The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Bible Study (Page 1 of 26)

Scripture Reflections: God’s “Invitations” in Genesis 1

This year as part of my daily Bible reading I am doing some journaling and notetaking, and I thought it might be a useful discipline to share some of my reflections here on The Doc File. I use the word discipline because this is a habit I would like to cultivate that I hope will be beneficial for myself and readers alike (I did something similar several years ago but fizzled out after a few posts).

So, my goal for these brief posts will be two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


One of the things I love about reading Scripture is how you can notice something in a very familiar text that you had never noticed previously. Genesis 1 is one such text: I have no idea how many hundreds of times I have read it in my life, but its depths seem to be endless, constantly offering up new discoveries. This time, as I was reading through, I was struck by the rhythmic quality of the text: over and over again, God speaks, “Let there be” (light, an expanse, the sprouting of vegetation, etc), and over and over again, we have the repeated narrative comment, “And it was so.”

It is as if God is inviting creation to take place and unanimously, automatically, creation responds to the invitation of the Creator: God speaks, and it is so.

On the sixth day, God speaks into existence the pinnacle of creation: humanity, created in God’s own image. As image-bearers, humans are given a divine vocation: to rule over creation (under God’s authority), to fill the earth, master it, till and tend the garden of Eden, and give names to the animals (Genesis 1.26, 28; 2.15, 20).

Such creatures obviously possess enormous potential for cooperation in God’s good plans, but ironically, it is in this pinnacle of creation where we see a break in the pattern of the unanimous, automatic response to God’s invitation of how things are supposed to work. As we see in Genesis 3, rather than accepting God’s invitation to rule under His authority, Adam and Eve distort the divine image by seeking to establish their own autonomy and authority. They eat of the forbidden fruit with disastrous consequences.

This has remarkable implications. That God allows His image-bearers to ignore His invitations of co-rule shows how He honors humanity with freedom. Far from an automatic response where God reveals His will and humans unanimously and immediately respond in accordance with that will, God invites us to reflect His wisdom and authority but does not force it upon us. He does all that can be done to bring us around to His side, but He allows us to pave the path to our own destruction. He is grieved by our poor choices, but He honors us too much to prevent them.

What a marvel to be given such ability with such freedom, such potential for good or evil!

As C.S. Lewis says in Prince Caspian:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Or, in the words of George MacDonald:

“However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.”

What humanity desperately needs is an exemplar, someone who will harness the dangerous gift of freedom, submit to the wisdom and authority of God, and in so doing, restore the divine image.

Of course, we have such a Someone; His name is Jesus.

Reading in 2020

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year. As we all know, 2020 was a strange and challenging year, and I was reminded of what a blessing books are! Reading brought a lot of peace to my life in a hectic time.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2020:

  1. North Boulevard Church of Christ 2020 Vision: Final Reflections, by David Young
  2. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. Swallowed Up, by J.L. Gerhardt
  4. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. Under Occupation, by Alan Furst
  6. Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change In The Church, by Thom Ranier
  7. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
  8. The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family, by Kara Powell
  9. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  10. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
  11. The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss
  12. A Third Testament, by Malcolm Muggeridge
  13. Silence, by Shūsaku Endō
  14. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell
  15. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, by Gary M. Burge
  16. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
  17. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proved Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
  18. Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
  19. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis
  20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  21. The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
  22. Images of America: Searcy, by Carolyn Boyles and Patsy Pipkin
  23. T.R.I.A.L.S. A Journey from Anxiety to Peace, by Chase Turner
  24. Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary, by Martha Brockenbrough
  25. The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis
  26. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
  27. The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis
  28. Star Wars Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig
  29. The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
  30. Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray
  31. Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, by Chuck Wendig
  32. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News, by Brian Zahnd
  33. Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End, by Chuck Wendig
  34. The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
  35. Jackaby, by William Ritter
  36. A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  37. So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  38. Lament For A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
  39. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, by Mark A. Yarhouse
  40. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein
  41. The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby
  42. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton
  43. Beyond The Verse: What I Discovered Reading the Bible One Book at a Time, by Wes McAdams
  44. Star Wars: Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
  45. The End of Youth Ministry?, by Andrew Root
  46. Thrawn: Alliances, by Timothy Zahn
  47. Thrawn: Treason, by Timothy Zahn
  48. Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans
  49. God And The Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, by N.T. Wright
  50. Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Figure, by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray
  51. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt
  52. Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith, edited by Chap Clark
  53. The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell
  54. How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, by Alan Jacobs
  55. Race & Justice, by Tim Keller
  56. Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era, by Jerry Mitchell
  57. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland
  58. The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker
  59. Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
  60. Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  61. King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience-Based Discipleship, by David Young
  62. The Risen Spear, by Scott Biddle
  63. Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, by Ariel Sabar
  64. McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel
  65. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K. A. Smith

