The Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism? – Ryrie and Feinberg (Revised)

I made a bit of a hash of the initial post on this because I was in a rush.  Here is an extended and revised version (which is what I should have posted).  It questions the third essential of Ryrie’s proposed sine qua non.

The picture of history that is constructed comes from the base of consistently applied principles of grammatico-historical (G-H) hermeneutics.[i]  The Bible is to read as one would read any other book.  The presupposition here is not that the Bible is like any other book.  Rather, when it is read like one would read another book it becomes apparent that it is unique.  But only plain sense, literal interpretation yields the self-attestation of Scripture with its corollary of ultimate authority.

It is the consistency with which G-H interpretation is employed that makes one a dispensationalist.[ii]  This has been admitted even by those who have opposed it.[iii]  Consistent application of the principles of G-H interpretation, then, is the foremost trait of a dispensational theology.  Ryrie, in his delineation of the essential aspects of the system, actually places this characteristic second behind a fundamental distinction between Israel and the Church.[iv]  This subject bears further investigation.

Ryrie, Feinberg, and the Sine Qua Non  

On pages 38-41 of Ryrie’s important book on Dispensationalism, the author provides what he believes are the three indispensable marks of a dispensationalist.  The first of these essential beliefs is a consistent distinction between Israel and the Church.  Ryrie states: “This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive.  The one who fails to distinguish Israel and the church consistently will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions; and the one who does will.”[v]

The other two components of Ryrie’s sine qua non are, as we have seen, a consistent use of normal, plain, or literal interpretation when studying the Scriptures, and, more controversially, a doxological (rather than a christological or soteriological) goal of God in human history.[vi]

However, it should be pointed out that not all dispensationalists completely agree with Ryrie.[vii]  One notable scholar who demurs is John Feinberg of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Feinberg believes Ryrie’s three essentials need nuancing.[viii]  He also thinks there are six things which, if properly defined, distinguish a consistent dispensationalist.[ix]  They are:

  • Multiple senses of terms like “Jew,” “seed of Abraham”
  • Hermeneutics
  • Covenant promises to Israel
  • A distinctive future for ethnic Israel
  • The Church as a distinctive organism
  • A distinct philosophy of history.
  •   Interestingly, and which pertains more to the present discussion, Feinberg breaks down the traditionally cast distinction between the Church and Israel into the following:

Multiple Senses of the Term “Seed of Abraham.”

  1. First, he defines what he calls the ethnic or national sense, which relates to physical Israel.
  2. Next is the political sense, which calls to mind the geo-political entity that was Israel. As a political state there were citizens who were not physical Hebrews.
  3. Then there is the spiritual sense. Under this identification are those who are the Seed of Abraham because they share like faith in God.  A person could be described this whether Jew or Gentile (Paul even uses this designation to distinguish saved from unsaved Jews in Romans 9:6ff.
  4. Feinberg refers to the typological sense, wherein Old Testament Israel may function as a type of the Church (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:1-6).[x] 

With these more refined senses of what it means to be one of Abraham’s seed, Feinberg writes,

“What is distinctive of dispensational thinking is recognition of all senses of these terms as operative in both Testaments coupled with a demand that no sense (spiritual especially) is more important than any other, and that no sense cancels out the meaning and implications of the other senses.”[xi]

This is a helpful development in view of the oft-cited passages routinely produced by covenant theologians to prove that the Church is now Israel (e.g. Rom. 2:28; 9:6-7;11,16-25; Eph. 2:11-18; Phil. 3:3, etc.).

Ryrie’s Third Sine Qua Non Revisited

In contrast to covenant theology, which, because of its slavish adherence to the “covenant of grace”, must view all things soteriologically, dispensationalists believe the over-arching plan of God is the promotion of His glory through multifaceted means.  As Ryrie puts it, “…covenant theology makes the all-encompassing means of manifesting the glory of God the plan of redemption.”[xii]  Elsewhere he declares that, “The Bible itself clearly teaches that salvation, important and wonderful as it is, is not an end in itself but is rather a means to the end of glorifying God.”[xiii]

In another place Ryrie comments:

Scripture is not human-centered, as though salvation were the principal point, but God-centered, because His glory is at the center.  The glory of God is the primary principle that unifies all the dispensations, the program of salvation being just one of the means by which God glorifies Himself.  Each successive revelation of God’s plan for the ages, as well as His dealings with the elect, nonelect, angels, and nations all manifest His glory.[xiv]

Nevertheless, we think Ryrie has overreached himself on this third point.  While the first two are certainly essentials if one is to be a normative dispensationalist, the third is not.  Stallard, for example, has shown that, “the doxological center for the Bible in Ryrie is replaced by a redemptive center in Gaebelein’s statements about the purpose of revelation.”[xv]

It is very clear that one can be a dispensationalist and not believe that the glory of God demonstrated in a multifaceted scheme is a critical belief of the system, just as one can be a covenant theologian and believe that it is – albeit the other matters definitely play second fiddle to salvation.[xvi]    In fact, I would argue that most dispensationalists are unsure just what the third strand of Ryrie’s sine qua non means!  Continue reading “The Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism? – Ryrie and Feinberg (Revised)”

CONTEMPORARY HERMENEUTICAL THEORY AND CONSERVATIVE INTERPRETATION (2)

Part One

Footnotes follow on from last time.

