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How Chronicles Points to Jesus

How Chronicles Points to Jesus

How Chronicles Points to Jesus

The books of Chronicles points to Jesus in many ways. Here I will discuss three main themes in Chronicles and how they point to Jesus.

Davidic King

In contrast to the books of Kings (which describes events in the northern and southern kingdoms), Chronicles focuses attention on the Davidic kings (southern kingdom). This line of kings is founded on God’s covenant with David, which is one of the major covenants in the Old Testament. It builds on the covenants with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22) and Israel (Exodus 19–24; aka the Mosaic/Sinaitic covenant). It echoes elements from the previous covenants, including promises of land, offspring and blessing. We see some fulfilment of these promises in Chronicles. David completes the conquest of the land, and through David Israel is given rest from its enemies. The people of God continue to grow in number and the nation of Israel is established in the land. King Solomon prays that non-Israelites who come to the temple may know Yahweh (2 Chronicles 6:32–33), and the Queen of Sheba is blessed when she comes to Jerusalem to visit Solomon (2 Chronicles 9:1–12).

The Davidic covenant also builds on God’s covenants with Abraham and Israel. God promises a king forever on the throne from David’s line (1 Chronicles 17:12–14). God also promises to dwell with his people in Jerusalem in the temple built by David’s son.

The Davidic covenant is only partially fulfilled in Chronicles. In many ways, Chronicles presents an idealised version of David. There is no mention of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, and there is no description of the downward spiral of his household after this incident. Yet, among other faults, Chronicles says that David is a man of violence. He fights God’s legitimate wars, but because of bloodshed he is not able to build the temple (1 Chronicles 22:8). Solomon is a man of peace, and as such, he is the one who builds the temple (1 Chronicles 22:9-10). But by the end of Chronicles, there is no king on the throne in Israel, let alone one from David’s line.

The partial fulfilment of the Davidic covenant in Chronicles looks forward to its complete fulfilment in Jesus. Jesus is in the line of David (Matthew 1:1–17). He is the perfect king, without fault, and so he reigns eternally on the throne, as promised by God. He wins the victory, not over military enemies, but over Satan, sin and death (e.g., Colossians 2:13–15; Hebrews 2:14–15). He wins not by violence and military might but through shedding his own blood on the cross. He is the greatest Son of David.

Temple and worship

The temple symbolises God’s presence with his people. It is the place for God’s people to meet with him, to sacrifice to be right with him after sinning, and to enjoy his presence. It is a major thematic focus of the books of Chronicles, which details the preparation for its construction (1 Chronicles 22–29), its construction and dedication (2 Chronicles 3–6). Chronicles also details what takes place there, especially emphasising worship and singing.

Singing, especially in response to God’s deliverance, is occasionally found in the OT. The song of Moses is a well-known response to God’s redemption of his people in the Exodus (Exodus 15:1–21). Deborah and Barak sing in response to God’s deliverance of his people from Jabin, king of Canaan (Judges 5:1–31). But in Chronicles singing swells in importance, becoming a central aspect of the worship of God. Levitical musicians and singers lead God’s people in delighting in giving thanks and praise to God for his wonderful gifts, including salvation. There is even a prophetic element to singing (1 Chronicles 25:2–3).

The temple and worship were a disappointment for many of the original audience of Chronicles in the post-exilic period. The temple was a modest structure compared to Solomon’s temple (Ezra 3:12–13; Hagai 2:3) and tithing and support for the priests was patchy at best (Malachi 3:6–10). Chronicles probably reflects a call for the rejuvenation of worship. Disappointment surrounding temple and worship anticipates a greater fulfilment in the NT. Jesus is the presence of God in human form; one who “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14). In him we meet God; he is the sacrifice that makes us right with God. The temple in Chronicles was destroyed, but the temple of Jesus’s body was rebuilt after three days (John 2:19–22). And Jesus giving the Holy Spirit enables us to enjoy God’s eternal presence not just with us but within us.

So in response to God’s deliverance in Jesus, we have so much more reason to delight in singing. We especially sing songs that help the word of Christ dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16). These Spirit-inspired songs help build us up as God’s holy temple (e.g. Ephesians 2:19–22). And as we sing God’s word to one another, there is also a prophetic element as we inspire one another to heartfelt worship of God in all of life (Romans 12:1).

