Rumor Has It – Carl Trueman sings Adele

Just ’cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it.

 Adele, Rumor Has It

How to Know

I just finished reading two of Carl Trueman’s books back to back, first Histories and Fallacies and then The Creedal Imperative.*

Histories concerns historical method, how one studies history. I’m not a historian, but I read a lot of history and so enjoyed his insights on what makes for good historical research and writing. Anyone who’s read Trueman knows he is a clear and thoughtful writer, and can make even an academic subject like this accessible for the lay reader.

One thing he mentioned really stayed with me: the need to determine the diachronic and the synchronic settings for ancient writings.

Roughly speaking, diachronic refers to the times in which the writer lives, and synchronic to the particular instances in which he or she writes. So when looking at two accounts of the Punic Wars, for example, one might say that diachronically they are written out of the same era time-wise and somewhat broad area geographically. But if one account was written by a Roman and the other by a Carthaginian, then synchronically they need to be understood in light of those separate backgrounds.

Or in more recent times, you might have two documents that concern theatrical criticism. But if you learn that one was written by a 17th century French playwright and the other by a 20th century New York theater critic, then diachronically they are diverse. Understanding their eras will help in understanding their differences and similarities.

Bible Writings

This notion of diachronic and synchronic aspects of historical writing made me think of how we read and understand the Bible. The Bible was written by people who lived in particular times (the diachronic aspect) under particular circumstances (the synchronic aspect).

So when we read Scripture, we are reading timeless truths written in the context of the writer’s times and circumstances. Often the writer’s synchronicity included the circumstances of the intended recipients as well. Let’s take 1 and 2 Timothy, for example. The more we know about 1st century Christianity and about the culture, politics, religions, etc., of Ephesus, the better we can understand Paul’s letter to his young friend pastoring in that time and in that place. It also helps us see how the content of those letters apply to our lives today as well.

The same goes for reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, or Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29. Once you understand the era, the people, the politics, the geography, the culture of the writers and the recipients, the writings themselves come alive in ways that plain reading does not afford.

(Letters aren’t the only Bible genre, of course. See this post for more on literary styles and Bible reading.)

Teaching What You’ve Learned

How to teach the Bible effectively became a primary aim for the early church. It required careful consideration and much dialog among the church’s leadership. The early leaders wrote down basic biblical doctrine, and these writings eventually developed into creeds. Trueman briefly touches on how the early creeds came into being, and then – at length – argues their worth. Suffice to say, he argues that the worth is great.

And that brings me to Adele:

Just ’cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it.

Written creeds – whether as ancient as the Nicene Creed, or the somewhat more recent Westminster Confession of Faith, or a modern local church’s newly drawn up statement of faith – have a particular quality: they are useful guides for what a church teaches about God. Of course, as Trueman readily acknowledges, the creeds themselves must comport to the Bible as a whole. But when it comes to a biblically sound doctrinal summary, creeds are an able tool for scrutinizing what a church teaches.

Otherwise, Trueman argues, you get preachers who end up singing Adele. They can preach one thing one week and something contradictory the next, yet when a listener asks for clarification the preacher can say, “Just because I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it.”

A carefully written creed would prevent this for the preacher who has agreed to abide by  it as a doctrinal guide.

Such a creed would assist the preacher’s listeners as well. If something is preached that contradicts the creed, the listener can compare that sermon to others and see if there is a pattern of inconsistent preaching. Church leadership can address it with the preacher, pointing to Scripture and the creedal summary.

Understanding the Bible, where its writers were coming from and who they were writing to, and having a sound understanding of what the Bible teaches and being able to summarize that understanding through creeds and statements of faith, will guide us all in our relationship with the God who cares so much about us that he gave us his Word, the Bible.

***

*I thank Aimee Byrd at Housewife Theologian for recommending Trueman’s books.

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18 Responses to Rumor Has It – Carl Trueman sings Adele

  1. Nick says:

    Great post, Tim. Communion with the great traditions of the church keep us from reinventing the wheel every week in our sermons.

    • Tim says:

      Wait a sec … you mean I’m not supposed to figure it all out for myself all over again week after week?

      But seriously, aren’t you glad those early church leaders did some heavy lifting in thinking through all that theology? They may not have done it all, but they sure laid a ton of good groundwork.

