Reading

God In A Brothel (Book Review)

God In A Brothel (Book Review)

Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue (InterVarsity, 2011), 209 pages

Human trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking, has risen into public consciousness over the past decade. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of persons by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them. The United Nations estimates that worldwide more than 2.5 million people are trafficked annually and more than half are children. Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking ranges from domestic servitude and small-scale labor operations to large-scale operations such as farms, sweatshops, and major multinational corporations.

Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation in prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. While awareness of sex trafficking has increased recently, with the number of children enslaved topping 2 million, this type of sexual exploitation has been a global phenomenon for more than four decades.

Organizations like International Justice Mission, Polaris Project, and others combat sex trafficking and care for and rehabilitate victims. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Daryl Hannah are activists. Taken and Trade are examples of popular movies that depict the exploitation and horror of sex trafficking. Authors like Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Carolyn James, Kathryn Farr, Patricia McCormick, Siddharth Kara, Kevin Bales, E. Benjamin Skinner, Victor Malarek, and now Daniel Walker, with his book God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking, are informing millions of readers about sex trafficking and inspiring them to respond.

 

The Global Sex Industry

Walker is an undercover investigator who infiltrated the multi-billion-dollar global sex industry for the purpose of freeing women and children from sex trafficking. Walker tells of horrific exploitation and abuse. Children and young teens are raped multiple times a day by evil men participating in the brutal and corrupt sex industry. Many parts of the book are exhilarating and joyful as hundred of sex slaves are set free thanks for Walker’s dedication and courage. There are dramatic rescues in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the United States. There is also a haunting darkness about those left behind to suffer or die in the brothel or at the hands of corrupt systems of law enforcement. But Walker’s story is not only about the sex slaves and the sex trade. He also reveals the intimate personal pain and loss of fighting this evil on the front lines.

Combating sex trafficking is one issue that Republican, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, atheists, British, Chinese, and just about everyone else can all rhetorically shake hands on. Sex trafficking has taken center stage in many nations as an issue of a threat to national security and societal cohesion. But with all the consensus about the evils of sex trafficking, why does this industry continue to flourish?

 

Supply and Demand

It flourishes because there is a wall of complacency, complicity, and corruption. Sex trafficking runs by the laws of supply and demand. Demand is generated by thousands of men around the world. Economic, social, cultural, and gender factors make women and children vulnerable to being exploited as an endless supply.

The international political economy of sex includes the supply side—the women and children raped and abused multiple times daily. But this side cannot maintain itself without the demand from the organizers of the trade. These evildoers pay from a few dollars to thousands of dollars to rape and abuse women and children. The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains misogyny, abuse, sexual assault, and exploitation of millions of women and children worldwide.

God in a Brothel addresses rescuing sex slaves (engaging the supply side) and investigating and prosecuting those who exploit the weak and vulnerable (attacking the demand side). I have waited for years for a book like this and thank God for Walker’s work. With God in a Brothel and Half the Churchfrom Carolyn James, Christians now have great resources to learn about sex trafficking from Christian perspectives that avoid both shallow theological platitudes and non-theological pleas for activism.

In response to sin and its effects, Walker clearly celebrates the furious love and radical grace of God while at the same time declaring that God hates injustice and saves his harshest words in the Bible for those who exploit the innocent and vulnerable (Isaiah 59:15-16). Walker insightfully writes: “We tend to fear evil or trivialize it” (134). Rather than calling the church to non-reflective activism, he offers biblical wisdom: “Fear of our sinful nature, fear of the world, fear of evil, and our fear of failure can only be conquered when we fear God alone” (136). Walker invites Christians to become abolitionists in a way that inspires instead of using condescending brow-beating and guilt. Referring to the Christian tradition, he writes: “Indeed the church has a rich history of courageous men and women who have selflessly rescued and restored the exploited women and children of their day. . . . The church has played an integral part in setting captives free from slavery and injustice” (132). Instead of motivating by guilt, he inspires the church to respond in ways that is true to its calling, identity, and history.

