For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:1-11)
The World of Magical Theology
What is called “biblical theology” structures its study according to the chronology or history of redemption, whereas “systematic theology” structures its study according to a logical or topical order. In connection with biblical theology, the redemptive-historical approach takes Scripture as the divine record of the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan in history, with its main focus on the revelation of Jesus Christ. Among other things, this approach is supposed to prevent the reader from reducing the Bible to a mere collection of moral lessons, much like how Aesop’s fables are used. The various biblical passages are supposed to offer revelations of Jesus Christ, instead of moral lessons like “be humble,” “be frugal,” “be positive,” “be kind,” and so on. This is correct in principle, and when done correctly, this approach to Scripture can yield wonderful insights. But as usual, in the hands of scholars, it often becomes a tool to preach a different gospel, and a different Christ than the one the Bible presents.
A well-known pastor and professor was teaching a group of children something about biblical theology. They came upon a passage in which Christ performed a healing miracle. The pastor persisted with one of the children until the poor thing finally surrendered to the interpretation that the passage was not about the healing miracle, but about Jesus Christ. But the passage was already about Jesus. Why did the pastor forbid the child’s initial understanding? The advocates of biblical theology and the redemptive-historical approach are fond of boasting that they find Jesus on every page of the Bible. The problem was that this particular page revealed Jesus Christ the healer, and as one who would heal those who ask by faith. You see, this is what the theologians resent. This is the thing that the pastor and professor refused to permit. He had to destroy it before faith in this Jesus grew in the heart of the child. He had to murder this Jesus before he could take root in the next generation. And so he did it. And then he wrote a book and boasted about it. But Jesus said that someone like this should go kill himself (Matthew 18:6).
He claimed a miracle is only a “sign” that points to Jesus Christ. But which Christ? What does the sign tell us about this Christ? Does the sign “Christ is a healer” point to a Christ who is not a healer? Does the sign “Christ heals those who come in faith” point to a Christ who does not heal those who come in faith? How do you pull this off? Magic! What would a sign have to say to actually tell you that “Christ is a healer” and “Christ heals those who come in faith”? You just won’t let it happen, will you? You will allow Christ to be only that one thing about him you still believe in and nothing else. You will let Christ be only as big as your microscopic faith, instead of increasing your faith to embrace all of Christ. When the Bible reveals a Christ that is bigger than your faith, you cry heresy. This is what you mean by Christ-centered, but you make everything, including Jesus himself, centered on what you decide.
We see this kind of thing done over and over again in the name of biblical theology, in the name of the redemptive-historical approach to Scripture. Oh, of course we don’t want to “moralize,” right? That would be terrible! But they end up allegorizing every passage into a lesson about Jesus Christ, and only the Jesus they allow. They have made up their minds about what Jesus Christ is like and what he is permitted to be or do before they engage the text. They have made up their minds about what kind of Christ they will allow in their lives, and in yours. If a passage reveals Christ as healer, they will allow it to reveal Christ, but either not as healer, or only as a spiritual healer, a healer for your soul. Regardless of what God says, the result is the same. Everything is forced through their filter to eliminate undesirable aspects of Jesus Christ. No matter what a text says, they refuse to let it mean anything other than what they have decided. The Bible calls this a demonic stronghold.
They are always going on about “Christ-centered” this and “Christ-centered” that. But this is not Christ-centered interpretation. This is voodoo. This is a bait-and-switch scam. The theologian first shows you a passage and tells you to focus on it. He makes you think that he is about to give you a Christ that comes from that same passage. He mumbles something about history, drama, revelation, unfolding this or that — sometimes adding an incantation in Greek or Hebrew for good measure — and then from all of this emerges a Christ that is different from the one the passage talks about. If a passage shows that Jesus Christ heals someone because of his faith, it is somehow a wrong interpretation to think that he will do that for us too, but that the correct interpretation is that he will not do that for us. The text is making another point, a point that is apparently even in contradiction to the words of the text. No matter what the text says, they allow it to unfold only the Christ that they have decided, not the Christ that is in the text. This is essentially a liberal approach to Scripture, and an approach that rejects divine inspiration. It is an approach of the demonic cults. The difference is that the bias is — we hope — not as extreme, so that the result still retains part of what the Bible reveals about Christ, but never more than what they allow you to see. It is magic.
