Saturday, February 23, 2013

Advantages and Disadvantages of having four Gospels

          Well just like with any story there is often more than one point of view and these for men inspired by God prove it. When you dive deeper into the history of each Gospel and learn who they were written by, where they were composed and understand the place they were meant to be received that changes a lot of things. For instance, Matthew has a lot of Jewish references so most scholars think he was writing to a predominately Jewish audience. We know for a fact that Luke was writing his book to Theophilus, who was either a gentile ruler or a group of gentiles, so the way he wrote did not focus as much on Israelite Law, but more on the humanity of Jesus. Now, when John wrote his account he was writing to the whole world, in an effort to explain that Jesus was the eternal God of the universe that chose to put on human flesh in order to restore our ability to have a right relationship with Himself. The disadvantages of having four Gospels and especially three of them that read in a rather similar manner, is that at times they can seem contradictory to a casual reader; while making it harder to accept the truths of Scripture. It can also be difficult to understand why one author chose to emphasize one thing over another, or where the material even came from. Take for instance Luke 15, he is the only Gospel writer to contain these stories; why doesn’t Mark or Matthew mention the prodigal son?
            The best answer that I would be able to provide to a friend who is looking to make that distinction is to ask “Do you believe God to be in ultimate control?” If the answer is yes than I would refer them to 2 Timothy 3:16 which says “All Scripture is God breathed…” Once you have settled in your heart that the Lord has guided these men to write the original transcripts, then trust that what we have is the closest thing we can to the original words God intended for us to live by. Yes over the years there may have been some redaction by copyist, but we still must believe that the Lord has corrected any errors that could have possibly been made in transcription or supposed correction.

Jesus' birth and childhood according to Matthew and Luke

           What we can come to understand surrounding the birth of Jesus is very surprising. If we do not take the time to clearly read the Gospels we will miss the fact that John the Baptist is not merely the forerunner of Jesus, he is also his cousin. Elizabeth was six months pregnant at the time Mary conceived Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was a major connection between the two of them while still in the womb John leapt for joy (Luke 1:40). In Matthews account of the birth of Jesus was told to Joseph in a dream by the angel of the Lord (Matt. 1:20) While in Luke’s account the angel Gabriel came and spoke with her informing her that she would be with child (Luke 1:31).
            After the birth of Jesus his life would be at risk from King Herod who felt he was the ultimate king of the Jews. Herod would hear of Jesus birth from the wise men (found in Matthew), while in Luke’s account shepherds would come to visit the infant king. Luke does mention that after Jesus’ birth he was taken to the temple where he is dedicated by Simeon and also comes into contact with the prophetess Anna, which is something that Matthew leaves completely out. However, Matthew tells us about the slaughter of males under the age of two due to the jealousy of Herod, which is when Joseph, Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt. After the death of Herod which is recorded in Matthew 2:19-23 Jesus’ family returns to Nazareth. There is only one other account from Jesus’ childhood and that is the trip to the temple when he we twelve years old. Luke is the only author again who records this event (Luke 2:41-52).
            Now areas that can often be a source of contention are the genealogies that first take place in the beginning of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. As you read through the both of them you automatically notice several differences first Matthew starts his with Abraham, while Luke begins with Joseph. Matthew traced Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham with forty-one links to Joseph arranged in three sets of fourteen generations.[1] Also, in verse eight Matthew omitted three generations of kings Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah; while he used the term begat (KJV) it doesn’t mean father-son but more a line of descent.[2] Luke however worked backwards starting with Joseph, and the lineages are very similar from Abraham until David; but once it moves from David to Joseph things change dramatically.[3] In Lea and Black on page 174 there are several options offered about the best ways to reconcile these differences. I would suggest you read them over and be the judge.

[1] Thomas D.Lea, and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003)173.
[2] Ibid., 173.
[3] Ibid., 174.

Quick look at the Benedictine Way of LIfe

            In short there are a few main elements to St. Benedict’s Rule. He required that life kept in a certain manner unlike Basil; he provided his monks detailed instructions about what to do and when it needed to be done.[1] Some of these things included that his monks would eat two meals a day with two cooked dishes along with fruits and vegetables, along with a moderate amount of wine.[2]Also, each monk would have a bed that included a cover and pillow, but if times were hard the monks should be happy with what they had.[3]
            Benedict also felt that there should be physical labor on the part of everyone, except in severe cases of illness or unique giftedness; everyone was to take turns in every task.[4] He also felt that prayer was an extremely important part of the monastic lifestyle.[5] Order ruled everything that Benedict did or chose to establish. According to Ferguson, “It introduced stability into monastic life in contrast to wandering monks or the small groups that had no discipline. The life of Benedictine monks was to be a balanced regimen of divine praise, spiritual reading, and physical work.”[6]
            There are many things that modern evangelical Christians can take away from monasticism. For the most part I believe we do not practice discipline as much as we should. I do not mean physical discipline but the spiritual kind where we read Scripture often or other works that would help us to edify the body; or as I am guilty no praying as often as we feel lead to. Or practicing the presence of God, how often we enter into a place of praise to God outside of the “sanctuary” of the church. If we are the church then everywhere we go should be a sanctuary unto the Lord.  Something many of us do not realize that work is a great thing and can ALWAYS be used to the glory of God. John Piper has an article about glorifying God at work that may be found as an encouragement. I will struggle with this because I suffer from fibromyalgia and have a hard time doing most things anymore; my ultimate goal no matter what should be to glorify God in all things. I hope these principles help you grow closer to Jesus each day.