I applaud Walker for his work on the field and the sacrifices he made. Additionally, I am thankful for a well-researched book on the issue that approaches the reality and brutally of sex trafficking from a Christian perspective. I admire him for his transparency and honesty about his agonizing failure. It was risky to tell that part of the story, and I am thankful that he has received and experienced the forgiveness of God.

 

Solidarity and Redemption

One weakness of the book is his description of God’s response to the darkness of sex trafficking and his sin. He presents well the fact that God is in solidarity with those who suffer. I think his point is deeply biblical and the starting point for discussing God’s response to evil and suffering. Through Jesus, God identifies with and has compassion for those who suffer. At the root of God’s compassion is the fact that he witnesses the suffering of the abused. His compassion for and solidarity with the oppressed is embodied in Jesus Christ.

However, solidarity is not enough for a full-orbed, biblical view of redemption. More should be said on how Jesus accomplished redemption and overcame evil and sin, specifically in his death and resurrection. His incarnation and crucifixion are not just examples of Jesus being in solidarity with us and feeling the pain of sin’s effects. Jesus’ incarnation communicates God’s solidarity with and compassion for those suffering. It also offers hope that God see, hears, and knows the sufferings of his creatures. More explicitly, it is by the death and resurrection of Christ that sin and guilt are destroyed. It is only by absorbing the effects of sin and law breaking that Jesus, the only one who was sinless and fulfills the law, can free the world from its curse.

God, in Christ, runs the world by coming into the world and being roughed up by it. God the Son took the evil on himself and redeemed it by letting it play itself out on him and then being raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is the core of the whole thing. Death is swallowed up in the victory of life.

 

God’s Final Word

Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, exploitation is clearly depicted throughout the Bible as sin against God and neighbor, and is referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation.

The victim’s experience of trafficking is not ignored by God, minimized by the Bible, or outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God’s response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation. And that should be the church’s response.

Evil and violence are not the final word. They are not capable of creating or ultimately defining reality. That is God’s prerogative alone. However, evil and violence can pervert, distort, and destroy. They are parasitic on the original good of God’s creation. In this way, evil serves as the backdrop on the stage where God’s redemption shines with even greater brilliance and pronounced drama. What evil uses to destroy, God uses to expose, excise, and then heal.

Essential Books From & About Church History: Our Recommendations

Essential Books From & About Church History: Our Recommendations

Essential reading from church history:

 

Essential reading about church history:

 

 

The Bible is VERY Consistent

The Bible is VERY Consistent

The chart above represents the 63,779 cross-references found in the Bible.  A single arc depicts each cross-reference. Compare this to the 439 alleged contradictions from the chart Sam Harris commissioned (reported in Fast Company).

This cross-reference chart does not prove the Bible is not filled with contradictions, but it is a graphic representation of the unity, harmony, and consistency of the Bible.

 

Some Major Themes Throughout The Bible

God’s initiative—“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Exod 6:6-7 and also see Gen 17:7, Exod 19:4-5, Lev 11:45, Lev 26:12, Deut 4:20, Deut 29:13, 2 Chron 23:16, Isa 7:14, Isa 8:8, Jer 32:38, Eze 37:27, Zech 2:11, Zech 8:8, Ezek 34:24, 2 Cor 6:16).  Christ is the embodiment of God’s desire to dwell among God’s people  (Exod 25:8, Exod 29:42-45, Lev 26:9-13, Ezek 37:26-28, Matt 1:23, John 1:14, Eph 2:21, Rev 7:15, Rev 21:3).

God’s initiative despite our disobedience and rebellion—“If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13 and also see Exod 34:6-7, Numbers 14:19, Ps 6:4, Ps 31:17, Ps 44:26, Ps 51:1, Ps 109:26, 1 Thess 5:24).