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2019 to 65 in 2020. My 2020 total represents a personal record for books read in a year. This is largely related to the life rhythms brought about by COVID-19: especially during the early days of lockdown (but extending beyond), I did a lot of walking around my neighborhood, and frequently listened to audiobooks while doing that. My reading decreased somewhat as the year went on.
  • I read a lot of fiction this year. This is partially because there were more fiction audiobooks available at my local library than, say, theology books, and partially because 2020 was a year where I was seeking distraction from circumstances and looking to “travel” through reading.
  • In addition to reading more this year, I read so many really good books. It was a great year of reading.
  • I fully expect my reading totals to decrease significantly next year. In addition to circumstances related to COVID hopefully improving over time, I am planning to start working through some long and dense books on theology and biblical studies (I am really excited about this, in case you were curious about how much of a nerd I am).

I normally share my Top 10 books for the year, but I was having a hard time narrowing it down to just 10 this year. This was stressing me out until I remembered that I make the rules around here, so I just decided to do a Top 15 list instead. Before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 15, but I still wanted to comment on.

  • Two great books that didn’t make my Top 15 because they had previously been Top 10 choices from previous years were The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family, by Kara Powell (2017) and 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson (2019).
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt: This is a good book that is a really important read for our times, I believe. It is not one of my top books of the year because it delves heavily into evolutionary biology and moral psychology, which are not areas of great interest for me, and I frequently got bogged down in those parts. But I found some really good ideas to take away from this book.
  • The Risen Spear, by Scott Biddle: Scott is one of my youth group dads, and I was delighted to learn that he has authored a series of fantasy books for children. The Risen Spear was a short read with a compact, exciting story, and vaguely reminded me of the Narnia books in some ways (which is high praise from me!). I look forward to reading the next books in the series.

I want to take a moment to highlight Race & Justice by Tim Keller. Technically, this is a series of articles rather than a book, but they are so long that combined they essentially represent a book-length treatment on the subject. I read and listened to a lot about race in 2020 (books, articles, podcasts, etc.), and this is, without question, the best biblical theology I have read related to race, racism, and justice.

I decided that Keller’s Race & Justice series was bookish enough to include in my list above, but since it wasn’t technically a book, I left it out of my Top 15. But that is in no way to diminish how good the material is (I bet it comes out as a book sometime in the future).


Regarding my Top 15 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-15):

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseveranceby Angela Duckworth: I read this book back in February, which now seems about eight years ago, so I confess that I don’t remember it as well as I’d like to. Duckworth shares a lot of research and examples to flesh out her thesis, which is basically given by the title of the book. In short, the characteristic that best predicts success is not intelligence or personality or a host of other things, but grit, which Duckworth defines as a combination of passion and perseverance. In other words, a major part of being successful in life is finding something you really care about and sticking with it, regardless of setbacks or obstacles. I read this as an audiobook, but it is one that I will probably pick up at some point so I can keep coming back to it.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis: I read Lewis’s classic a dozen years ago, but I have never featured it as one of my top books of the year, so it makes its appearance on this list after I re-read it this year. I appreciated it even more this time; Lewis is such a penetrating thinker, and has an excellent way of getting at the heart of what Christianity is about.

Silence, by Shūsaku Endō: This novel is the poignant tale of Jesuit missionaries suffering persecution in 17th-century Japan. The story itself is gripping, but also raises important questions about the nature of cross-cultural missions, the place of martyrdom in Christian faith, and the plight of the believer when God is silent.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, by Gary M. Burge: This is the second book I’ve read from the “Week in the Life” series, and I continue to be a big fan. Basically, these are short historical novels set in the first century that seek to inform the reader about the world of the New Testament by plausibly expanding the stories of minor New Testament characters. Burge’s volume focuses on a Roman centurion whose life was changed by a meeting with King Jesus. The story is compelling, and the historical background is helpful for readers of the New Testament who are interested in a better understanding of the world of Jesus and the apostles.