Retribution and inter-generational sin

Some parts of the Bible describe how individual sin can have intergenerational effects. God says that sin can be visited on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate him (Exodus 20:5). Achan’s sin affected his whole household (Joshua 7:10–26). The books of Kings describe how the sins of one generation led to the exile and destruction of the whole northern kingdom of Israel. King Jeroboam drove Israel from following Yahweh; they continued in the sinful trajectory Jeroboam set; they walked in all the sins he committed (2 Kings 17:7–23).

The books of Chronicles highlight the other side of the coin. Each person has the chance and responsibility to repent and find blessing from God. God’s sovereign grace is bigger than individual sin. I will outline three examples from Chronicles. First, King David sins by ordering a military census of Israel. He realises his sin and repents, but God still punishes Israel (1 Chronicles 21:1–17). However, the punishment is limited, and God uses the incident to lead to the purchase of the future site of the temple (1 Chronicles 21:18–22:1). Second, the portrayal of King Manasseh in Kings is as unrelentingly wicked, so much so that he is cited as the reason for the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem and Judah (2 Kings 24:1–4). In Chronicles he is also wicked (2 Chronicles 33:1–9) but he humbles himself before God and seeks his favour. God restores him to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon and he repents from idolatry (2 Chronicles 33:10–20). Third, in keeping with his covenant promises, God returns the whole nation of Israel to the land after the exile. Underlying Israel’s sin and God’s retribution is the tension of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty.

Sometimes we think we are bound to suffer the consequences of our forebear’s sins. But Chronicles reminds us that we are not necessarily caught in sinful patterns and punishments. If God’s people humble themselves, seek him and turn from sin, God will hear and forgive (2 Chronicles 7:14). Each person is to be judged for their own sin, and each person can turn from sin and its punishment (e.g., 2 Chronicles 7:14; 15:2; cf. Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20). God can break the downward spiral of sin in our lives and in our families. He forgives us when we repent and his Spirit opens our hearts and minds, thus drawing us to Christ (Acts 16:14; Luke 24:45; John 6:44). Anyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43). So no one is trapped in sin—their own or those of their ancestors. Praise God for his sovereign glorious grace, ultimately shown in his Son, King Jesus (Ephesians 1:6)!

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What is God’s name?

What is God’s name?

What is God’s Name?

In the Garden of Eden, Adam is given the task of naming the animals over which he will rule. Parents name their children because we do not as infants have the ability to name anything and because it is given to parents to distinguish and recognise the child as theirs in the first instance.

But who names God? Surely only God himself can declare his own name.

And that’s how it is in the extraordinary story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush – or rather, the bush which is aflame but does not burn (Exodus 3). It is not accidental that this bush is not consumed by the fire that is on it. It is a symbol of God’s self-sustaining life – that he derives from no source other than himself: which is also shown in his name, the name, the new name which he now discloses to Moses and thus to slave-nation who will become his people.

Moses, at this stage an exiled shepherd, approaches the bush with curiosity at first. Then a voice speaks to him from within this vision, identifying himself as the God of Moses’ ancestors:  “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). This is an identity, but not much of a name. But there’s deep continuity with the past – this is the voice of God who made covenants with patriarchs.

But there is a development: the new name. Moses asks:

‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’

God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’ (Exodus 3:13-14, NIV)

What are we to make of this name – the name that God gives to himself? The Hebrew tenses operate in such a way as it can mean also ‘I will be who I will be’. It’s a Name linked to this particular moment in history when God declares himself to be yoked to Israel so that he might bring them out of Egypt and make them into a nation belonging to him. The Name – which takes the form YHWH (often transliterated ‘Yahweh’) in the Hebrew of the Bible, is a saving name.[1] It is the making of a promise to the people who he will lead out of slavery. [2]

In a way, the name rebuffs Moses’ question ‘what is his name?’ In the ancient world, people wanted to know the name of particular gods so that they could bind the gods to them. You could, by means of spells and incantations, control spiritual forces to some degree (so it was thought). It is not so with this one, who is known by the Name, YHWH. This Name tells us that the one bearing it will not be mastered or directed. He determines to be the God of Israel – they do not choose him or summons him. He is not at their beck and call. And yet, he promises that he will be present to them.