God’s initiative despite our disobedience and rebellion resulted in the cross—“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8 and also see 1 Cor 15: 3-6, 1 Pet 3:18, 1 John 2:2. 1 John 4:9-10).

 

Scriptures Bear Witness About Jesus

The reliability of the Bible is important, not so we feel better about having an answer to the flimsy claims of skeptics, but because the Bible contains all things necessary to our salvation.

Jesus makes it clear that studying Scripture is a means to an end (saving knowledge of Jesus Christ) and not the end in and of itself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

 

Commenting on this passage, Martin Luther writes about how to read the Bible:

    Here Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that He, Mary’s Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to Him and believe in Him. Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably read Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through Him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation. I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever. (Luther’s Works, 51, 4)

 


 

Doug Wilson picked two randomly (#208 and #211) and deals with them to show how contrived these “contradictions” are. Matt Perman wrote a post regarding the appearance of contradictions and some of the hard texts of the Bible.

As a sidenote and just for fun, the Sam Harris/Fast Company chart on the supposed errors of the bible has a few of its own:  “contradictions” #7 and #9 are duplicates as are #263 and #264 as are #323 and #324. #404 should read “by” and not “buy.” #406 reads “When when did the transfiguration occur?” That sentence only needs one “when.”

Shepherding Troubled Souls

Shepherding Troubled Souls

Troubled Souls

Part of a pastor’s job is “pastoral care”—shepherding troubled souls that are dealing with the effects of sin and suffering. Life has amazing joys, but also a lot of suffering. Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The pastor’s calling is to hear about and comfort people in the middle of “troubles” and to communicate the good news that Jesus has overcome all troubles by his atonement for sin and its effects. In the Gospel accounts, when people had troubles they ran to Jesus because they were desperate and he was compassionate. Compassion is a very good word to describe Jesus. The word literally means “to suffer with.” God’s solidarity with suffering is surprising, unanticipated, and unpredictable. It is not what religion expects. Other religions say suffering is either deserved as punishment from God, or it’s just the unfolding of karma. Only Christianity looks at suffering as a motivation for God’s love and care.

Shepherding Tools

The good shepherd’s compassion for those suffering should influence our shepherding of troubled souls. Here are some examples we can learn from:

 

Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel

Ministry to troubled souls is a ministry of the gospel. Luther wrote letters of spiritual counsel to his friends and contemporaries in the midst of sickness, death, sadness, imprisonment, anxiety, famine, persecution, and despondency. Because of his role as the instigator of the Protestant Reformation, it is sometimes forgotten that Luther was a pastor. For Luther, pastoral care is always concerned with faith—establishing, nurturing, and strengthening faith. Because faith is about the gospel, when people needed pastoral care, his aim was not to get people to do certain things or disciplines so much as to get people to have faith and to exercise the love that comes from faith. Here is an excerpt from the letter Luther wrote to his dying father: “The longer a man lives, the more wickedness and sin and plagues and sorrow he sees and feels…I commend to you Him who loves you more than you love yourself. He has proved his love in taking your sin upon himself and paying for them with his blood, as he tells you by the gospel.”

 

Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death and Concept of Anxiety

Kierkegaard explains that we were made for relationship with God and that recognizing this is foundational to understanding oneself. Through self-deception and sin against God, we are consistently resisting our own true, God-given happiness and fighting against our own best interest. This leads to despair, which is “the sickness unto death,” and despair is connected to anxiety and sin. Kierkegaard discusses various expressions of despair: unconscious despair, despair of weakness, despair of defiance, despair over the earthly, and despair over the eternal. This is relevant to everyone: “Not being in despair, not being conscious of despair, is precisely a form of despair.” Kierkegaard’s talk of despair, anxiety, and sin is far from being pessimistic and nihilistic. It is deeply pastoral, because he calls for gospel despair. In his Concept of Anxiety, he writes: “Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right has learned the ultimate.” If properly understood, anxiety can be excellent preparation for the gospel: “He who in relation to guilt is educated by anxiety will rest only in the Atonement.”