The Hermeneutical Landscape

The philosopher of religion Gregory Clark admits that, “[some] sources regularly describe the variety of hermeneutical approaches practiced today as ‘dizzying’.”[22]

In closing his article Clark writes:

“Hermeneutics as a discipline is as wild and woolly as it has ever been, and its future shape and even its existence are impossible to predict.”[23]

Reading the “movers and shakers” in evangelical hermeneutics today is a little foreboding. It might be well to start off then by reminding ourselves of a standard definition of hermeneutics:

Hermeneutics…is both a science and an art. As a science, it enunciates principles, investigates the laws of thought and language, and classifies its facts and results. As an art, it teaches what application these principles should have, and establishes their soundness by showing their practical value in the elucidation of the more difficult Scriptures. The hermeneutical art thus cultivates and establishes a valid exegetical procedure.[24]

It would be helpful to add to this Ramm’s observation that it “stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game.”[25]  In addition, Ramm added that what the interpreter is looking for is the single-meaning of any passage: “But here we must remember the old adage: ‘Interpretation is one; application is many.’ This means that there is only one meaning to a passage of Scripture, which is determined by careful study.”[26]

Contrast Ramm’s words with those of the prominent British Old Testament scholar David J. A. Clines who writes:

I have been impressed in this study [of Esther] by the value of as many strategies as possible for reading a text. As a critic of the text, I should hate to be restricted by a methodological purism. What I have noticed is that different strategies confirm, complement or comment on other strategies, and so help develop an integrated but polychromatic reading.[27]

Or again,

My experience with Psalm 23 was enough to convince me that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are not categories to be applied to interpretations, that, as far as I could see, a text can mean anything at all, and that I myself was (oxymoronically) an absolute indeterminist.[28]

Clines exults that he can explore the text of the Bible with complete methodological abandon. This freedom has not come to him through the mere exercise of the imagination. It is a result of studying the philosophical hermeneutics of people like Roland Barthes and Richard Rorty, both of whom teach that subjectivity is desirable in reading a text.[29]  Objectivity is a mirage, a dream perpetuated by the sort of naiveté demonstrated only by intransigent ultra conservatives.

It behooves us then to briefly chart some of what has been going on in the world of mainline hermeneutics so that we might better access what conservative interpreters are being influenced by, not to mention what dispensationalists are increasingly likely to come up against.

Schleiermacher

Modern hermeneutics started with F. D. E. Schleiermacher (d. 1834). Operating from a background that mixed German Pietism and Kantian Idealism, Schleiermacher believed that to confine biblical hermeneutics to a set of previously drawn up “rules of interpretation” was to decide the outcome of ones exegesis before the text had been analyzed. He stated that for any interpretation to take place the interpreter must provisionally know something about text itself. This he referred to as “preunderstanding.”[30]  There must, he said, be some preliminary understanding of a subject, say, “love,” before that subject can be comprehended from the page. As R. E. Palmer puts it,

“Is it not vain to speak of love to one who has not known love, or of the joys of learning to those who reject it? One must already have, in some measure, a knowledge of the matter being discussed.”[31]

Schleiermacher, then, proceeded to divide hermeneutics into two components, the linguistic and the psychological.[32]  The linguistic or grammatical approach, with which we are all familiar, whereby, “the reader needs to use objective, grammatical methods to acquire an exhaustive knowledge of original languages and the historical and literary contexts of a text.”[33] This he believed in strongly, and, in fact, he made several important clarifications along this line.[34]  But this was not enough. For Schleiermacher, and for many mainline interpreters since his time, the reader has to become connected with the original author’s psyche at the time and place he wrote. This psychological aspect he called “divination.” As he himself said, “The divinatory is that in which one transforms oneself into the other person in order to grasp his individuality directly.”[35]

There must be an attentive acculturation of the reader to the personality of the writer. The reader must “reexperience the thoughts of the author”[36]  He must not only enter his world but, with imagination and empathy, read the author’s intellectual and emotional experience, even his sub-conscience.[37]  If there is any sympathy between subject and object there is an “inspiration” already in the reader which allows him to do this.[38]

Schleiermacher didn’t believe the interpretation ended at a certain point in the process. There would be constant interplay between the reader and the text and the world of understanding of both.[39]  Not only that, but the new understanding generated by the process teaches the reader’s understanding (that is, his “preunderstanding”) before he sits down to reread.

“The fuller (or more accurate) understanding “speaks back” to the preunderstanding to correct and to reshape it. This revision contributes to a better understanding. Hence, to reread a “difficult” book, or even to undertake successive readings, may bring about a deeper understanding of it”.[40]

There is no doubt about Schleiermacher’s influence upon hermeneutical theory. He prepared the ground for all the hermeneutics theorists down to the present day.[41]

Gadamer[42]

Hans-Georg Gadamer (d. 2002), was a student of both Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann. His work on hermeneutics, particularly his tome Truth and Method have been enormously influential. Gadamer is responsible, perhaps more than any other, for shifting the emphasis of interpretation away from authorial intention and on to the reader.[43]  He did this through the rhetorical device of the “two horizons” – the horizon of the biblical text and the horizon of the modern interpreter. The horizon of the reader (also called the “Horizon of Meaning”) involves not only the reader, but the methodological parameters set down, usually unconsciously, by the community of which he is a part. Possible meanings, then, are circumscribed by the interpretive community. As the complexion of the community changes, so do the parameters of viable interpretation and thus the range of possible meanings.[44]  By contrast the “Horizon of the Text” is that “set of assumptions that underlie a text and establish its point of view within its own historical circumstances.”[45]

The aim of hermeneutics is to seek “for the place where the horizons of the text and the interpreter intersect or engage.”[46]  This concept may at first seem innocent enough, since one cannot deny that because of the different historical, cultural and psychological life-situations of ancient author and modern reader one can never be certain that one has fully understood the author’s meaning, only that one has very probably understood it.[47]

But this isn’t what Gadamer means, for he goes on to say that each reader’s situation is different: One cannot affirm the existence (and importance) of one horizon and not others. When we – as twenty-first century American evangelicals – understand Scripture, we do so on the basis of our own horizon.[48]