A Christ-centered approach does not only see Jesus Christ on every page, but it sees Jesus Christ as he is revealed on “that” page. Who is the Christ in this passage? How do we deal with this Christ, or this aspect of Christ? If it reveals a Christ who dies for sinners, so that they can become righteous before God, then that is the Christ we see. We should believe in him and receive righteousness. If it reveals a Christ who heals the sick, so that they can come to him by faith and receive healing for their bodies, then that is the Christ we see. We should have faith in him and receive healing. If it reveals a Christ who baptizes his people with the Holy Spirit, so that they can become his witnesses by preaching the gospel and healing the sick, then that is the Christ we see. If it reveals some other aspect of Christ, some other perfection that he possesses, or some other blessing that he provides, then that is the Christ that we believe and preach. This is Christ-centered interpretation. This is Christ-centered preaching. A Christ-centered approach to the Bible will listen to what the Bible tells us about Christ.
The Principle of Direct Application
The redemptive-historical approach to Scripture is correct, but we must read what the text actually says, and see Christ as he is revealed in the passages. There is only one Jesus Christ, but the wisdom and grace of God are “manifold” (Ephesians 3:10, 1 Peter 4:10), and you might notice that a passage shows you an aspect of him that you did not know before. Good! You just learned something. The knowledge might demand you to expand your perception and increase your faith. Rather than shrinking from it, and forcing every passage to reveal only the things about Christ that you already accept, submit to the text and let it tell you what Christ is really like, what this Christ is telling you, what this Christ will do for you, and what this Christ wants from you.
If God reveals himself through the story of history, then a correct interpretation involves grasping both the reasons for the story and the facts of the story. It will respect why he is telling us the story as well as what happened in the story. So when the Bible tells us a story in which Jesus healed someone, the reason for telling the story about healing is to reveal Jesus Christ, but the story itself is still about healing. Then, although the reason for the story is to reveal Jesus Christ, one reason to reveal Jesus Christ is so that we would believe in him (John 20:31). And if the story reveals Jesus the healer, then a reason for telling us about Jesus the healer is that we should have faith in him and receive healing (Acts 14:9). This obvious approach enables us to appreciate the redemptive aspect of the passage, that it tells us about Christ, and at the same time it makes a direct application to ourselves, that it tells us what this Christ wants us to know and how he wants us to live.
A proper use of Scripture includes “moralizing” the text. We can call it something like “direct application,” but we will continue to say “moralizing” just to make scholars cringe. Paul refers to the people of Israel in 1 Corinthians 10. He indeed takes a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture. God provided water for them out of a rock and they drank from it, and Paul says that the rock was Christ. But then he applies the same incident to us as a moral lesson: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (v. 6). We take their history (“these things occurred as examples”) and make moral lessons out of them (“to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things”). Then the apostle makes several direct applications from their lives: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel” (v. 7-9). In other words, “They did this, and God punished them. So we should not do this.”
This is a straightforward and outright simplistic moralizing of the text, and Paul sees no problem with it. He does both things with the same text — he centers the text on Christ, and within this Christian context, applies the text to us. This is the way to use a text. If the moralizing application is done in a Christian context, or under the assumption that we are dealing with Christian Scripture, then it becomes what Christ wants to say to us through the text. The moralizing would not be a neglect of Christ, but a truly Christ-centered use of the text would listen to what he wants to tell us by the text, as in what he wants us to believe and how he wants us to behave. The whole thing is assumed to be Christian Scripture, not fables or moral lessons from men, but history, revelation, and lessons from Christ.