Charles Spurgeon: Scripture Is a Lion to be Unleashed

Charles Spurgeon: Scripture Is a Lion to be Unleashed

“Defend the Bible? Would you defend a lion? Loose him; and let him go!” When he spoke of Scripture, Charles Haddon Spurgeon consistently returned to two closely related themes. First, the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Second, this inspired Word bears testimony to the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Authority and Inspiration

The authority and inspiration of Scripture was especially important to Spurgeon throughout his life. As Lewis Drummond concludes, “Spurgeon realized the ultimate question in all theology has to be the question of authority. Where does one find the source of reliable truth concerning the Christian faith?” (Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers). The answer to this question for Spurgeon was clearly and unequivocally Scripture. Reflecting on Psalm 119, Spurgeon comments: “What is truth? The holy Scriptures are the only answer to that question. Note, that they are not only true, but the truth itself. We may not say of them that they contain the truth, but that they are the truth: ‘thy law is the truth.’ There is nothing false about the law or preceptory part of Scripture. Those who are obedient thereto shall find that they are walking in a way consistent with fact, while those who act contrary thereto are walking in a vain show.” (Treasury of David: Spurgeon’s Classic Work on the Psalms)

Full and Complete Authority

In fact, for Spurgeon, recognition of the full and complete authority of the Bible was essential to theological dialogue. Without this, there is no room for further discussion: “We can be tolerant of divergent opinions, so long as we perceive an honest intent to follow the Statute-book. But if it comes to this, that the Book itself is of small authority to you, then we have no need of further parley: we are in different camps, and the sooner we recognize this, the better for all parties concerned. If we are to have a church of God at all in the land, Scripture must be regarded as holy, and to be had in reverence.” (A Book for Parents and Teachers on the Christian Training of Children)

A Sword in the Hand of the Holy Spirit

For Spurgeon, the authority of the Bible was based on its inspiration. Therefore, this inspired and authoritative book is the Holy Spirit’s tool for accomplishing his work in the believer: “When work is done nowadays, it is, as a rule, badly done. Work done by contract is usually scamped in some part or another; but when a man does a work for himself he is likely to do it thoroughly, and produce an article which he can depend upon. The Holy Ghost has made this Book himself: every portion of it bears his initial and impress; and thus he has a sword worthy of his own hand, a true Jerusalem blade of heavenly fabric. He delights to use a weapon so divinely made, and he does use it right gloriously.” (The Sword of the Spirit)

Unleash the Lion

At the end of the day, Spurgeon was adamant about the authority of the Bible because without it, there is no sure foundation for the church and the gospel. Ultimately, the message of the Bible is Jesus Christ:

Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the Bible. He is the constant theme of its sacred pages; from first to last they testify of him… The Scriptures are the swaddling bands of the holy child Jesus; unroll them and you find your Saviour. The quintessence of the word of God is Christ (Morning and Evening).

Throughout his ministry, Spurgeon willingly entered controversy only because of his uncompromising commitment to the authority of the Scripture. However, Spurgeon’s aim in such controversy was not a meticulous defense of the Bible’s inspiration and authority. Instead, his aim was simply to “unleash the lion.” For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

Jonathan Edwards: Scripture Points to the Glory of God in Jesus Christ

Jonathan Edwards: Scripture Points to the Glory of God in Jesus Christ

“It seems to me that God would have our whole dependence be upon the Scriptures, because the greater our dependence is on the Word of God, the more direct and immediate is our dependence on God himself. The more absolute and entire our dependence on the Word of God is, the greater respect shall we have to that Word, the more shall we esteem and honor and prize it; and this respect to the Word of God will lead us to have the greater respect to God himself.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies)

Although many scholars consider Jonathan Edwards the finest philosophical mind that America has ever produced, Edwards’ primary allegiance was to the God revealed through the Bible, and not philosophy. When one examines the writings of Edwards, every page reflects a mind that was saturated in Scripture. In particular, Edwards viewed of Scripture as accomplishing four tasks:

1. To Correct Errors

First, Scripture is given to correct errors. This correction is especially evident in the ministry of preaching: “One great use of the word of God is correction of errors, with regard to which use ministers are commanded to study it” (Sermons and Discourses).