When finally, after the dreadful contest with Pharoah is finished, the people gather around Mt Sinai, and prepare to receive the YHWH’s Law, he appears again to Moses and again says his Name:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ (Exodus 34:6-7, NIV)

This exposition of the divine name is given at the point at which Israel’s relationship with YHWH is about to be sealed by a covenant. YHWH’s name is a name that signals his determination to be a God of grace and compassion, love and faithfulness. This committed and determined love is not at odds with his justice. The Law that Israel is about to receive written on tablets of stone is a mark of the presence in their midst of this one, YHWH.

But this interaction with YHWH reveals another dimension of the Name. The Name was given to Israel alone amongst all the peoples. And they were about to enter a land that was to be given to them and not to others. Likewise, they were not have any other gods, but only YHWH. He says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 3:14). The Name signifies an exclusive relationship between God and Israel that was not to be compromised. This is intensified by the commandments which speak of preserving and hallowing the Name – not misusing the Name (Deuteronomy 5:11). The Name was to be hallowed and not desecrated. Worship of other gods was a profanation of the Name of YHWH. And Israel’s worship will not be focussed around the location of an image of YHWH (for these were forbidden) but in the place where “the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name” (Deuteronomy 12:11).

YHWH is a precious name to be revered and kept holy, but it is not a secret. In practice, Jews did not (and do not) say the Name aloud but refer to it obliquely. However, it is not hidden from the Gentiles, as if it were a secret code that they could misuse. His Name will be made known (Isaiah 12:4) to all nations. Every knee will bow to his Name alone (Isaiah 45:23). In this way, the promise inherent in the Name extends to the whole world. This Name, God’s own Name, will be the focal point for the worship of all the nations. His name is declared to be ‘majestic in all the earth’ (Psalm 8:1). Jesus prays: ‘Father, glorify your name!’ (John 12:28)

God’s Name represents his promise to be redemptively present with his people in the creation. In the New Testament, this theology of the Name is consummated in the gospel declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Phil 2:11, Rom 10:9-12, 1 Cor 12:3; see also Rom 1:1-5). Jesus, the risen and crucified Messiah, is declared ‘Lord’. This title is not simply a statement of his status and authority. It is a direct identification with the Name, YHWH. The one who is known as YHWH is present in Jesus to save his people and glorify his name in all the earth – whose name means ‘YHWH saves’. The New Testament authors, as readers of the Greek version of the New Testament, used the same word to describe Jesus that had been used to translate ‘YHWH’.

The identification of Jesus with YHWH is even more explicit in John’s gospel. Jesus says to the Jewish leaders, who are clearly appalled at the claim: Before Abraham was, I am! (John 8:58). YHWH is to be known in Jesus, on whom the flame of God’s Holy Spirit rests, like the burning bush of old. But it is not simply the case that “Jesus is YHWH”. Paul says that Jesus has been given ‘the name which is above every name’ (in Philippians 2:9). Paul does not say the Name, but by not saying the Name he makes it clear what Name it is! This is a very Jewish way to reverence the Name. The Father bestows his Name upon the Son. Although he doesn’t reference the Spirit here, the Spirit is the one by whom Jesus is confessed as ‘Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3).[3] Jesus bears the divine Name, a Name that speaks of three divine persons. YHWH is known in Jesus Christ.

That is to say: the New Testament speaks of YHWH by teaching us about the Trinity – the three divine persons who are one in being. YHWH is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commissions his disciples to baptise the nations ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:16-20). Christians know YHWH – the speak to him and of him – according to this threefold name.

 

[1] Many English translations use the formula ‘The LORD’ when translating YHWH. This follows the pattern set by the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, YHWH was translated as the Greek word ‘Kurios’, which means ‘Lord’. This possibly is because the Jews became accustomed to say their word for ‘Lord’, ‘Adonai’, whenever the word YHWH was written, out of respect for the Name. This was reflected in the scribal practice of writing the Name in a special way, too – either by using a different font or by using a different coloured ink or by replacing it with four dots. The scribes who copied the New Testament preserved that habit by abbreviating the Greek names for God, Lord, Jesus, and Christ – so that these names stood out on the page. It was clear that the scribes saw Christian faith as faith in the same divinity that was encountered in the Old Testament. R. Kendall Soulen, The Divine Names and the Holy Trinity: Distinguishing the Voices, (Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 36-37

[2] For much of what follows see Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology.