The Chronicles of Narniaby C.S. Lewis: Okay, so I am cheating here by listing a series of books as one book, and this certainly wasn’t my first time to read the Narnia books, but collectively, this was definitely one of my favorite reads of 2020. Because I also blogged about the series at length, Lewis’s classic series was on my mind a lot this year. It was perfect pandemic reading for me.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear: This was another entry in the category of books that I “read” as an audiobook but enjoyed so much that I was tempted to go back and purchase a physical copy so I would have it for reference. I reviewed this book after I read it, so you can get a fuller overview there, but I will repeat my basic summary: Atoms are very small things. They are the building blocks of the world around us, but they are invisible to the naked eye. They are also very powerful—the power of the atom can provide electricity to an entire region in the form of a power plant, or untold devastation in the form of a nuclear bomb. This is the premise of Atomic Habits: habits are little, sometimes nearly invisible things that can bring about powerful change—for good or ill—in our lives.

Lament For A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff: This is a series of short essays written after the author’s 25 year-old son was tragically killed in a climbing accident; I was so moved by this book that I wrote a series of posts on it. As a Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Wolterstorff certainly writes from a theological perspective, but overwhelmingly, he is writing as a grief-stricken dad. It is possibly the best book on suffering that I have read, and I think that, perhaps, is because Wolterstorff’s disjointed essays are the perfect way to reflect on grief and suffering. Well-organized books on theodicy that seek to explain the problem of evil and suffering have their place, but those are the sorts of books you need to read when the sun is shining and the world makes sense. On the other hand, when grief has come unexpectedly rushing into your life with the force of a tsunami, Lament For A Son—with its chaos and raw emotion and grasping faith—is the sort of book you need.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein: in many ways, I felt this was The New Jim Crow applied to the housing industry in the United States. It talks about all sorts of creative ways in which government officials—at the federal, state, and local levels—orchestrated the largely-segregated society that still exists today in our country (zoning ordinances, neighborhood covenants, blockbusting, white flight, the establishment of ghettos, construction of interstates, and more). The Color of Law shares tons of data and statistics, but is written in a narrative style that is easy to follow and understand.

The Color of Compromise: the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby: this book specifically addresses the American Church, and confronts the reader with the uncomfortable reality that throughout American history, white Christians have largely (though not entirely) turned a blind eye toward racism, and many times have actively supported and furthered racist agendas. Tisby does not shy away from hard truths, but he writes with clear affection for the church, and offers helpful suggestions moving forward.

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debateby John H. Walton: Genesis 1 is a famously controversial text, and takes a prominent position in discussions about the seeming tension between faith and science. Walton, a conservative Old Testament scholar, removes some of the fuel from the fires of controversy by suggesting that we should receive Genesis 1 the way that ancient Israelites would have received it: as ancient cosmology, it is function oriented rather than being concerned about material origins. If you are someone who has ever been bothered by Genesis 1 and how that fits with scientific claims (and especially if this has been a barrier to faith for you), The Lost World of Genesis One is an excellent read.

Beyond The Verse: What I Discovered Reading the Bible One Book at a Timeby Wes McAdams: Wes is one of my favorite bloggers and I think he is such a helpful voice in the church right now. A couple of  years ago, he completed reading through the entire Bible, but rather than doing it by reading a few chapters each day, he read entire books of the Bible in one sitting each day. This enabled him to get a much clearer picture of the broad story the Bible tells, and it is a story that we are often guilty of distorting significantly. I absolutely loved this book. I recommended it to several people after I read it, and I intend to incorporate it into my ministry moving forward.

Star Wars: Thrawnby Timothy Zahn: In many ways, 2020 was the year that I rediscovered Star Wars novels. I used to read Star Wars novels a lot, but back when Disney took over the franchise, they decanonized all the books I had read and I lost interest. Out of the loop, I discovered that a bunch of new Star Wars novels had been authorized by Disney and written in recent years, and I read several in 2020. Some of them were hot garbage, but Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy was good: my favorite Star Wars author reintroducing one of my favorite decanonized characters back into the canon. Thrawn is the first book in the trilogy, and was, in my opinion, the best.