[1] Everett Ferguson, Church History Vol One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005)317.
[2] Justo L.Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol One: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: Harper Collins, 2010)278.

[3] Ibid., 278.
[4] Ibid., 279.
[5] Ibid., 280
[6] Ferguson, Church History, 318.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Critique of Augustine as Mentor

         In his book Augustine as Mentor Dr. Edward L. Smither brings us a seminal work about the importance of mentoring, and the many things that are involved. Dr. Smither is a well respected and known professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. This is not a very large work it weighs is at 259 page consisting of five chapters. Chapter one deals with mentoring in the first century. Chapter two is what he calls the mentoring matrix, which is where he focuses on four different church fathers other than Augustine. Chapter three delves into those who actually mentored Augustine. While chapters four and five become more personal looking at his approach and thoughts about mentoring. Before getting too far into the critique of this work I must be completely honest, due to physical ailments I was unable to read the whole work but did get in to chapter four of this work.  This authors intentions are to give the most far and balanced view of this piece of material I possibly can.
            In discussing this work you could say that the main themes that play themselves out are the history of mentoring, Augustine’s approach to mentoring and his thoughts on its importance. Dr. Smither did an elaborate job in laying the foundation of mentoring in the centuries before Augustine. To be honest with you the first chapter was very intriguing, while the further along the second chapter went questions of its importance began to arise. If a general consumer were out looking for a book on mentoring and discipleship and knew the name Augustine they would automatically think this a great book to read. This would be a false assumption. That being said because as you read through this work you do not embark upon Augustine’s’ ideals until chapter four which is half way through the book. Chapter four begins on page 125 and deals with Augustine’s approach to mentoring; so for the casual reader expecting this work to deal specifically with his thoughts and approach. However, if this book is approached from the perspective of a historical lesson on mentoring as a whole with additional attention paid to Augustine then you will be very pleased with the read.
            After coming to an understanding that the first portion of the book is more of a historical survey, Smither did an immaculate job on this work. In chapter one he goes back to where every good Christian doctrine should come from Christ himself. He lays the ground work of the disciple giving several different definitions of the word to make sure it is clearly understood what is meant (pg 5-6).  After he defined disciple he expounded upon the duties of a disciple showing the reader that it is not merely just an act of learning, but also required the steps of obedience to what has been taught (pg 11). Once he has fully established the role of the disciple he begins to unravel the semblance of what a true mentor should resemble. While most people today think of mentoring as a one-on-one relationship Smither points out that neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul mentored in that manner. He specifically says, “In summary, mentoring in the context of a group, as demonstrated by Jesus and Paul, is most effective because it meets the inherent relational needs of the disciple” (pg 15).
            While chapter one lays a foundation of mentoring chapter two becomes a little more muddled (at least in this authors opinion). Chapter two begins to deal with four church fathers specifically Cyprian, Pachomius, Basil of Caesarea, and Ambrose of Milan. Smither literally takes sixty five pages of his work to discuss these four men and their approach to mentoring and the difficulties they faced. When reading a work whose title is specifically about Augustine, one should be confused or at the far least concerned as to why so much of this work has been dedicated to these men. It is understood that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it (unsure of the quote or I would site it).  However, I noticed no evidence of the input of these men in his approach that stood out of any major importance. While they could have all made minute increments of influence upon his style of mentoring there is nothing overtly noticeable to commend so much space to these men.
            There is a personal appreciation for chapter three of this work because it deals directly with those in Augustine’s life who mentored him. It also gives some historical background on the man himself which could have taken place in chapter two had the book been developed differently.  Chapter three shows the reader the importance of a loving Christian parent even while the other may be a non-believer. This chapter also reveals that Augustine valued a lifestyle type of mentoring more so then a sit-down hash it out kind of relationship. There were many different people who played a role in his life as mentors, he had his mother, his friends (or peers), and then he had men who we more mature in life as well as the faith who played a major role in his life. One relationship in particular hit close to home and that was his friendship with Alypius, their relationship reminds me of one of the closest relationships I have; especially when Smither says of the two,
While Augustine needed an intellectual sparring partner, he also needed someone for support and encouragement on this delicate and uncertain journey. The two continued as friends, providing mutual support after their conversions and were ordained to the ministry roughly at the same time. While Augustine will forever appear the genius and the strong one, he clearly needed Alypius (pg 101).   
            This work as a whole was very informative about mentoring throughout the history of the church. It also shows the importance and need for men to be willing to step up and disciple the younger generation (not just in age but in Christian maturity). Smithers work could have been repackaged or re-titled a little differently, but as a whole there would not be a problem recommending this work to someone looking for a historical survey of mentoring and discipleship in the early church.

Smither, Edward L. Augustine as Mentor. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2008.