[3] R Kendall Soulen, p. 11

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Can One Passage Have Multiple Applications?

Can One Passage Have Multiple Applications?

Can One Passage Have Multiple Applications?

 

When an interpreter of Scripture considers how best to apply a passage, what are the limits? At one end, valid applications are limited by the textual meaning found through historical-grammatical exegesis.[1] Applications that go beyond the textual meaning of a passage violate basic hermeneutical principles. At the other end, faithful application properly reads the cultural context to which it applies a passage.[2] But can one passage have multiple, even different, applications for different historical-cultural contexts?[3]

Instead of appealing to theory in order to answer this question, I intend to consider how an important passage gets interpreted and applied to the same city at two different points in Israel’s history. Exodus 34:6-7 provides the base passage for two applications concerning Nineveh—Jonah 4:2 and Nahum 1:3.[4] Before considering the applications of Exodus 34:6-7 in these other passages, we need to first look at Exodus 34:6-7 in its original context. This provides the meaning that the other two passages apply in their unique historical-cultural contexts.

 

Exodus 34:6-7

Unquestionably, this is one of the most significant passages in the Old Testament. Echoes and allusions related to this passage are found throughout the Old Testament.[5] God had entered a covenant with the nation of Israel (Exodus 19­­–24). The second general stipulation of this covenant forbade making idols (Exodus 20:4-6). Yet, Israel under the encouragement of Moses’s brother Aaron made and worshipped an idol (Exodus 32). Moses interceded for Israel’s preservation and the Lord promised to renew the covenant. At this critical point of renewal, God revealed his character. The passage reads,

“Then the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in covenantal loyalty and faithfulness, keeping covenantal loyalty for thousands, bearing iniquity, transgression, and sin, but he will not withhold punishment, visiting the sin of parents upon children and grandchildren to the third and fourth.”[6]

Read in context, the referent of God’s covenantal loyalty and faithfulness is Israel. Twice he declared his covenantal name (Exodus 3:14-15) and used language typical of covenant. Furthermore, the Lord proclaimed his character in the immediate context of covenant renewal. Based on the original context, one would certainly assume that Israelites could faithfully apply this passage to their history and covenantal relationship with the Lord. However, both Nahum 1:3 and Jonah 4:2 apply this passage to Nineveh.

 

Nahum 1:3a

Nahum 1:3a reads, “Yahweh, slow to anger and great in power, but he will not withhold punishment.” With the exception of the phrase “and great in power,” this quotes directly from Exodus 34:6-7. In context, this passage comes in an oracle against Nineveh (Nahum 1:1). God’s vengeance and wrath against his enemies are the content of the immediately preceding verse. The entire oracle focuses on the Lord’s judgment. The only exception is Nahum 1:7, which promises salvation for those who seek refuge in the Lord for security from God’s wrath.

Based on Exodus 34:6-7, Nahum applied three aspects to his current situation. First, the God who would bring judgment is Yahweh, the covenantal God of Israel. Only he could rightfully bring judgment against Nineveh. Even though the original context of God’s self-disclosure was his covenant and relationship with Israel, Nahum rightly perceived that this aspect of his character applied beyond Israel. As the Creator God, he alone has authority to judge all peoples, cities, and nations. Second, Nahum quoted that God is slow to anger. He perceived that this characteristic likewise transcends God’s special relationship with Israel. Third, Nahum quoted that the Lord would not withhold punishment against evildoers.

It’s important to note what Nahum quoted and didn’t quote from Exodus 34:6-7. The three aspects of God’s character that Nahum highlighted are easily applicable beyond the Lord’s covenantal relationship with Israel. Since God had revealed that he stands as judge over non-Israelite nations (Exodus 12:12; 1 Samuel 2:10), Nahum applied this statement about God’s character beyond its original application to Israel. At the same time, he avoided applying the more specific covenantal terms from Exodus 34:6-7 to his particular historical-cultural context.[7]

The application in Nahum emphasized that God had allowed Nineveh’s sin to increase, because he is “slow to anger.” However, “he will not withhold punishment” forever. God would eventually come in his full wrath against the wickedness of Nineveh. This prophecy came to fulfillment in 612 BC, when Nabopolassar brought the city to its end.