Cry, the Beloved Countryby Alan Paton: I read this book back in 2009 and loved it, but had not read it since then, and it was even better than I remembered. This book touches on so many heavy themes—racism, theology, politics, the breakdown of the native village, crime, poverty, environmental concerns, and more—and tells the story of the shared tragedy of two older men in 1940s South Africa: a poor, black Anglican priest, and a wealthy, white farmer. This is such a beautiful book, and it was even more poignant to me reading it in 2020, a year of significant racial tension in my own country. Simply put, this is among the best books I have ever read.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wifeby Ariel Sabar: The subtitle of this book summarizes the plot well. In 2012, Harvard Divinity School professor Dr. Karen King published the discovery of a papyrus fragment from a supposed early Christian text that she sensationally dubbed, “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” that would later turn out to be a forgery. This book is an impressive chronicle of investigative journalism, and also serves as a warning of the problems of confirmation bias and the murky places to which extreme forms of postmodern thinking can deliver us.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K. A. Smith: Saint Augustine of Hippo is likely the single most influential Christian thinker since the Apostle Paul, and as Smith points out in this superb book, his story is quite likely very much like your own. Based significantly on Augustine’s Confessions, Smith looks at the journey of his life and the issues and questions that drove it—issues and questions that continue to drive our lives today. This makes Augustine a wonderful travel companion as we journey through life: someone who has already made a similar journey, asked similar questions, and, if we have ears to hear, has helpful directions for the road. Bonus: the cover design for this book is outstanding. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case…

That was my reading for 2020. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

Textual Criticism and the Reliability of Scripture

I have written before about textual criticism, which refers (at least in biblical studies) to the study and comparison of biblical manuscripts in order to give us a more accurate picture of what the original documents said. A lot of Christians are largely unaware of this field of study, and only become aware of it when they see footnotes in their Bibles near certain passages that say something like, “many of the earliest and best manuscripts do not contain these verses.”

It can be alarming for some people when they read footnotes like these because it seems to throw doubt over whether or not we can trust our modern Bibles. Really though, the opposite is true: it is only because we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts that we are even aware of the discrepancies between different ones:

We don’t have the original editions of the Bible. Instead, what we have are thousands and thousands of handwritten copies called manuscripts. We have fragments that date back to the early second century, but the best comprehensive manuscripts we have that contain most or all of the New Testament date back to the fourth and fifth centuries.

Compared to other ancient works, this is incredible. There are some ancient works of famous philosophers or poets of which we may only have a handful of copies, but there are thousands and thousands of biblical manuscripts. There are a lot of differences between the different manuscripts because they were copied down by hand, but since there are so many copies, we can compare them and, with a very high degree of accuracy, determine what the original text said.

The vast majority of differences between manuscripts are differences in things like spelling (basically the modern equivalent of a typo) where it is still very obvious what is supposed to be said. There are only a handful of places in the New Testament where there is a whole verse or verses that we are not sure about, and even in those, there is no point of doctrine that is compromised either way. So the biblical text that we have is very reliable.[1]

John 7.53-8.11, the story of the woman caught in adultery, is perhaps the most famous textual problem in the New Testament, but another is Mark 16.9-20, sometimes called “The Long Ending of Mark.” It reads:

9 [[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

(Mark 16.9-20)

In most modern translations, these verses will either be included in brackets (as the ESV does, which I have tried to preserve above) or will be omitted from the main text and perhaps included in a footnote. This is not because some sinister forces are seeking to alter the content and meaning of Scripture from what was originally written; rather, it is a reflection of the text-critical belief that these verses were not originally part of Mark, based on the fact that many of the earliest and best manuscripts that we have of Mark’s Gospel do not contain them.

Ultimately, biblical scholars disagree about the authenticity of the long ending of Mark. Most hold that it is not original, but those scholars who believe it to not be original are also divided about whether or not there was a different original ending that has been lost, or if the original version of Mark’s gospel was intended to end after verse 8.

I am undecided myself: I tend to think that the long ending is not original and that Mark wrote his gospel to conclude at 16.8, but I could certainly be mistaken. Either way, here is the important idea (and, indeed, the important idea to keep in mind with all of the text-critical issues in the New Testament): there is no doctrine or practice discussed in Mark 16.9-20 that is not taught elsewhere in the New Testament. In other words, even if you throw out all of the passages with significant text-critical problems, it doesn’t change Christian faith and practice.

As one commentator states:

Our God has not seen fit to exempt the New Testament from the copying problems that existed in all books prior to the invention of the printing press. But by his grace those problems do not create significant variations in Christian beliefs and practices.[2]

If we only had one manuscript copy of the New Testament, we would have no variations. That sounds nice, but really, it would leave us with no way of knowing how accurate our Bibles are. Instead, the thousands of manuscripts with their many variations help us to determine with a high degree of accuracy what the original text said, and what it is that God wants us to know.