Thus, one must take into consideration the cultural context of the reader, and, since we all have a cultural context, my interpretation of a biblical passage has no more right to validity than, say, a different interpretation by someone from India.[49] As one writer illustrates the matter,

A linguist asks a group made up of Africans and missionaries to tell him the main point of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. The Europeans speak of Joseph as a man who remained faithful to God no matter what happened to him. The Africans, on the other hand, point to Joseph as a man who, no matter how far he traveled, never forgot his family.[50]

Where does this leave us as interpreters?  For many followers of modern hermeneutical theory it casts more or less doubt upon the idea of objectivity in Bible interpretation.[51]  For this reason Gadamer has been described as standing “on the boundary-line between modern and post-modern thought.”[52]


[22] Greg Clark, “Contemporary Hermeneutics,” in Scot McKnight & Grant Osbourne, editors, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Apollos, 2004), 115.
[23] Ibid, 117.
[24] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.), 20.
[25] Ramm, 11.
[26] Ibid, 113.
[27] Quoted by Craig G. Bartholomew, “Postmodernity and Biblical Interpretation,” in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 604.
[28] Ibid.
[29] See W. Randolph Tate, Interpreting the Bible: A Handbook of Terms and Methods, (Peabody, MT: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).
[30] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons, (Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1980), 103. This book, more than any other, is responsible for much of the re-thinking about hermeneutics that has been going-on within evangelical scholarship. Thomas contends, “This… work radically altered the way that many evangelicals interpret the Bible.” – Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 18.
[31] Cited in Thiselton, 104.
[32] David K. Clark, To Know And Love God: Method For Theology, (Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2003), 104-105.
[33] Greg Clark, “General Hermeneutics,” in, eds., Scot McKnight & Grant R. Osborne, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 109.
[34] David S. Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 163. Hirsch called Schleiermacher’s aphorisms, found in the first part of his lectures on Hermeneutik, “among the most profound contributions to hermeneutics.” – E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 263.
[35] Cited in Thiselton, The Two Horizons, 107.
[36] Greg Clark, “General Hermeneutics,” 109.
[37] Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, 163.
[38] Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 72-73.
[39] Thiselton, 104.
[40] Anthony C. Thiselton, “Hermeneutical Circle,” in Gen. Ed., Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 281.
Note. Schleiermacher spoke of a hermeneutical circle, but the idea of a “spiral” was seen as closer to the mark. A good definition of the hermeneutical spiral is found in Thiselton’s conception of it when he states that “the emphasis lies not only on the inter-action between the parts and the whole, but on a process of revision which modifies the interpreter’s exploratory understanding in the light of the text.” – Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, (London: Marshall Pickering, 1992), 222.
[41] Schleiermacher gave hermeneutics a much wider brief than it had enjoyed prior to his time. He basically made it a way of knowing, not just the text before the reader, but the reader’s world. He moved it into the realm of epistemology.
[42] I move straight from Schleiermacher to Gadamer to save time.A fuller study would have to take into account the work of Dilthey, Heidegger, and Bultmann.
[43] Gadamer emphasizes the text as a distinct voice independent of the author.In his hands this ends up handing interpretive authority to the reader.Hence, the radical form of “reader-response” theory.
[44] Tate, Interpreting the Bible, 170.
[45] Ibid, emphasis added.
[46] Harvie M. Conn, “Normativity, Relevance, and Relativism,” in ed., Harvie M. Conn, Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 188.
[47] Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, 17-18, 255, 263.
[48] Bruce Ellis Benson, ‘“Now I Would Not Have You Ignorant”: Derrida, Gadamer, Hirsch and Husserl on Authors’ Intentions,” in eds., Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez and Dennis L. Okholm, Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove, Il: IVP, 2004), 189.
This is the text of a Symposium held at Wheaton College in 2001. The essays in the book clearly illustrate the kind of “downgrade” which is in process within at least some evangelical institutions.
[49] Thus, there arises the problem of “contextualization.” Upon which see, David K. Clark, To Know And Love God, 99-131. In my opinion Clark goes too far in his development of an “Evangelical” approach to contextualization by not sufficiently seeing the need to critique differing evangelical “cultures.” An even more surefooted appraisal of contextualization which takes the whole “Seeker-sensitive” phenomenon into consideration is David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
[50] Conn, “Normativity, Relevance, and Relativism,” 188-189.
[51] One might think of postconservative theologians like F. LeRon Shults.
[52] Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 314.

Following Jesus’ Guidance in Two Important Subjects in Matthew 24

The Olivet Discourse has been a battleground for interpreters from the various schools of eschatology for aeons.  Even futurist premillennial writers offer different opinions on the passage.  Nothing is going to be solved for everyone here, but I do want to call attention to the way that Jesus introduces two themes and later comes back to them again.  If we allow that the Lord is referring to these themes by recapitulating them in His discourse then we have a helpful guide to some sticky problems, particularly the matter of the people “taken” in Matthew 24:40-42.

The Arrival of False Christ’s and False Prophets

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. – Matt. 24:4-5

At first glance it might appear that Jesus is speaking directly to the disciples, but if that is true can we say this prophecy was fulfilled?  And why would the disciples be fooled by them anyway?

It is better to take seriously the inclusion of proleptic language, which is used by Jesus throughout the chapter.  Proleptic language is anticipatory language, usually in light of far future events.  John 14:1-4.  In those famous verses Jesus uses the pronoun “you” to refer to His disciples in verses 1 and 4.  But in verses 2 and 3 “you” does not refer to the disciples but to those believers who will be living at the time of Christ’s return. Certainly we can see that “you” is used proleptically in Matthew 24:15, 33, 42, and 44.

Once we think about the verses as proleptic they can be matched up with these later verses which are set in the days just before the Lord’s coming:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.Matt. 24:23-25

In this later passage the false christs and false prophets deceive, not by lamely claiming to be such, but by impressively demonstrating great power to perform signs and wonders.  This means that in the early part of Matthew 24 Jesus is skipping the first question of the disciples (in v.3) and is focusing on the question about “the end” and His coming.