2. To Interpret Experience and Emotions

However, the Scripture does not simply correct error, but secondly, it teaches how to interpret our experience and even our emotions: “All that can be argued from the purity and perfection of the Word of God, with respect to experiences, is this, that those experiences which are agreeable to the Word of God, are right, and can’t be otherwise; and not that those affections must be right, which arise on occasion of the Word of God, coming to the mind” (Religious Affections).

3. To Redeem Us

Third, the scriptures are God’s tool for redemption: “The written word of God is this main instrument Christ has made use of to carry on his Work of Redemption in all ages since it was given” (A History of the Work of Redemption).

4. To Testify of God’s Glory

Fourth, above all else, Edwards saw the Bible as a testimony to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. “Truly to see the truth of the Word of God, is to see the truth of the gospel; which is the glorious doctrine the Word of God contains, concerning God, and Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation by him, and the world of glory that he is entered into, and purchased for all them who believe; and not a revelation that such and such particular persons are true Christians, and shall go to heaven. Therefore those affections which arise from no other persuasion of the truth of the Word of God than this, arise from delusion, and not true conviction; and consequently are themselves delusive and vain” (Religious Affections).

God’s Glory in Jesus Christ

For Edwards, the center of Scripture was the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. The aim of Scripture is to point us to the glory of God in Jesus Christ and increase our longing to enter into his glory. From beginning to end, the Word of God is sufficient for all things related to life and faith. For Jonathan Edwards, the ultimate aim of such things was to see God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

John Calvin Says Scripture Is God’s Self-Disclosure

John Calvin Says Scripture Is God’s Self-Disclosure

Interpretation Matters

John Calvin was not only concerned about the authority of Scripture, but also with true interpretation of Scripture and its proper use in the church. To be sure, one must begin with the authority and inspiration of Scripture: “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard” (Institutes). However, according to Calvin, asserting the authority and inspiration of Scripture is not enough unless interpreters of Scripture, according to their ability, supply weapons to fight against false teachings.

Doctrine and Biblical Languages

Calvin dedicated his life to the restoration of the teaching of Scripture to the church and to the training of future interpreters of Scripture, so that all Christians might be brought to the true knowledge of God and Christ. Therefore, in his pastoral training he insisted that pastors be well grounded in both doctrine and biblical languages. In parallel with the training of pastors, he saw the two key responsibilities of pastors as teaching doctrine through the catechisms and preaching through books of the bible.

Accessibility to the Uneducated

In all of this, Calvin’s aim was to help make the Scriptures accessible to all people. He combined his conviction regarding the divine authority of Scripture with the claim that God’s teaching in Scripture is accommodated to the capacity of the most unlearned of people. He wrote, “All I have had in mind with this is to facilitate the reading of holy Scripture for those who are humble and uneducated” (Preface to Chrysostom’s Homiletics).

The Illumination of the Spirit

However, one cannot accept the Scripture’s author nor interpret it correctly without the illumination of the Holy Spirit: “For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted” (Institutes). Calvin argues that humans can have knowledge of God only because God first condescends and accommodates to human capacity to reveal to humans the truth about God. God takes on human nature and reveals through human words. According to Calvin, the self-disclosure of God is founded in the self-manifestation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and Scripture.

Scriptures Testify to Christ

According to Calvin, once Scripture sets forth the self-disclosure of the Creator, in the works God does in the universe, it passes on to the knowledge of God the Redeemer revealed in the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Christ is visible in both the symbols and shadows in the Law and the clear manifestation of the gospel. While one must avoid the dangers of over-spiritualizing the Old Testament and overemphasizing the differences between Israel and the church, when rightly understood, all the Scriptures testify to the one God and his Mediator, Christ Jesus.