In this sense, we must moralize. We must take the historical events as revelations of Christ, as sources of doctrines, and as examples and lessons for living. We must do all of this, and we must do it repeatedly and constantly. Instead of saying that we should not moralize, we should say that we must moralize, and we must moralize correctly. The way to moralize correctly is to read it as Christian Scripture, not as a collection of independent events and stories. What we draw from each text must agree with the rest of Scripture. Thus we stress the importance of systematic theology. Once you grasp the Bible as a coherent whole, you are free to apply the Bible to yourself and others directly, and you would be unlikely to make a mistake.
Other biblical writers do the same thing. James writes, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” People love this. Although James applies the experience of the divinely inspired prophets directly to us, no one complains about moralizing, shallow preaching, or anything like that. Why? Because it is about suffering, not healing. It is about pain, not joy. It plays into their religious bias about what it means to serve Christ, and so their usual inhibitions fly right out the window. Then James continues, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:10-11). We can always count on Job to give us an excuse to talk about our suffering. This is excellent, until we look up “what the Lord finally brought about” — health and wealth. God gave Job healing, long life, and double the wealth. James calls this God’s “compassion and mercy.” He says this even right after he condemned certain rich people — he is against their character, not their money. So it does not turn out as the religionists want, but it illustrates that James takes the prophets and makes a direct application to us.
There is more. Several verses later, James writes, “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17-18). Now he is moralizing like there is no tomorrow. Elijah? The context is first about praying for healing. James says that when we pray for the sick, God will heal them. Then he broadens the lesson to prayer in general. He says that the prayer of a righteous man is effective. If you are going by your own righteousness, you will never make it, and your prayers will fail. I am not going by my own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ. I am righteous because Jesus is righteous, and I am righteous in him. So when I pray in the name of Jesus, I pray as a righteous man. God hears me just like he hears Jesus, and my prayer is effective. In any case, James finds it appropriate to directly apply Elijah’s example to the Christian. He does not say that we can never be like the prophet, but he says that Elijah was already “just like us.” He compares Elijah’s prayers for miracles to the Christian’s prayers for miracles. Elijah also performed miracles of healing, but James chooses the prophet’s miracles of nature, and applies them directly to us. God wants us to expand our thinking and increase our faith.
Now if the theologians have any problem with the above, they should be kicked out of every church and seminary. This is not some theory or trick, but a direct observation of how the Bible interprets itself. But if the theologians accept the above, then our disagreement ends, and it means they confess that they have been spewing nonsense all this time. Christian moralizing is not only acceptable, but mandatory, not only when it comes to suffering and patience, but also health and wealth, miracles of healing, and miracles of nature, and not only when it comes to the “spiritual” blessings in the New Testament, but also the physical, material, and supernatural blessings in the Old Testament. I mention this last point because some allege that the emphasis changed between the Old and the New. But if James applies the prophets, Job, and Elijah to us directly, then we can have all of the Old and the New. Again, the theologians invent distinctions to excuse their unbelief.
Thus we reinstate all instances of moralizing that they have rejected. Some Christians, thinking themselves more theologically informed, make fun of how popular preachers use the story of David and Goliath to encourage faith. While all the others stayed behind in fear, David went against the giant in the name of Lord and obtained victory. Afterward God’s people were encouraged and followed David to pursue their enemies. Of course this is a picture of Christ. While we were helpless in sin, and cowered in fear before the devil, Jesus Christ went against him and obtained victory for us. He overcame the devil. He is our champion and our leader. Now we follow him to pursue the forces of darkness. But preachers are mocked when they say that the story should inspire our faith to confront our problems in the name of the Lord. This is moralizing. It is man-centered, seeker-friendly, motivational preaching. It is bad interpretation. No, it is not. It is an excellent use of Scripture. It is exactly what the Bible is written for. It is appropriate to moralize the text this way as long as it is given a Christian interpretation. In other words, the text does not encourage just anyone — the non-Christians would be standing on Goliath’s side. For Christians, on the other hand, the story teaches us to face life with faith and courage in the name of Jesus.