The Taking Away of the Man in the Field and the Woman at the Mill

Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. – Matt. 24:40-42

As noticed above, this text has often been thought by Dispensationalists to relate to the “days of Noah” (vv. 37-39).  In that scenario the comparison is drawn between those who stayed (in the Ark) and those who were swept away by the judgment of the flood.  The trouble with this view is that it would seem to demand that the angels gather every sinner and bring them to judgment.  Christ will be along soon to dispense wrath and destruction at Armageddon.  Some have even thought up the ingenious position that the pretribulation rapture is inserted here in retrogressive fashion.

But if we permit this text to be interpreted by these words of Jesus we get something different (and I would argue, more natural):

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matt. 24:29-31.

As stated above, the text has often been interpreted as implying the ones taken are taken to judgment, but I have always felt that it was counter-intuitive.  What we have if we allow verses 40-42 to be interpreted by verses 29-31 is an angelic rescue right before the Lord descends in wrath (cf. Isa. 63:1-6 and Rev. 19:11-16).

This both makes sense of the passage and allows one part of Jesus’ speech to be interpreted by another part.  I rather like that.

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (9): Revelation

I am convinced that the Book of Revelation ought to be interpreted as a prophecy and that its numbers and symbols have identifiable referents either close by or in other Books of the Bible.  I have therefore given a list of works espousing the Dispensational point of view.  Not that non-Dispensational writers aren’t useful, but accuracy of interpretation must come first.   I have made note also of some non-dispensational works.    

  1. Robert Thomas (2 Vols) – This is Thomas’s most important book and the one that will insure he is remembered for many years to come.  Informative, technical (but not unnecessarily so).  Tackles all the issues, and interacts with opposing views.  A must have.
  2. Tony Garland (2 Vols) – Entitled A Testimony of Jesus Christ, I came across this huge work in the library of Tyndale Seminary before it was published.  I read it (well, a good deal of it) in its dissertation garb and was mightily impressed.  Offers some unique material hard to find elsewhere.  I recommend purchasing the hard copies, but for all you tight-wads out there, Tony has it all for free here!    
  3. Buist M. Fanning III – A new and impressive premillennial work with great exegesis.  Tries to please everyone and dabbles in idealism, but still good.  600+ pages, but needed more.
  4. John F. Walvoord – Accurate writing and theological reflection by an expert on Biblical prophecy.  One could wish it were more detailed.
  5. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum – A book entitled Footsteps of the Messiah, this is a study of eschatology based on the Apocalypse.  Has a few questionable assertions, but it incorporates much solid exposition and should be consulted.
  6. J. B. Smith – Some oddments, but this is a decent exegesis with focus on words and numbers.  Includes stimulating appendices.  Hard to find.
  7. E. W. Bullinger – Hyper-Dispensationalist, although it doesn’t show much.  Takes positions few will take, but for all that well worth reading because of the exegesis.
  8. Paige Patterson – I’m no fan of Patterson’s style, but this is a pretty good use of the space allotted him.  Found in the NAC series.
  9. Thomas Constable – A solid compendium of the best works with reliable notes.  And it’s free!
  10. G. K. Beale – By dint of sheer scholarship this should be near the top of the list.  If you want to dive into the Greek text this is great.  He’s also good at tracking down the many OT allusions in the Apocalypse.  But don’t think that this translates into accurate understanding of the Apostle.  Beale is amillennial and idealist.  In the NIGNT series.  A useful foil to Thomas.

As for other works, everyone is waiting for Michael Stallard’s contribution (EEC).  Hopefully it will surpass his Thessalonians work.  John MacArthur’s 2 volumes are transcripts of sermons.  MacArthur can be a bit black and white, but it’s good material.  Kendall Easley is pretty good but not great.  J. A. Seiss’s old set of ‘Lectures’ offer sound premillennial exposiion with challenging (and not always convincing) perspectives.  William Kelly’s old Plymouth Brethren commentary is worth perusing, even with his opaque word choices.  David L. Cooper is very brief, Henry Morris good but introductory, Clarence Larkin is useful for the beginner, as is A. C. Gaebelein and Harry Ironside.  Grant Osborne offers a well written mixture (I don’t say muddle) of the different approaches.  G. E. Ladd, George Beasley-Murray, Leon Morris, Robert Mounce, and Alan F. Johnson are worth reading, but Osborne is better (with Johnson just behind).

From the symbolic camp I like Stephen S. Smalley’s study of the Greek text and the “drama” theme.  I don’t think he’s close to being right, but his technical and background work is good, and he goes his own way.  He’s also good to compare with Beale to show just how muddled the non-literal gets.  I don’t like David Aune’s 3 volume work.  From what I’ve read of it he is more concerned with the Greco-Roman era in which Revelation was written than with the Book itself.

Good introductions to the Book overall are by W. Graham Scroggie and Merrill Tenney.  Mal Couch’s A Bible Handbook to Revelation is worthwhile.  Several authors were involved.  Finally, Steve Gregg’s Revelation: Four views, A Parallel Commentary is worth having on hand.

 

Review: If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis

A review of If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Explaining the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, by Alister McGrath, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2014, 241 pages, hdbk.

C. S. Lewis is an endlessly fascinating person.  He was an Oxford Don with few equals as an intellectual.  Anyone who is familiar with the three volumes of Letters is well aware that they are reading the correspondence of a man who had read (and often reread) just about every great work of literature in the Western canon.  Lewis was a Medievalist, thoroughly at home in Thomas Aquinas, Dante and Boccaccio (in their originals), with Beowulf and the Nordic mythology, and with Edmund Spenser, Milton, and a whole roster of other poets and mystics and playwrights.

