France is Hexagonal

Map of France before 1789

One of the objections against the accuracy, or the historicity, but really, the truthfulness of Scripture is that it contains certains points of information which are scientifically inaccurate, and therefore proof that the Bible is riddled with errors.

But one of the first rules of hermeneutics (or the interpretation of a text) is to understand the context, and one of the most overlooked points of context is the genre of the text itself. Consider the following quote from Stanley Fish:

In his great book How to Do Things with Words (1962), J.L. Austin considers the apparently simple sentence “France is Hexagonal.” He asks if this is true or false, a question that makes perfect sense if the job of a sentence is to be faithful to the world.

His answer is that it depends.

If you are a general contemplating a coming battle, saying that France is hexagonal might help you assess various military options of defense and attack; it would be a good sentence. But if you are a geographer charged with the task of mapping France’s contours, saying that France is hexagonal might cost you your union card; a greater degree of detail and fineness of scale is required of mapmakers. “France is hexagonal,” Austin explains, is true “for certain intents and purposes” and false or inadequate or even nonsensical for other. It is, he says, a matter of the “dimension of assessment”—that is, a matter of what is the “right or proper thing to say as opposed to a wrong thing in these circumstances, to this audience, for the purposes and with these intentions.”

Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence (2011), 38–39.

This same principle applies to the interpretation of a biblical text. If the genre of Genesis was scientific textbook, or the genre of Exodus statistical analyses, then we might have legitimate qualms about the way certain pieces of history are communicated. But the fact that these are historical narratives, and theological epics, allows for a certain elasticity to the language.

This kind of genre contextualization may not solve all our interpretive difficulties, but it does give us a framework for understanding why an event might be communicated one way and not another.

Have We Been Transformed?

Alister McGrath

The ultimate test of whether we have grasped theological truth is thus not so much whether we have comprehended it rationally, but whether it has transformed us experientially. In an important sense, we are not called on to master theology, but to allow it to master us.

Alister McGrath, J.I. Packer: His Life and Thought, 84.

Annotations — June 4, 2021

A Victory Already Won

One practical application that comes from understanding the gospel as, fundamentally, the proclamation of good news.

God’s Hand of Blessing

The story of a young woman in West Timor (in Indonesia) who takes up the task of Bible translation. An encouraging example of how God uses small people to accomplish big things.

Pornography and Resisting the Power of Temptation

John Piper gives a very helpful word picture that helps to clarify the language we use in the fight against sexual temptation.

Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women Leadership

A long post by Alastair Roberts about women leaders in the Bible. The most fascinating part of the discussion is about the nature of the priests and the priesthood.

Lean Toward the Radical

Part of our own family’s mission is “Risk for his cause”, and so this post resonated strongly with me. How a husband balances the tensions of family and mission in his own heart.

Coffee with Jim

Alister McGrath

One of the things [the students at Tyndale] particularly treasured about Packer was his willingness to talk theology over the college breakfast table.

The students would ask him about the great theological questions of the day—the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom, to give one obvious example. Packer did not give them pre-packaged answers; instead, he showed his theological working. In effect, Packer taught them how to theologise—how to do theology, rather than simply presenting them with the outcomes of that process. It was a rare gift, and one that Packer would consolidate over his long career as a teacher.

Alister McGrath, J.I. Packer: His Life and Thought, 51.

Side Blooms of the Spirit

Saguaro Blooms

With the recent drought, a saguaro cactus copes with the lack of water by conserving its vertical growth and opening unused budding locations further down the side of the cactus. These “side blooms” are both a cause of distress and a rare display of extra beauty.

Colossians 1:28–29 says, ” Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

The work of presenting one another mature in Christ can often seem to be difficult and full of labor. It’s never easy to “warn” and “teach” one another. Sometimes it feels like we see little to no growth. But the Spirit causes us to adapt to this world by bringing beauty out of toil. When we strive with his energy—an energy which only he alone possesses—we can bloom in the most unexpected places.

The Most Powerful Help to the Reformation

Philip Schaff

Luther’s New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity….

The German Bible of Luther was saluted with the greatest enthusiasm, and became the most powerful help to the Reformation.

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, The German Reformation, 350.

The Happy Land of the Trinity

This inner life that God lives, in the happy land of the Trinity above all worlds, is a livelier life than any other life. We know about it because we have overheard Father, Son, and Holy Spirit talking amongst themselves with the intent that we overhear them and be brought into the conversation. Simply knowing that the life of God in itself is the liveliest of all lives is a medicinal correction to our sick, self-centered thinking….

The crucial thing is that we should rejoice in it. The knowledge that God enjoys perfect blessedness is a great thing. Even if it stays a kind of secret at the back of our minds, as something that we cannot say much about, it nevertheless exerts a tremendous gravitational pull on the rest of our thoughts and affections. Thomas Traherne said, “I have found that things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the centre of the earth unseen violently attract it.”

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 81–82.

The Boldness of New Testament Doctrine

Is it too bold of us to declare what God was like, or what he was doing, before creation? It requires boldness, to be sure, but only the boldness of the New Testament.

One of the characteristic differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that the New Testament is bold to make such statements. Look, for instance, at the way the New Testament takes a step further back with its declaration of salvation: where God declares in the old covenant, “I have chosen you,” the new covenant announces that “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”

The prophets do not make declarations about what happened “before the foundation of the world,” but the apostles do.

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 63.