7:7-12, only in more detail and with stronger rhetoric. Paul has to convince his Jewish listeners that he really means it when he says that the Law is not to blame for the present lost condition of the Jews. So 7:13-25 is a very dramatic and persuasive depiction of the process itself, one that should convince Jews that indeed the Law, while not the direct cause of Jews being enslaved in sin and subject to death, was nevertheless the means by which sin enslaved the Jews.

The key to this interpretation of 7:14-25 is to see that the rhetorical question of v. 13 introduces it. The question of v. 13—“Did that which was good [Torah] bring death to me?”—is answered with vv. 14-25. Perhaps one reason for confusion can be credited to our translations. The NASB, for example, inserts a paragraph break between v. 13 and v. 14 with “The Conflict of the Two Natures” at the head of v. 14. The NLT does the same: “Struggling with Sin” heads v. 14. If, however, v. 13 is allowed to stand at the head of this section, in the same way that the three other headings do, then it is readily apparent that the topic of vv. 14-25 is how the Law of Moses related to the spiritual death of the Jews, not the believer’s struggle with the sinful nature.

As the investigation of this passage narrows, focus shifts finally to the passage itself, 7:14-25.  Because it has its own distinctive literary quality, it deserves separate attention.



The Cyclical Structure of Romans 7:14-25[3]


Willsey has observed that Rom. 7:14-25 consists of three confessional cycles, four sections to each cycle.1 Seifrid has noticed the same basic structure.[4] Seifrid understands the passage to be an example of Jewish penitential language, which “invites the reader to the same confession.”[5] Unlike Willsey who sees four sections to each cycle, Seifrid sees three. “The passage should be seen as consisting in three sections, each beginning with a statement of self-knowledge, moving to a narration of behavior and ending with a diagnosis of the egō (“I”) confirming the confession which began the section.”[6] It should be noted that the cyclical structure itself does not support the unregenerate interpretation of this passage, nor does it support the regenerate view. It rather explains why the passage sounds so repetitive; it is designed to be! The repetition of the cycle is a dramatic rhetorical touch by Paul. If it is worth saying once, it is worth saying three times to hammer home the point—total helplessness of the “I” portrayed here. The three sections are vv. 14-17, vv. 18-20, and vv. 21-25.

The “I” and the present tense are the most serious problem facing the unregenerate view. However, they can be explained as Paul’s dramatic way of including his Jewish audience in his argument, or as Seifrid puts it, Paul “invites the reader to the same confession.”

As has been noted, this passage repeats the basic thought expressed in 7:7-12. In that passage, there is no question that Paul is talking about his pre-conversion experience with Torah. He refers to the past, apparently to a time of his childhood or youth in which he came to realize that the Law could only command; it did not provide the power to obey.

If it is objected that according to Paul’s own testimony the sinner does not seek after God or desire to do his will (3:10-18), we must keep in mind that is writing “to those who know the law” (7:1) and desire to live by it. Paul’s description of this desire would not be applicable to a pagan Gentile or a non-practicing, Hellenized Jew; it would be, however, to someone like Paul the Pharisee and his Torah-devoted antagonists.

In each of the three cycles Paul admits to complete inability to do what is right. Not once does he do a single thing that is pleasing to God. While the believer may at times feel this way, this does not accurately describe the struggle to do what is right. At least some of the time the believer does what is right! Or at least it is possible to do what is right. Here it is not only total failure, it is total inability.

The first part of v. 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” is obviously not the cry of an unsaved Jew. As he rounds out his third cycle of desire and failure, and before he completes it, Paul cannot help himself but to shout out this praise to God for his saving grace. This statement, then, should be viewed as a parenthesis. He will develop this thought with the first part of chapter eight, but he first must finish the third cycle. This he does in the second half of v. 25 with a summary statement of the whole process that he has been describing since v. 14: “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

In conclusion, to summarize Paul in Romans 6 and 7: “We Christians cannot think to live sinful lives for the simple reason that the old life in sin is forever gone; a new life pleasing to God has taken its place. We are now happy slaves to righteousness whereas before we were slaves to sin and dead spiritually. The change from the age of the Law to the age of Spirit has made this possible. That’s because the Law only killed, whereas the Spirit gives life. Please don’t misunderstand me! I’m not suggesting that the Law itself was in any way evil, or that the Law itself killed anybody. Sin took advantage of the fact that the Law could only condemn us and not save us. Sin used the Law as an unwitting partner in damning us Jews to hell. It was sin, not the Law that killed. Because of the Spirit’s life-giving ministry, however, all this is changed. We can now live a life of righteousness, gladly doing the will of God, and no longer under the domination and condemnation of sin.”  [Amen!]