But Lewis not only knew the greats of the 10th to the 16th centuries, he was also immersed in Plato and Aristotle, the Tragedies, Virgil and Ovid, and Neo-Platonists, again, all in the original Greek and Latin.  His Letters especially brim with references and allusions to these works as well as a host of British, French and German classics.  He was, by any measure, a brilliant scholar.

But to say this about Lewis is not to get at the whole man.  For C. S. Lewis was a man of down-to-earth uncommon sense.  His faculties were aware of the limitations of the five senses and the realities of life and truth that dwelt beyond.  He, like G. K. Chesterton, saw the miraculous everywhere.

This little book by Alister McGrath attempts to get across to us what Lewis regarded as the “intellectually capacious and imaginatively satisfying way of seeing things” which Christianity provides (16).  The author is right to call our attention to the riches that lie within the Christian view of God and life, and how it should be the believers lot delve into that worldview and communicate it to others.  As he says,

“Christianity has to show that it can tell a more compelling and engaging story that will capture the imagination of its culture.” (60). 

McGrath introduces us to Lewis’s friends (Tolkien, Williams, Barfield, Dyson, Sayers, and others).  He writes about the books, though not all of them.  For example, we are given short but helpful introductions to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader,” Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and A Grief Observed; not exhaustively by any means, but as a way of describing the shape of Lewis’s thought.  The background to The Chronicles of Narnia is explained, and their world expounded (67-103, 197-205).

McGrath helpfully confronts us with Lewis’s question, “Which story are you in?” (57ff).  Our story, yours and mine, are a part of an overarching “big story,” and, as the author says, “In one sense, faith is about embracing this bigger story and allowing our own story to become part of it.” (72, 93).  This sense of our story being played out within God’s bigger story is perhaps what grounded Lewis, and why he had access to so many wonderful metaphors and illustrations, which seemed so ready-to-hand (17).

Being an apologist himself, the author does not miss out on surveying Lewis’s apologetic (e.g. 85-91, 108-132).  On the whole, given the limitations of the book, and its introductory intent, I think McGrath does a good job.  He is aware of his duty to speak in terms of his subject’s honest view of life, hope and trials.  McGrath dips our toes in the water.  The book can be handed to anyone as an invitation to read Lewis.

As for any slight criticisms of the book, I might name three in particular.  The first is the title is a bit misleading.  Instead of If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis it really should be entitled, If I Had Lunch with Alister McGrath About C. S. Lewis.  The revised title may not arouse our interest like the chosen one, but I for one would not turn down the opportunity to hear McGrath talk for a long time on this subject.

The second little matter for me was that I should have liked a more concerted focus on Lewis’s preoccupation the greater reality that lies behind our present world; what Lewis called “longing” (14).  This “Argument from Desire” is indeed mentioned, but it is not really developed in the book.

Lastly (and again this is a purely personal wish), when McGrath discusses Lewis’s important views on education (135-157), he opts not to interact with The Abolition of Man (138).  Now I fully understand that Abolition is a tough book to read (it was the first Lewis book I read and I confess I didn’t understand it then and have had to return to it several times to really appreciate its argument), but I hoped that McGrath could break it down.  It’s message is so vital for our day and I expected to see it unpacked in this book.

For anyone who like Lewis, or for anyone who would like to like Lewis, McGrath has written a very useful introduction to an increasingly important Christian thinker.

 

CONTEMPORARY HERMENEUTICAL THEORY AND CONSERVATIVE INTERPRETATION (1)

This is a re-run of an old article.

In many respects there is much ground that is mutually shared by evangelical/fundamentalist theology per se. However, consistent hermeneutics is the environment in which dispensationalism thrives. Outside of that environment it fades into nothing.

In this little essay[1] I want to examine some of what is happening in the world of philosophical hermeneutics so that we can better understand the influences that are being seen in evangelical textbooks on the subject. Still more, we shall start to understand why evangelicals are jumping ship from grammatico-historical interpretation; a situation that threatens dispensationalism even more.

Definitions: Hermeneutics, Exegesis, Application

In any discussion, but especially in those involving foundational matters, it is crucial to define ones terms. Hermeneutics has been given a few different definitions. Many are covered by Robert Thomas in his book, Evangelical Hermeneutics.[2] For the moment it will suffice to borrow from a standard conservative manual.

As a theological discipline hermeneutics is the science of the correct interpretation of the Bible…It seeks to formulate those particular rules which pertain to the special factors connected with the Bible. It stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game.[3]

The definition above draws a helpful comparison between a book of rules that acts as the control over what is admissible and what is precluded in playing a game. All ought to play by the same rules. If they don’t; if each player thinks they can make up their own rules, the game is spoiled. This has been a good assumption of Bible interpreters, which has yielded excellent sermons, commentaries and theologies in the past. It has also been the operating assumption of those modern scholars whose hermeneutics books advocate a more subjective, reader-response attitude to the text of Scripture. As E. D. Hirsch noted, “Most authors believe in the accessibility of their verbal meaning, for otherwise most of them would not write.”[4] It would seem to be safe policy to define hermeneutics in a reductionistic fashion so as to leave room for clear roles for exegesis and application. Thus, we may begin by agreeing with Thomas’s classification of hermeneutics as “a set of principles” for right interpretation.[5]

Once hermeneutics has been so narrowly (and properly) labeled, it is alright to proceed to define exegesis. Exegesis is the implementation of the rules of hermeneutics to the Biblical text. As such, it involves the use of sanctified reason, as well as a certain finesse wrought out of a familiarity with the contents of Scripture. It is the act of investigative interpretation, which comprises adherence to hermeneutical principles along with a certain artistry brought by the subject. One should not speak of art or imagination when one is defining hermeneutics.[6] Hermeneutics does not entail active engagement with a text. That is where exegesis takes over.[7]

To understand how the definition of hermeneutics has become confused, consider these definitions:

Hermeneutics: Theory and principles of interpretation; for writings, correctly understanding the thought of an author and communicating it to others.[8]

Hermeneutics: The “science” of understanding the significance for a new audience of a text originally intended for a different audience.[9]

The first definition proceeds from formulation to implementation without batting an eyelid. Indeed, it moves beyond that and incorporates application within the actual process of interpretation, so that whereas application should be associated with the end-product of exegetical-expositional communication, here it is being read into the text.