What a blessing—may God be praised for His faithfulness in the preservation of his revealed word!


[1] Excerpted from Pardon, Not Acquittal: Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery.

[2] Allen Black, Mark, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: 1995), 293 note 2.

Scripture Is Like The Ocean

Scripture is like the ocean.

People appreciate the ocean at all different levels of depth:

  • For some, simply seeing the beautiful array of blue colors in the water and being near the waves is enough. Some take vacations to the beach to be near the water, but never actually get into it.
  • Others get into the water and play in the shallow surf. As a non-swimmer, this is what I like to do when traveling to the beach: I spend hours on a bodyboard, riding the waves and making sure that I don’t get too deep.[1]
  • Some enjoy getting in deeper water, where they can swim in the ocean. They may use goggles and a snorkel to see all kinds of fish that aren’t visible from the surface of the water. Safely navigating deeper water requires skill, and hours of practice are necessary to develop that skill.
  • For those who have put in a lot of hours of training and receive certification and have access to the right equipment, scuba diving allows you to go even deeper, and make all sorts of discoveries that most of us will never get to see in person.
  • And for the very, very few who have incredibly specialized training or, perhaps, VIP access to those who do, a trip in a deep-sea submarine allows glimpses of all sorts of amazing things near the ocean floor. Even so, the reality is that the vast majority of the ocean remains unexplored.[2]



The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture basically holds that you don’t have to be a theologian or scholar to understand the Bible’s teaching on salvation: in His Grace, God has made the revelation of His will clear enough for us to understand. I believe that this is true, but at different times in my life, I have heard a more simplistic version of this doctrine that I do not believe to be true: that Scripture is easy to understand.

I have basically spent my adult life studying Scripture and seeking to understand it better. I have learned so much doing so, and I understand it so much better than I did twenty, ten, or even five years ago. But the better I come to understand the Bible’s teachings, the more clearly I realize that I will never fully understand it.

In one sense, that is incredibly frustrating; you are pursuing a goal that you know you will never obtain. Furthermore, as you learn more, you uncover more and more things that you don’t know; paradoxically, the learning process seems to reveal your own ignorance in exponential ways.

Yesterday, though, it struck me: Scripture is like the ocean.

Yes, it is vast and mysterious, and in our human limitations, there are areas that we will never explore, indeed, huge territories of which we are totally ignorant. But also like the ocean, you don’t have to be in a deep-sea submarine to appreciate it:

  • We can admire its beauty—the powerful stories it shares, the moral vision it puts forth, and the revelation of the nature of God through Jesus—even from a distance.
  • We can also wade into the shallow waters of Scripture, and clearly and safely enough, learn how God calls us to respond to His work in the world, how we can receive His grace, and how we can live as His children.
  • It takes more work, but we can go deeper. We can dive in and swim, learning about biblical history and biblical genres. Tools like concordances, Bible dictionaries, and commentaries are like snorkels that help us to see things that weren’t visible on the surface.
  • Like scuba diving, a relative few are able to put in a lot of hours of training. That training involves all sorts of elements—learning biblical languages, studying ancient culture and history to learn about the contexts in which Scripture came to be, reading about Christian interpretation of Scripture and doctrine throughout the centuries, etc.—and with the new skills it provides and with access to the right equipment, new frontiers for personal learning and discovery are opened up.[3]
  • And for the very, very few, who have been gifted with brilliant minds and have devoted themselves to decades of study, occasionally new discoveries (or, more accurately, the discovery of things that were once known, but had been forgotten or lost over the years) are made, and our collective understanding is expanded. Like with those who plumb the ocean depths in a submarine, these sorts of discoveries may be inaccessible to us in a first-hand way, but we can still receive benefits from what is learned.

I do not believe that every Christian is called to learn Hebrew and Greek, to understand how the creation story of Genesis compares to those of Israel’s neighbors in the Ancient Near East, or to be able to explain textual criticism. In fact, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 about how Christians are all part of the Body of Christ and how we have different roles and perform different functions would seem to speak directly against the notion that all of us are supposed to be biblical scholars. God has gifted us in different ways and expects us to use our gifts to His glory, but not everyone has the gift of learning Hebrew and Greek (especially after the first few years of life!).