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

Aquinas Says Scripture Foreshadows Christ

Aquinas Says Scripture Foreshadows Christ

Aquinas and the Literal Sense of Scripture

Although often overlooked by Protestants because of his place as the theologian of the Roman Catholic Church, Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about Scripture. He followed the “four-fold sense” understanding of Scripture, as developed by Origen, but his emphasis was on the literal sense of Scripture. Through his account of the literal sense, Aquinas continually uses Scripture to indicate the abundance of what we are allowed to and called to believe. Scripture is not just something that is “handed over” by tradition, but Scripture itself “hands over” divine revelation to us. Scripture is not just a static repository of propositional truth, but Scripture does something: it reveals truth and it testifies to Christ. In fact, for Aquinas, one cannot discuss Scripture without speaking of Christ, for Scripture is necessarily derived from the revelation of the Incarnate Word. To read Scripture is therefore to witness the revelation of the Word.

Foreshadowing Christ

However, it is not simply from Aquinas’ literal readings of Scripture that we can learn. Lest we dismiss all of his “non-literal” readings as medieval superstitions, observe how Aquinas explains the spiritual sense of how the Old Testament Law is to be read in light of Christ: “The reasons for the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law can be taken in two ways. First, in respect of the Divine worship which was to be observed for that particular time: and these reasons are literal… Secondly, their reasons can be gathered from the point of view of their being ordained to foreshadow Christ: and thus their reasons are figurative and mystical” (Summa Theologica). According to Aquinas, the key point is that Christ is the key to reading Scripture properly.

The Instruction of the Holy Spirit

Scripture is living and active for Aquinas—it “passes on” that knowledge of God that is true wisdom, and in doing so “hands over” the reader of Scripture to the instruction of the Holy Spirit. To follow Aquinas as a reader of Scripture is to confess that we are not the masters of truth, and that we must give ourselves over to the revelation of God in Jesus and God’s knowledge in Scripture.

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.

Martin Luther Says Scripture Is All About Christ

Martin Luther Says Scripture Is All About Christ

The Certainty of Scripture

Caught up in the heat of controversy, Martin Luther reached the revolutionary conclusion that when the conflicting pronouncements of popes and councils threaten to leave the believer uncertain, the Scriptures alone speak with certainty and bind the consciences of the faithful in obedience to the Word of God. This certainty is grounded in the Scripture’s testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Luther understood it, the Bible as a whole is about Christ. Its purpose is to impart the knowledge of the triune God that has been given in the reality of Christ.

A Wondrous Exchange

Luther had found the Word of God’s grace in the promises of Christ given in the gospel. The Word of God promises us Christ as a sheer unmerited gift. Therefore, faith in the Word of God’s promise unites believers with Christ and affects a “wondrous exchange,” in which what belongs to Christ is made the possession of every believer and what belongs to each of us as members of the fallen human race is imposed on Christ, made his, and judged in his death on the cross. On this central theme in Scripture, Luther wrote:

    “Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that he, Mary’s Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to him and believe in him.
    Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably reads Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation.
    I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever” (Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition).

Practical Wisdom

For Luther, Scripture was a source not only of theological truth, but also of practical wisdom for facing all the challenges of life. The reality of the Christian experience of testing leads full circle, pointing the believer back to the biblical text where one prays again for the illumination of the Spirit, and attempts to understand the text anew.

Nothing Less Than Christ

The purpose of the Scriptures as a whole is to witness to Christ, who is apprehended in faith. What counts in biblical interpretation, the substance of the matter for which the best expositors must always seek, is nothing less than Christ. “Whatever promotes Christ,” Luther insists, is the Word of God to be sought and found in Holy Scripture. For Luther, Christ is the essential content of Scripture, that to which the Scriptures as a whole direct our attention for the purpose of salvation. “Take Christ from the Scriptures,” he demands rhetorically, “and what else will you find in them?”

To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.