In the second definition authorial intention is displaced by a preoccupation with present-day significance. Application is king! But by what rules is application guided?

We see then that a precise and exclusive delineation of hermeneutics is mandatory for accurate guidance in scriptural comprehension.

Why Hermeneutics is Important

God has given us the Bible so that we can know about Him, about ourselves, and about our world. We understand from Scripture that we need a Savior, and we discover who the Savior is, what He has accomplished on our behalf, and what we must do to acquire salvation.

All of this presupposes that we can understand what God is saying in His Word. Indeed, without the Bible, it is not possible for fallen man to interpret his life correctly. As one recent book explains it, “the Bible provides us with the basic story that we need in order to understand our world and to live in it as God’s people.”[10]

Every time a child opens up a story-book and starts to read, he or she takes for granted certain rules of interpretation; rules about spelling, basic grammar, context, and so on. As grown ups we do the same. Whenever we read or write something we presuppose certain norms of communication. Without them we could neither read nor write intelligibly. In the biblical philosophy of life, God gave human language so that He could converse with His creature, man, and so that man could obey Him dutifully. Language was also given in order that man could converse with God and verbalize God’s praise back to Him. Thirdly, language was given so that man could communicate with his fellow man.[11] This view of language should be taken with us when we attempt to devise a set of principles for Biblical interpretation. The whole aim of Biblical hermeneutics is spelled out by Ramm when he says, “we need to know the correct method of interpretation so that we do not confuse the voice of God with the voice of man.”[12]


[1] This essay is an extract, slightly adapted, from the author’s dissertation

[2] Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 28.

[3] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1975), 11.

[4] E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 18.

[5] Thomas, 27.

[6] As e.g., William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1993, revised and expanded), 5. There is much fine material in this work.

[7] It is unfortunate that even some dispensationalists confound hermeneutics and exegesis. This is somewhat due to the employment of an inclusive designation of hermeneutics as including “observation, interpretation, and application.” Such a definition is, of course, far too broad for a dispensationalist.

[8] Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, Grant Lovejoy, eds., Biblical Hermeneutics, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 367.

[9] Richard J. Erickson, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 222.

[10] Craig G. Bartholomew & Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 21.

[11] A thought-provoking treatment of language from a Christian perspective is Quentin J. Schulze, Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).

[12] Ramm, 2.

The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament (5)

Part Four

This is the final installment of the excerpts from my book ‘The Words of the Covenant: Old Testament Expectation,’ which I hope to get published by the end of 2020.  I would be grateful for those readers of this blog who have derived some benefit from these posts if you would please pray for God’s blessing on the publication and reading of the book.

The Durability of God’s Covenant Oaths

     All of the above categories fit nicely within a biblical covenantal framework.  Yahweh has freely entered into binding covenantal obligations by which His character and attributes can be seen for what they are.  There is no reason for humans to try to get God off the hook that He has put Himself on.  God wants to be held to His oaths.  He wants to be believed. For when He is believed by His creature they glorify Him.  When one traces a particular covenant oath through time it is clear that the oath does not undergo change.  Thus, the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:8-11 retains the same meaning for Isaiah many hundreds of years later (Isa. 54:9).  The three main parts of the Abrahamic covenant, of land (Gen. 12:7; 15:18-21), descendants (Gen. 15:4-5), and blessing on the nations (Gen. 12:3; 22:17-18) are interpreted to mean the same thing by Jeremiah (Jer. 32:36-41; 33:22, 25-26), Ezekiel (Ezek. 36:23-28; 37:12-14, 21, 26), Zechariah (Zech. 2:10-12; 8:1-7; 22-23), and Malachi (Mal. 1:11; 3:12).  There does not appear to be any wiggle room for reinterpreting or reapplying these promises, and the Hebrew Scriptures never indulge in it.

More than this, as I have documented above, Yahweh seems to have little or no patience with those who do not make good on their covenant vows.  He held Joshua and Israel to the words of the covenant that they foolishly made with the Gibeonites in Joshua 9, even sending a curse on Israel many years after because Saul had violated its commitments when he persecuted the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1-2).  The prophet Jeremiah records a sentence of doom upon king Zedekiah and his nobles for not performing “the words of the covenant which they made before Me” in Jeremiah 34:18-20.  Ezekiel speaks similarly, although this time it involves a covenant that the king of Judah was forced to make with the king of Babylon (Ezek. 17:13), and which was reneged on.  The prophet then asks “Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?” (Ezek. 17:15).

The obvious conclusion one must draw from all this is that the Lord of the Universe despises covenant-breakers.  But this is instructive for us chiefly because Yahweh is Himself a covenant maker.  Unless we are going to become hopeless nominalists, we are faced with the inalterable truth that Yahweh intends to keep His covenants, understood by the normal canons of language, to the letter.

If this is what we are up against when it comes to the understanding of the divine covenants, then surely, we are justified in clinging to the oaths of God in faith, no matter how things appear to us in our times and places?  The burden of fulfillment falls on the oath taker; in this case God Himself.  It is the most sensible of all moves to believe that God means exactly what He says in these covenants and to leave the “problem” of fulfillment to Him.  This is all the more justified from an Old Testament perspective.  The question of whether the New Testament gives us a “new” meaning for God’s oaths will not be taken up here.  But on the face of things it needs to be said that any such assertion would have to be proven exegetically (and not just inferentially), and that anyone making such an assertion is duty bound to construct a theodicy which takes full account of what has been written above about oaths, oath-takers, and Yahweh’s attitude to those who do not perform “the words of the covenant.”