 

Jonah 4:2

Jonah 4 arose in a radically different historical-cultural context. God had once again declared judgment against Nineveh (Jonah 3:4). In response, Nineveh had mourned and sought for God to relent through fasting and mourning (Jonah 3:5-9). The narrator informed the reader that God relented in response to this repentance (Jonah 3:10). Jonah became furious (Jonah 4:1) and he declared to the Lord that the purpose he fled from him at the beginning of the book was because “I knew that you are a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in covenantal loyalty, relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2d).

Whereas Nahum appealed to God’s slowness to anger as an explanation for why God had not yet judged Nineveh, Jonah appealed to the same passage as an explanation for why God did not bring the immediate judgment he had warned. Instead of appealing to God’s reluctance to withhold judgment, as Nahum did, Jonah applied different divine characteristics to his situation. Jonah first emphasized God’s mercy and graciousness. God’s graciousness arises from his nature (Exodus 22:27). The same could be said of his mercy (Deuteronomy 4:31). Examples such as Noah (Genesis 6:8) show that God’s grace has not come only within a covenantal relationship, since God’s declaration of grace to Noah preceded his promise to establish a covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18). Therefore, since Jonah desired that God bring judgment upon Nineveh, based on God’s revelation of his character as gracious and merciful, he feared that he might show grace and mercy instead.

But Jonah also applied explicit covenantal language to his historical-cultural context. He quoted the phrase “abounding in covenantal loyalty.” In his quotation, Jonah seemed to have the greater context of Exodus 34 and the covenant in mind.[8] The nature of the covenant had been stated in Exodus 19:4-6 (ESV):

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The original purpose of God’s covenant with Israel was for them to become a priestly kingdom, mediating God’s restoration to all nations.[9] Jonah’s quotation rightly implied that as a representative of Israel, God might bring restoration. This would uphold the missional intention of the covenant (Exodus 19:6). If a wicked people, like Nineveh, repented and turned to the Lord in response to a divine message, then an Israelites should expect God to bring restoration through a representative of his priestly kingdom. This was Jonah’s expectation that led to his response in Jonah 1:3. This explains Jonah’s anger at the onset of Jonah 4. This application differs from Nahum 1:3 but applies to a different historical-cultural context.

 

One Meaning, Two Contexts, and Two Applications

Nahum 1:3 and Jonah 4:2 show that one passage can have two valid applications when applied to vastly different historical-cultural contexts. In response to the persistent wickedness of the Ninevites, Nahum could rightly apply Exodus 34:6-7 to explain why God has not yet brought judgment—he is “slow to anger”—but also why Israel should still expect God to bring judgment—“he will not withhold judgment.” In response to a repentant Nineveh, Jonah could rightly apply Exodus 34:6-7 to explain why God had not brought immediate judgment—he is “slow to anger,” and “gracious and merciful.” Furthermore, he abounds in “covenantal loyalty,” so Jonah rightly expected that he will relent from disaster since the city repented as a response to a divine message from his priestly kingdom.

These two biblical examples give us some insights for how we might faithfully apply Scripture in our day. First, these examples show the importance of understanding the original context. The two applications uphold the textual intention of the original passage. Second, these examples show that the historical-cultural context of application matters. In Nahum, Nineveh had not repented. They persisted in their wickedness. This led Nahum to apply certain aspects of God’s character revealed in Exodus 34:6-7 but not apply other aspects. In Jonah, Nineveh had repented. This led him to apply other divine characteristics revealed in Exodus 34:6-7. The meaning of Exodus 34:6-7 did not change, but the historical-cultural context for the two applications differed dramatically.

These examples encourage modern preachers and teachers of God’s word to first study the textual meaning of a passage. What do these words mean considering historical-grammatical exegesis? Once we can come to a proper understanding of the textual meaning of a passage, these passages imply that we should study our own historical-cultural context. The two examples presented above show that the same passage could apply differently in different historical-cultural contexts. In our day, this implies that one church may not apply a passage in the exact same way as another church. Both churches must remain faithful to the textual intention of the passage because meaning doesn’t change, but they can diverge in their specific applications of that meaning. Thus, faithful application of biblical meaning requires both deep exegesis of Scripture and deep exegesis of one’s specific historical-cultural context.