[1] See article at http://blogs.corban.edu/ministry/index.php/2011/10/spirit-powered-living-a-positive-interpretation-of-galatians-516-18/

[2] Paul’s series of “I” statements will be addressed later in this article.

[3] Jack K. Willsey, “A Textbook for the Study of Romans” (D. Min. diss., Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1989), 200-01.

[4] Mark A. Siefrid, “The Subject of Rom 7:13-25.” Novum Testamentum 34 (October 1992), 327.

[5] Ibid., 326.

[6] Ibid.

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Book Review: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate

Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate

By Benjamin Reaoch

Phillipsburge, NJ: P&R Publishing 2012


Reviewed by Gary Derickson, Ph.D.

Professor of Biblical Studies

Corban School of Ministry


Not only is our world changing, but our theological world is quickly following suit. New hermeneutical methods are being employed by those departing from a traditional evangelical understanding of both Scripture’s meaning and authority to speak directly to our lives. An example of this is an approach to interpreting Scripture called the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic. To better understand both the hermeneutical approach and the dangers they represents, one must read through this work carefully and prayerfully.

Benjamin Reaoch informs us that when Egalitarian theologians found that they could not exegetically refute the arguments of their Complementarian opponents, that they resorted to a new hermeneutic to overcome the problem. Recognizing that the New Testament authors intended to define the roles of women in the church and in the home in what we today call a complementarian way, they sought an approach that could relegate those clear commands to being culturally bound and so no longer relevant. The Redemptive-Movement hermeneutic met this need. This hermeneutic seeks to “move us beyond the specific instructions of the Bible and toward an ultimate ethic” (Benjamin Reaoch, xvii).

Reaoch begins his evaluation of the hermeneutic by noting that Egalitarians are attempting to make their issue parallel to the slavery issue. They argue that, though the Bible never condemned slavery, Paul’s instructions to slaves was moving toward its rejection. It was the implications of those teachings that led to the later abolition of slavery. Their point is that as slavery was eventually abolished, women should be similarly “freed” from the Bible’s clear teaching of their subordinate role in the home and church (xviii).

Chapter 1 introduces us to the basics of the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic, which was built from an assumption that their understanding of Galatians 3:28 formed the foundation from which all other Scriptures should be interpreted. Further, the New Testament’s failure to specifically reject slavery or women’s subordination was a result of its being culturally bound (reflecting the culture of its day) and therefore no longer relevant to today (3-5). Thus the biblical commands must be understood based on the culture (and its assumptions) from which they arose. To the extent that culture has changed, those commands become less and less relevant (6-7).

Some of the significant issues addressed in this book with regard to the debate and the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic surround “the similarities and differences between the slavery texts and the women’s texts” (10). Reaoch excels in defining and demonstrating those very comparisons in a fair manner in which he readily admits to ambiguities as well as clear distinctions, strengths and weaknesses, even in his own views. He responds well to their attempt to make the two issues analogous. He notes, “The complementarian position observes a fundamental distinction between the slavery issue and the issue of women’s roles. The Bible does not, in fact, condone slavery. Rather, it regulates it and points to its demise. Regarding women, on the other hand, we find instructions that are rooted in the creation order and therefore transcend culture.” (13)

Chapter 2 provides us with Reaoch’s evaluation of the New Testament teaching on slavery in response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic. His discussion of Greco-Roman slavery as opposed to modern forms is very helpful. Further, he addresses the five passages where slaves are commanded to obey masters and notes the commands to masters as well. He admits in the process, “Theological analogy is not conclusive in determining whether a text s transcultural.” (31) Though I found his discussion very enlightening, I don’t agree with everything he says with regard to commands to slaves and how those commands might help determine the Bible’s view of women. However, his is a great example of exegesis and applied hermeneutics in responding to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic.

In the next chapter Reaoch interacts with seven passages related to women and wives. He notes such things as “ground” clauses that give the basis of the commands and provide contextual clues as to how they apply today as well as in the first century. These are very helpful discussions in discerning the differences between the slave issue and women’s issues then and now. I found his explanation of Paul’s command to silence in 1 Corinthians 14 insightful and helpful, possibly the most defendable position yet (63-66).

Reaoch’s work continues in this vein throughout, providing a balanced, non-combative evaluation of the hermeneutic with sufficient examples to help us understand. Each chapter is weighty and requires further thought to fully understand the details and implications.