 The Future Kingdom of God in the Old Testament (What Are We Led to Expect?)

     There are many different parts to the big covenantal picture which gradually comes together on the large canvass of the Old Testament.  The basic elements are there: The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (not just Abraham) have been made into the foremost nation on earth, and Jerusalem is the city of the great King.  The Gentile nations have for the most part joined themselves to Yahweh, although there are some rebels.  Jerusalem has been elevated, and the new expansive temple of God sits atop a great mountain, from which living waters flow down continually.  Yahweh Himself dwells in Zion.  The New covenant Law is known across the globe.  He will rule with absolute authority, but His reign will be just and merciful and happy.  There will be no need to search for God, for everyone will know Him.  All will behold the glory of Yahweh.

As to the effects of this, the primary thing is that shalom pervades every land; a sense of belonging to the world; of fitting in, because the world is made and blessed for us.  No one goes hungry because of the massive productivity of the ground.  Everyone feels safe.  The only people looking over their shoulders are those who oppose the Prince of Peace.  Peace will be felt in the city and in the countryside.  The animals of the wild will not harm each other, for rapacious and carnivorous beasts will no longer exist.  All will eat grass like the ox.  Transformations in nature and scenery will make the world delightful.

While sickness will need healing remedies will be on hand.  While deaths will still occur, they will only encroach upon a long life.  This is not heaven.  This is not the new heavens and the new earth.  This is the reign of the Branch, the Servant, the Stone that smote the unrighteous kingdoms of man.

The covenants of God, made mainly with Israel as the channel through whom Yahweh will realize His Creation Project, have an everlasting aspect to them that surely reaches beyond this blessed but not yet perfect environment into the eternal realm.  One writer sums it up well:

The story of Scripture is thoroughly Jewish.  To de-emphasize or omit this part of the story is to misunderstand the covenants and the manner in which God blesses all people through his Messiah…The line of Abraham, as seen in the nation of Israel, is the main earthly character in the entirety of the Old Testament.  It is their history throughout the Old Testament that we follow through times of judgment, yet with a constant reminder of the eternal, everlasting promises of God’s covenants.[1]

——————————————————————————–

[1] Mark Yarbrough, “Israel and the Story of the Bible,” in Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2018), edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, 54.

I Will See You Again

Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. – John 16:22

The Lord Jesus spoke these words to His disciples – although Judas had gone – before the events surrounding His arrest, trial, and death rushed in upon Him.  He was instructing the disciples about His leaving them to return to the Father who sent Him, and He was preparing them for their experiences and their ministries to come. 

Among the several matters that Jesus brought up was the sorrow and suffering that would inevitably come upon them because of their allegiance to and love of Him.  On a personal level, it was going to be difficult to say goodbye to their friend and Master; although they did not yet know just how painful that was going to be.  It was also going to be difficult serving Christ after He had gone.  The world hated Jesus and it would hate them.  There would be some who would even believe that in putting the disciples to death they were actually serving God!  When it came to what we might call “positive reception of the world” these men had little to look forward to.  They would “have sorrow.”

Yet alongside of their sorrow and their trouble they would also be blessed.  For one thing, Jesus promised that it was to the disciples’ advantage that He was going away, for the Holy Spirit, whom He called “the Comforter” or “the Counselor” would come in His place.  Because of the Spirit’s work with them they would learn  and grow and do great things for God.  The Holy Spirit would enable them to “abide in Jesus” and so be very fruitful.

As dependent as they would always be upon Jesus there was another promise that He left them with which must have raised their spirits.  They would see Jesus again!  This parting was not to be final.  They would see their Lord and Savior and Friend and their hearts would rejoice.  Moreover, no one would be able to take away their joy.

How does this speak to us?  We have not seen Jesus.  We have not walked and talked with the Master as the disciples did.  True enough.  But we have met Him.  We are known by Him and by the Father, and we do have the Holy Spirit residing within us.  This world is till hostile to Jesus and to His teachings.  It will not welcome us with open arms if it detects anything of Jesus Christ about us.  So we must face up to the fact that our sojourn down here will not be all chocolate and roses.  But there is a reunion coming.  And it will be a full reunion; a face to face meeting; a surpassing experience of relief and rest and, yes, joy.  Our joy will last and will be unimpaired by regret or sickness or the remnants of sin fighting from within.  Jesus has chosen us to serve Him here and now in “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4).  That is just for a time.  But then there is a more permanent and delightful service to which He will call us. There is a Kingdom coming in which “the world” cannot share, and to which we belong.  It is Christ’s Kingdom of unending joy.

       

The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament (4)

Part Three

g. The Rule of Righteousness, Justice, Peace, and Safety

When will this world know peace? When will things that could be fair actually be fair? When will justice stop being perverted? The answer to these questions is in the reign of the coming King (Isa. 32:1). He will judge righteously, “and decide with equity[1] for the meek of the earth.” (Isa 11:4). Only when His judgments are in the earth, will the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. (Isa 26:9). Once this occurs there will exist the wholeness and tranquility that is shalom, for the King is Himself, “Yahweh our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6), “the Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6).

In numerous places God has promised “peace and safety” to His people. In Hosea 2:18 “safety” is guaranteed because both human beings and the beasts of the earth become non-violent (cf. Ezek. 34:25).  Micah 4:4 declares “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” Isaiah 26:12 reveals a wonderful theological truth:

LORD, You will establish peace for us,
For You have also done all our works in us.