[1] See, for instance, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Fourth Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 241-45.

[2] See Timothy J. Keller, “Preaching Christ to Culture,” ch. 4 in Preaching (Penguin: New York, NY), 2016.

[3] I’m not asking if one passage can have multiple meanings. Meaning is restricted to the textual intention. The question at hand is can one passage’s meaning be applied in different ways at different times.

[4] Nineveh probably serves as a metonymy for Assyria in Nahum, but since both Nahum and Jonah specify Nineveh, this article will use Nineveh.

[5] See, for instance, the helpful chart of these echoes and allusions by Gary Schnittjer, Old Testament Use of the Old Testament: A Book by Book Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 877.

[6] Unless specified, all translations belong to the author. Words in bold are found in all three passages. Words in italics are found in Ex 34 and Nah 1. Words underlined are found in Ex 34 and Jonah 4.

[7] Terms with high covenantal resonance in Ex 34:6-7 are his covenantal name—יְהוָה, חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת, as well as sin terminology related to covenantal violation.

[8] Schnittjer, OT Use of the OT, 406.

[9] Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus, New Studies in Biblical Theology 28 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 92.

Separating True Stories and Hype: Telling the Story of God’s Work with Integrity

Separating True Stories and Hype: Telling the Story of God’s Work with Integrity

Separating True Stories and Hype: Telling the Story of God’s Work with Integrity

 

Just the other day a friend sent me a report about the growth church planting movements across the globe. It was full of bloated statistics with conveniently rounded numbers in the millions. The report contained very little that could be corroborated and any research methodology was non-existent.

If only this type of reporting in the church was rare. Too often Christians are quick to believe the too-good-to-be-true stories because we want it to be true. Unfortunately, the inaccurate telling of Christian events can be detrimental to the church for a number of reasons.

  1. False or exaggerating reporting is harmful to Christian mission. Bloated numbers about Christian growth can create a false assurance that the gospel is advancing without our intentional evangelism or sending of missionaries to those who have little access to the gospel.
  1. False or exaggerated reporting threatens Christian integrity and witness. The reports of thousands (or millions) coming to faith in Christ with no evidence to back it up reflects on the nature of Christian journalism and tells the world Christians cannot be trusted. Christians who are quick to believe these exaggerated accounts also reveal themselves to be gullible.
  1. False or exaggerated reporting develops a success-fixation that is contrary to the cruciform nature of Christ-centered ministry. When ministries are evaluated based on number-oriented results, we are on dangerous ground and it can ultimately lead to prosperity-oriented theology.

You might be wondering, if Christians today can have such a casual relationship with the truth, how can we trust Christian history? Although we must acknowledge Christian history is not flawless, we see men and women who have taken it upon themselves to record the events of Christian history with integrity and accuracy.

There was a monk serving in an obscure monastery in the late 7th/early 8th century who undertook to write A History of the English Church and People. The Venerable Bede, as he was known, was a quiet, unassuming man who carefully collected all of the information he could to record the history of earliest Christianity in England. Bede takes time in his preface to describe his research methodology as well as his sources. It is clear that he worked strenuously to offer an accurate accounting of events.[1] Bede strived so earnestly to report his findings accurately that he could make this statement:

Should the reader discover any inaccuracies in what I have written, I humbly beg that he will not impute them to me, because, as the laws of history require, I have laboured honestly to transmit whatever I could ascertain from common report for the instruction of posterity.”[2]

Bede offers an example we can learn from today. Even with a finite set of resources, he was selective and discerning in how he reported the work of the Lord in England. With the seemingly infinite resources available to us in this information age, it is our Christian duty to record the work of the Lord with as much accuracy as we can. And, we need to do so humbly, knowing that our finite view of events doesn’t grasp the whole story.

 

[1] Venerable Bede, A History of the English Church and People, trans. Leo Sherley-Price (Baltimore: Penguin Classics, 1955), 34.
[2] Bede, 35.