However, that reality is not an excuse for a lack of study or a sense of complacency. We have different aptitudes and different opportunities, so of course, we won’t all interact with the biblical ocean in the same way. But the call of Christian discipleship prompts each of us to stretch ourselves and gradually go deeper so that we can better understand what God has revealed to us, rather than to remain all of our lives where we are comfortable. Put differently, not all Christians are called to be scholars, but all are called to be students.

That is a challenging process. It takes a lot of work and it can be disconcerting, but it is also valuable and wonderful.

Scripture is like the ocean.

It is beautiful and comforting, but also vast and mysterious. We will never fully explore or understand it, but we will find unsettling and thrilling adventure in our lifelong exploration of it, and untold blessings at each new level of depth.


[1]  Did you know that I can’t swim? I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on The Doc File. This is a great source of shame for me, and I am determined to remedy this.

[2]  Andrea Mustain, “Mysteries of the Oceans Remain Vast and Deep,” Live Science, June 8, 2011.

[3]  For what it‘s worth, in this extended metaphor I would consider myself to be a novice scuba diver.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 12: Why Does This Even Matter?

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Throughout this series, we have been examining the idea of renewed eschatology from a variety of perspectives, and in this final post, we are going to consider different reasons why all of this matters.[1] This is the discussion that many people want from the very beginning. When they hear the arguments for a renewed creation, they may be intrigued or skeptical, but often, regardless they somewhat dismissively state, “Why does this even matter? I know that I want to be with God for eternity; I don’t care where that is!” 

I understand that sentiment—I shared it myself for several years—but I wanted to wait until the end to address it, because I really do not think the implications of renewed creation make sense until you really understand the position. So, stated more precisely: if Scripture teaches that God is going to redeem and restore His good creation and the hope for believers is to live eternally in glorious, resurrected bodies with God in a New Heaven and New Earth, why does that matter? How does that affect my life?

I will warn you in advance: in this post we will respond to that question in multiple ways, and at the end, some readers are not going to get it. At the end of this whole series and all of the digital ink that has been spilt in its production, it still won’t seem like a big deal. And I will not judge you for that response, because it’s exactly where I was for years. Even as I gradually became more convinced of the NHNE perspective, I just didn’t think it mattered that much. For me, it was a long process.

Others will get it immediately. Some of you already do; I have heard responses as I have taught and blogged through this from people who have found this illuminating, and for whom this has helped to connect dots throughout Scripture and enhance their hope and anticipation of eternity. 

From my own perspective, although it has taken a while for me to get to this point, I can say that understanding my future (and really, the future of the universe) differently has greatly changed my present as well. It changes the way I live day to day, and the way I anticipate the future.

In this post, as we look at the implications of a redeemed creation, we’re going to look at four different implications of this, and we’re going to look at all of them through the lens of Story.



The Story Itself—What does the Bible say?

As many of my readers know, I work and worship within the fellowship of churches of Christ. One of the

things I love about our heritage is that we value Scripture highly and think it is really important to know what the Bible says and teach it and live accordingly. From this perspective, what we have been talking about in this series matters, because either it is what the Bible teaches, or it’s not. 

At this point, we have spent a lot of time going over what the Bible teaches, and from my perspective, it is clear that the “traditional” view is off—the idea of God destroying the world and us flying away to an ethereal heaven for eternity is simply not what the Story is about.

Now, I am not claiming that you have to believe what I do about the New Heavens and New Earth to be saved (and, ultimately, to experience the New Heavens and New Earth someday!), but we don’t have to think that a certain belief is necessary for salvation in order to think that it is important. 

So, in the first place, what we have been talking about matters because it is a central teaching of Scripture. It’s what the Story is all about.

The Author of the Story—What is God like?

We have talked about this already, but just as a way of reminder, the way we interpret the Story will also influence the way we view and understand the Author of the Story—what is God like?

If we believe that the Story is about God destroying creation because it is broken, then it’s no wonder that so many people question if God really loves them, or doubt that they will ever be able to be “good enough” to be saved. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the Fixer of the Broken. He loves His creation and wants to redeem it! It’s not about you being good enough to be saved, it’s about God being loving enough to save you even though you’re not good enough!

If we believe that the Story is about us going up to be with God on His level, then it’s no wonder that so many people tie their salvation to getting everything exactly right—we obsessively try to meet God on His level by perfectly interpreting and intuiting every single thing. This becomes the basis for our assurance and confidence. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the One Who Comes Down. He reveals to us who He is and what He is like, so that we can faithfully live in covenant relationship with Him. God is not asking for our perfection but for our commitment.