The inner work of peace is wrought by Yahweh. Peace is His gift (cf. Jn. 14:27). The pervasiveness of justice coming from Jerusalem provides for “quiet resting places” (Isa. 32:18 cf. Zech.9:10). The settings are this-worldly[2] and always eschatological, because they can only be eschatological. The difference is made by the One on the Davidic throne in Jerusalem, and in the ministry of the Spirit.

h. The Promise of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is not an unknown character in the Old Testament. He is there at the creation of the world (Gen. 1:2). The Spirit who superintended the beginning of the Creation Project is the One who will conclude it. His presence in the world insures this conclusion (cf. Psa. 139:7). The great change is to be brought about by the Spirit of God (Isa. 32:15). It is He who “adorned the heavens” (Job 26:13a). He will open the eyes of Israel (Zech. 12:10; Joel 2:28-32), and restore her (Ezek. 37:14 cf. Zech. 4:16). It is by the Spirit that the coming King will judge the earth (Isa. 11:2); that human nature will be changed so as to love righteousness and seek wisdom (Ezek. 36:27; Psa. 51:6). The Spirit of God is the one who will pour out the benefits of the New covenant, thus ensuring that the covenants with Abraham, Phinehas, and David are fulfilled to the letter (cf. Zech. 4:6).

i. The Blessing on the Nations

Zephaniah 2:10-11 says that the nations will one day worship Yahweh (cf. Psa. 87:4, 6; Am. 9:12; Isa. 19:19-25; Mal.1:11). Their salvation is guaranteed within one of the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3c). In the days of the King the people of the nations will journey to Zion (Isa. 2:2; Zech. 14:16). This turning of the nations will in part be affected by the transformation and witness of Israel (Isa. 43:1-21). In short, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9). The Old Testament pictures independent nation-states upon earth governed in line with the great Ruler in Zion (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Zech. 14:16).

The Compelling Force of Expectation

A crucial aspect of reading the Hebrew Bible that often escapes attention is the wave of expectation that its promises raised in the minds of believers before the New Testament era. Identifying that expectation is absolutely essential. I have done some of that in the examples given above.[3] Whatever a person may think about the priority of the New Testament in understanding the Bible, if one has not given thought to the subject of Old Testament expectation in the absence of the New Testament then I believe that he has not yet read the Old Testament truly. Whatismore, he is in no condition to comprehend the mind of a Jewish Apostle writing the New Testament. What God’s covenants do is to increase faith in certain outcomes. They raise expectations to another level. They become the firm basis for hope!

————————————————————————————–

[1] The word “equity” has been co-opted by critical race theorists (CRT) to mean “an assured equality of outcome” rather than a level playing field. In CRT “equity” is imposed based upon the decisions of those few in positions of power. It becomes rooted in man’s sinful nature rather than in a transcendental justice based on God’s character (Psa. 119:142). In the Bible equity is never equality of outcome, but universal conformity to God’s justice. Hence, the Messiah “shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears.” (Isa 11:3).

[2] Many amillennialists are now promoting a this-worldly final state instead of eternity in heaven. This has required them to stop spiritualizing texts which point to a kingdom upon earth after the return of Christ. But it also forces them to exacerbate their use of dual hermeneutical methods, often in the same passage. Moreover, while they have become more literal in interpreting e.g. Mic. 4:1-5; Isa. 11:1-12; 60:1-14, 19-22, they persist in spiritualizing the covenantal land promise to Israel, often turning it into a type. A good study of this trend is Steven L. James, New Creation Eschatology and the Land: A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017).

[3] The reader would be well advised to study the Appendix in the book by J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, 325-336 for a more detailed list of prophecies designed to raise specific expectations in the hearts of Old Testament believers.

Willing to do God’s will?

Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. – John 7:16-17

Even this early in the narrative of John’s Gospel Jesus was very unpopular with the religious leaders.  They were talking about killing Him.  So to avoid the many problems that accompany being hated by those in influence, the Lord chose not to go up to the yearly Feast of Tabernacles openly.  Instead He mingled with the crowds until the middle of the Feast.  At that point He began ministering, teaching, and performing miracles.

It is most important that we understand that Jesus was always referring to Himself; not indeed out of an inflated ego, but because He was Who He was.  It is also important that we understand how strongly Jesus drew the connection between Himself and His words and the work of God the Father upon the earth.  Did you want to see God at work?  Watch Jesus among the people.  Did you want to hear God teaching?  Stop and listen to Jesus.

And this is what makes this passage so illuminating.  Jesus was at the center of a discussion about His remarkable teaching gifts:  “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” (Jn. 7:15).  in reply to the hubbub that the question created, Jesus spoke these extraordinary words of verses 16 and 17.  If I may paraphrase Him a little, Jesus asserted that the words at which everybody marveled (and which the soldiers who were sent to arrest Him were astounded by in verse 46), were the very words of God.  Moreover, the things that He was teaching to the people were from God.  We can be sure that the teaching of Jesus made a stark contrast to the formulaic and lifeless teaching of the priests and rabbis.

But it was not just the effect of hearing what the Lord said that proved that He was sent from God.  Jesus offered a proof that His doctrine was divine.

If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

Again, but with a wider paraphrase: “I am not merely speaking to you as another teacher with great oratory skills.  No, My doctrine comes from Heaven, and the sure way to know that is by putting what I say into practice.”

This is Christ telling us that God moves when we move.  That is to say, when we do what He tells us we should do, His grace and power acts with us, supporting our efforts, meager as they may be.  There is also that that sense of moral rightness which accompanies Christ-likeness; when we humble ourselves; when we put God first by hallowing His Name; when we think of others before ourselves; when we do good works in His Name, etc.

The teaching of Jesus comports with Heaven and Earth, with the soul and the body, and with love and Truth.  It always bears good fruit.  It always magnifies the One Who gave it.