All Things Are Yours
The stories in the Bible are there for you — for history, for doctrine, to warn you, and to inspire you. You can call it moralistic, exemplaristic, or something else, it doesn’t matter. The Bible is for you, and you can apply it to yourself directly. There is indeed a wrong way to do it, so just learn the right way to do it. The main principle is to read them as Christian stories, not as mere human stories. As a Christian, all the characters and examples in the Bible belong to you. All things are yours. Whether Moses or Elijah or Paul or Christ, all are yours. They are your inheritance in Christ.
Moses’ rock belongs to us. Job’s suffering belongs to us. Elijah’s power belongs to us. David’s victory belongs to us. How much more should we directly apply the biblical examples of those who received from Jesus by faith? Jesus said, “I am willing” to the leper and healed him. Apply that to yourself. Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you.” He said, “It will be done according to your faith.” This is for you too. Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.” When you have faith, all things are possible to you. Of course the healing miracles are signs that reveal Christ. They are signs that reveal a Christ who is willing to heal us and who heals when we believe him. They are signs that reveal a Christ who thinks that all things are possible to us when we have faith.
Leave the school of magical theology. If a sign reveals something more than what the sign says, at least it cannot reveal something other than or even opposite to what the sign says. If a Christ who heals reveals a Christ who saves, it still reveals a Christ who heals. Don’t let the magicman deceive you. Don’t let him show you a text and then give you something else. Don’t let the theologians and preachers lie to you, and convince you that it is an abuse of Scripture to directly apply to yourself the examples of faith, healing, miracles, and all kinds of blessings. You would be abusing Scripture if you do not apply them to yourself. Apply them directly. Apply them forcefully. Apply them often. Apply them all day and all night. Apply all of them.
Take responsibility for your faith. Don’t be a victim. And if you must be a victim, at least don’t complain to the person who tells you the truth. Paul tells the Corinthians, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). What about you? The theologians teach a different Jesus. The preachers deliver a different gospel. Do you put up with this? Do you look at this with academic detachment, or with mere religious interest? Tell me, do you put up with this? If you do, then you share in their sin. You are guilty like them.
Some of you curse up and down, turn over tables, and go on parades — parades! — when people mess with your politics. But when someone shoves another Jesus down your throat, you want to discuss it like gentlemen. Why aren’t there riots at churches and seminaries to protest cessationism, or some other satanic religion? Why aren’t there sit-ins, walk-outs, sleep-overs, or whatever people do nowadays? The least you can do is to object with some force instead of just talking about it politely and endlessly. You engage in perpetual discussion to pretend that you are doing something about it, but in reality to avoid any change as you keep flattering the theologians about their contributions despite their unbelief. You are so corrupt.
There are those who think that I am too harsh with the theologians and preachers. Look, if you can refute me, then I am wrong anyway, and it makes little difference if I am harsh, that I communicate in a way that you can actually GET IT. But if I am right, then I am not the one you should be talking to. It is amazing that some people admit that I am right about all of this, and still I am the only one they complain to. You should be joining me, not lecturing me to be nice. Even if you have no faith, no courage, no sense of justice, and no loyalty to Christ, at least have a little shame. Until you have done your part to attack unbelief, you should be too embarrassed to judge how I do it. Crawl back into your hole. The truth is that I need to be doing this a thousand times stronger before I can make up for your compromise.
I see right through you. If someone preaches another Jesus or another gospel to you, you put up with it, and you blame me for speaking up because you are exposed as well. You are that kind of person. You pretend to be nice when talking about theology, even when someone crucifies Christ afresh by their tradition and unbelief. But wait until someone insults the brand of smartphone you use! Now you are the Lion of Judah! Now you call down fire upon his head! Anyone can take away your Jesus, and you will nod and smile, answering with “gentleness and respect.” But Satan himself is too afraid to make fun of your soccer team, lest you adorn the full armor of God and smite him with the force of a thousand angels.
Still, even when you are like this, even though you are so disgusting and hypocritical, God remains true to himself, and if you can accept the truth, all things are yours. Still, they are yours. Whether Moses or Elijah, whether Paul or Christ, whether healing or prophecy, whatever is in the word of God, if you are a Christian, and if you have faith, then they are yours through Jesus Christ. They are your inheritance, and no one can take them away from you.