The way we understand the Story influences the way we understand the Author of the Story.

Living Out the Story—Agents of New Creation

Our actions are influenced by the story that we believe ourselves to be a part of. Let me try to illustrate that principle with two imperfect and wildly different examples:

  • Let’s say that you are a young woman who goes to college and earns a degree, but your real desire in life is to be a stay at home mom—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. So, at the end of college you get married and start a career for a couple of years, but then you decide that you are ready to start your family. You get married, and have a child. A couple of years later, you get a very lucrative job offer to go back to work—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a stay at home mom, it’s not even a question: you stay at home! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!
  • Let’s say that you are a young man growing up in Germany in the 1930s. You are a member of the Nazi party, and you firmly believe that you are part of a master race—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. A few years later, you find yourself in a position where you are ordered to execute a Jewish person simply because of his race—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a Nazi who firmly believes you are a member of a master race, it’s not even a question. You execute the person you consider to be inferior! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!

In regards to what we have been talking about—renewed eschatology—how does this Story influence our actions?

As we have seen, the Story of the Bible is that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and called it good. But God’s space (heaven) and humanity’s space (earth) were driven apart by sin. God’s good creation was tainted. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that through Jesus, God is reconciling all things (including creation) to Himself. This happens through the death of Jesus on the cross, and His subsequent victory over death through His resurrection. 

At His resurrection, Jesus becomes the firstfruits of a new kind of creation, and likewise, when we are placed into Christ at baptism, we too are raised to walk a new kind of life, as agents of new creation:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

(2 Corinthians 5.17-20)

So Jesus, through His resurrection, brings about New Creation and reconciliation, and we become agents of that New Creation and ambassadors of His reconciliation. This means that we currently live in the shadow of the impending return of Jesus, and the redemption of all things that will accompany that return. Knowing that we are a part of a future reality, we live as if that reality were already present now. 

This is reflected in passages in Philippians and Colossians that speak of us having citizenship in heaven or setting our minds on things above. In a sense, as Christians, we bring heaven to earth—anticipating what will happen when Jesus returns, the dwelling place of God is with man, and all things will be made new—by living now as we will live then. This is what the Sermon on the Mount is about too. Jesus tells His disciples how to live in ways that seemingly make no sense in our world as it is. But that’s the point: as Christians, we are agents of New Creation, living according to God’s Kingdom, which continues to grow and expand and will one day cover all that is.

The first stage of this new creation process happened at the resurrection of Jesus, and the second stage will occur at His return. We live in-between, but we live as agents of New Creation, living according to our heavenly citizenship, and according to the principles of God’s Kingdom. As we do that, we seek to counteract the effects of sin in our world:

  • In a world of theological brokenness, we tell people about Jesus and how to have a relationship with God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as ministers, missionaries, and Bible class teachers. People who devote their lives to studying the Bible, biblical languages, and history, and share that knowledge with other people. People who help us to process current events and trends from a heavenly perspective in an effort to live as God would have us to.
  • In a world of social brokenness, we act as peacemakers, seeking to reconcile people who are at odds with one another and to rectify the injustices caused by our mistreatment of one another. That means it is important that we have people who serve as social workers, lawyers, judges, teachers, civil rights activists, and elected officials. People who work to limit the abuse that happens to the weak at the hands of the powerful, to take care of those who have been cast aside, and to provide resources that people need to survive.
  • In a world of personal brokenness, we help people see that they are valuable, created in the image of God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as counselors, therapists, coaches, trainers, and educators. People who help others deal with the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that we all feel and helping them to become productive members of society.
  • In a world of ecological brokenness, we live out our intended function as stewards who tend and tame God’s creation. That means it is important that we have people who serve as conservationists, environmental scientists, and farmers. People who encourage us to take care of God’s good creation and prod us to reconsider and change some of our behaviors that have been damaging to it. People who study the way our world works and help us to predict when tornadoes will hit and how to prevent the introduction of invasive species that damage natural habitats. People who cultivate the earth so that its bounty can provide nourishment for humanity.
  • In a world of physical brokenness, we seek to alleviate the physical suffering of people while pointing forward to the day when mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. That means it is important that we have people who serve as doctors, pharmacists, researchers, physical therapists, and hospice nurses. People who seek to treat and alleviate the effects of disease, who help people deal with their decaying bodies, and who bring dignity to people as they take final steps toward the sad reality of death.