It is clear that students and teachers of Scripture need to be aware of this approach and how to respond to it, lest we see the authority of Scripture continue to be eroded in our churches, colleges, and seminaries. This seems like another method by which theologians can continue to call themselves inerrantists and evangelicals while dismissing those passages that do not fit with their lifestyles or theological grid. To protect ourselves and the next generation from this error, we must learn to recognize and respond to it effectively. Otherwise, as Reaoch notes that it is now being used in the Gay-Lesbian debate, it will be used by others as well to justify their lifestyles even when Scripture speaks clearly to the contrary. This book helps us meet those coming challenges.

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Book Review: A Better Way: Making Disciples Wherever Life Happens

Review: A Better Way: Making Disciples Wherever Life Happens

Author:  Dale Losch

Reviewed by Paul Johnson, D.Min.

Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies

Corban School of Ministry


Dale Losch, veteran missionary and President of the mission agency CrossWorld, believes that there is a better, more effective way to make disciples of all nations. He is concerned that the traditional way of sending missionaries to make disciples of the unreached is not sufficient to accomplish this massive task. Although Losch understands that many believers and churches want to impact the unreached for Christ, he advocates for a better way — the sending of disciple-makers from all professions to reach the lost. Losch calls upon the church and mission enterprise to pursue the dream of seeing disciple-makers from all professions bring God’s love to life in the world’s least-reached marketplaces.[1]

Losch notes that the traditional practice of having a person attend seminary, apply to a mission agency, raise the required financial support, and then become a full-time religious worker, may actually be keeping many legitimate disciple-makers from considering cross-cultural ministry. Losch sees a large, motivated and untapped source of godly men and women who desire to engage the unreached but not through the well-known, standard process followed by most mission agencies. However, Losch believes that the challenges involved in reaching the unreached require that we reexamine and adjust our strategy to more effectively make-disciples and promote church planting.[2] Losch is not suggesting abandoning the old model of sending fully funded, long-term missionaries. Rather, he suggest that a new model be pursued where the whole body of Christ can be engaged in a way that connects with the needs and lives of the lost in the world’s least-reached marketplaces.

Losch defines a disciple as, “one who is learning to live and love like Jesus and helps others to do the same.” In chapters 3-6, Losch argues convincingly that the making of reproducing disciples is the priority of Christ mission. However, by focusing on the product (the church) at the expense of the process (disciple-making) the method and practice of traditional missionaries often complicates and limits the effectiveness of global mission strategies.[3]

Loush also claims that the concept of a unique “call” required for “fulltime ministry” has wrongfully communicated “to 99 percent of Jesus’ followers that there are two classes of Christians – those ‘called to ministry’ and everyone else. He explains how the Western mission enterprise has traditionally limited the disciple-making mandate almost exclusively to full-time religious professionals, while Jesus ‘clear mandate is for all believers to be disciple-makers. This focus on vocational missionaries has sidelined many potential disciple-makers, resulting in the ratio of cross-cultural workers to the total evangelical population of roughly 1:1,000.[4] Losch believes mission efforts must readdress the great challenges of reaching the unreached by mobilizing disciple-making professionals for the world’s least-reached marketplaces.

Compelling examples are given of how professionals are using their experiences and skills in business, tourism, education, community development, etc., to make disciples for Christ in restricted access countries.[5] Losch notes how relationships established through the daily activities of life have great impact. Through their professions, disciple-makers can share their beliefs and engage people in the context of the normal activities of life. Losch believes that the most strategic places for marketplace disciple-makers is in the growing urban areas of the world. Mission agencies that equip disciple makers “in the world’s least-reached urban marketplaces” can bring lasting change in a country through making disciples in influential cities.[6]


Losch is convinced that “if we are to have any hope of discipling the billions of still-to-be-reached people of this world, it will take far more than the full-time ministry model of the past. It will take a host of uniquely gifted and courageous men and women who will rise to the challenge in new ways.”[7] Losch is quick to add that the sending of professionals as disciple-makers to the unreached is in no way an effort to discontinue the traditional practice of sending full-time, supported missionaries. Vocational missionaries are still needed as they partner with professionals to reach the unreached.


A Better Way provides a much-needed challenge to strengthen the Western mission enterprise with a biblical model that mobilizes every believer and their skills, talents and professional training with the disciple-making priority of Jesus. In A Better Way, people from all walks of life and professions can discover a better way to impact and reach the lost, through building real-life relationships through living and working among the unreached.

[1] Dale Losch, A Better Way: Make Disciples Wherever Life Happens (Kansas City, MO: UFM International, Inc. DBA Crossworld, 2012), Preface.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 13.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Ibid., 102

[6] Ibid., 91-92.

[7] Ibid., 104

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