Living as an agent of new creation is much bigger than having a Bible study with someone (as important as that is!). It is living right now as part of a future reality. In a dark and broken world, we create pockets of God’s kingdom everywhere we go by living according to the principles of that kingdom now, wherever we are.

We bring light into a dark world and sprinkle principles of the kingdom into everything we do, and since the biblical picture of eternity has points of continuity with our current existence, it suggests that what we do now matters moving forward![2]

Anticipating the Story’s “Ending”—Looking Forward to Eternity

Let me share a fairly common experience that perhaps you can identify with. Maybe you have heard discussions of heaven in the past and about how great it will be (better than we can imagine!), but then when an effort is made to describe what it will be like, it basically sounds like a never-ending worship service.

Does that fill you with excitement?

Don’t get me wrong—worship is extremely important. I love to sing praises to God, and I believe we will worship in eternity. But is a never-ending worship service something we really look forward to?

I work with teenagers a lot; let me tell you, it does not sound super exciting to them. It certainly seems like a better alternative than hell, but still, not amazing. I can’t help but think…if this is our view of all that we will be doing for eternity, is it any wonder that we have a lot of people who get more excited about summer vacations to Florida than an eternity with God?

But the ending of the Story that we have been talking about is much more than this. Certainly, there is worship: we will be in the presence of our Creator! We’ll be so overwhelmed with the desire to worship that we won’t be able to help it. But there will be much more than that!

  • From the beginning, humanity was created in God’s image to function as God’s representatives on earth. Scripture teaches that in the eschaton, we will live in a new creation, and there are plenty of verses that reference our reigning with God. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
  • From the beginning, humanity was also given a job to do, caring for and cultivating God’s creation. This work was not a part of the curse, but a fundamental part of our identity as humans. When we are placed in an environment that is pictured as a marvelous city and a beautiful garden, it strikes me that there will still be work to be done—but work that is free of pain and sorrow, where nothing is wasted. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
  • And touching on something that I mentioned earlier, given the continuity between our current existence and eternity, what you do for the Lord right now is not in vain. As one author writes:

“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”[3]

How does that work? I don’t really know, but doesn’t it sound exciting? Somehow, just as the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, will gather up the molecules of our wasted-into-dust bodies and recreate them into glorious, incorruptible resurrection bodies, so He will also take the work we have done, building for His kingdom, and incorporate that into His new creation. 

This is an “ending” to the Story that I can get excited about and eagerly anticipate.

Renewed Eschatology is not some esoteric theory best left to the debates of ivory tower theologians; it is a powerful and practical teaching of Scripture. It helps us to better understand the Story itself, the Author of the Story, and the way we live in response to the Story, and in conjunction with those other aspects, it heightens our eager anticipation of the day when Jesus will return and bring the Story to a never-ending conclusion.


This concludes our series. For some readers, this has been a collection of new and challenging ideas that have been exciting, alarming, or a mixture of both. For others, these posts have strengthened and affirmed views that you already held or at least were leaning toward. 

If this series has led you toward appreciating or even accepting the renewed creation perspective, that is great, but ultimately, that wasn’t my goal for this series. Echoing back to the introductory post, it was my hope that we would be able to study Scripture with an open mind, challenge ourselves, and, at the end, respect one another regardless of whether or not we agree. If we have been able to meet these goals, then I believe our Father is well pleased. 

May we yearn for the day when Jesus returns and rights all wrongs. 


[1] Although this is the last post in the series, I do not mean to imply that I have exhausted all of the arguments for and elements of the NHNE perspective; I certainly have not. In particular, this series would ideally include a discussion of Old Testament prophecy. When I originally taught through this material, I did have such a lesson, but it was so context specific to some other studies we had engaged at that congregation that I didn’t think it worked well removed from that context and placed into a blog series. 

Additionally, the study could be further fleshed out and enhanced with discussions of what it means to be created in the Image of God, the biblical teaching of our eschatological reign with God, the continuing motif of God’s promise of land to His people, the biblical motif of Jubilee, and more. 

[2] This is the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15.58 at the conclusion of his discourse on resurrection. Because of resurrection and the continuity it represents between the present and the future, what we do now matters: our labor is not in vain!

[3] N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (New York: HarperOne, 2008): 208.

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