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    I, for one, would love to hear Carl Trueman sing Adele.

  3. Jeannie says:

    One sentence in this very interesting post stood out to me: “So when we read Scripture, we are reading timeless truths written in the context of the writer’s times and circumstances.” I love that — just another way the Bible is so rich and nourishing. I realize this is not quite on topic but it got me thinking about a post I read elsewhere a few weeks ago: the blogger was saying how he deplores the idea of people claiming a “life verse,” and he ridiculed those who take (to use his example) Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you…” as a life verse. The gist, I think, was that we have no right to take verses like that that weren’t meant for us as individuals, and claim them as our own. To me that was kind of a surprising take on things b/c I have trouble seeing that any harm can come from trying to live one’s life based on Jer. 29:11. What do you think about that?

    • Tim says:

      I tend to have an aversion to the “life verse” phenomenon too, but mine is based on a philosophy of Scripture that says we are to be guided by the entire word of God and not focus on one portion over another. Some verses do jump out at me more than others at times, based on what is happening in my life, but I think that parallels the Bible writers themselves; they wrote based on what was happening around them too, their diachrionic and synchronic settings.

      As for Jeremiah 29:11 itself, it is a wonderful promise for God’s people. My understanding is that it was written as part of God’s covenant relationship with his covenant people, not a promise to an individual. That doesn’t mean an individual can’t take comfort from it, but for an individual to say he or she claims it as a life verse in an appropriation of it as if written for their individual life would be reading more into the verse than is really there.

      I think it would be better to look on that verse in company with many other passages that describe God’s promise to care for his own people. Doing so would help the individual to develop a sound doctrinal understanding of one’s relationship with God, and how his saving grace extends to the everyday lives of his people. Fuller understanding of biblical doctrine is always better than less.

      Hope I didn’t run off too long on your question, Jeannie!

      Tim

      • Jeannie says:

        Not at all, and I appreciate your reply — that makes a lot of sense!

        • Jeannie says:

          BTW, Beth Moore says that her life verse is “Repent, lest ye die.” 😀

        • Tim says:

          I was recently talking to a woman about women and men in the church. She stuck her tongue firmly in cheek while announcing that her new life verse would be 1 Timothy 2:15 – “But women will be saved through childbearing”!

      • Adriana says:

        Great question and response. I’ve often wondered about this too. Maybe this is why I’ve never been able to land on a life verse. When I meet someone who has one tidy life verse, it makes me wonder if I’m just a mess or what . . .

  4. I like this post Tim, and would add that one often neglected body of understanding regarding the way we read and understand the Bible is the *Jewishness* of it. Both the writers and the majority of the hearers. And how Jews thought, taught, and lived factors heavily if we are to ever truly understand it.
    Thankfully this is being (slowly) rectified as more and more scholars, both Christian and Jewish, realize there was no Anglo Jesus who came and taught non-Jewish things; he’s being reconnected to his people, culture, and era (same with Paul). Talk about having the words of the Bible leap off the page with meaning, I get giddy just thinking about it!
    🙂

    • Tim says:

      I think the Jewishness you’re talking about would be a category within the diachronic and synchronic aspects that Trueman wrote about, SwJ. It would be a large category, of course, and – as you say – one that is often ignored. Like you, I’m finding that the more I know about the context of the writings and the writers, the more Scripture comes alive.

  5. Yes, I was just having a conversation about this regarding Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12 and the Sh’ma: “The most important is this: Hear, O Isra’el, the LORD our God, the LORD is one, and you are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your understanding and with all your strength.’
    The second is this:
    ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. ”

    Since his literal reference is to Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18, and then states these are the greatest commandments, many conclusions are drawn from that by non-Jewish people living after the 1st century, 2nd Temple Jews who were hearing him. But understanding from a Jewish perspective, a reference to a “verse” of scripture, meant to bring to mind all of the scripture relating to that specific reference to the hearer. Especially important to understand is that Jews began memorizing the Bible at a very young age (5-6) and since they didn’t have “chapters and verses” in their Bible, rather “portions”, they didn’t think like we think. Oh, you probably get the point…

  6. Shalini says:

    Great post Tim. You’ve touched on another important aspect, which is too often dismissed by most of us as being too “theological”. Actually, biblical interpretation or hermeneutics is something we unconsciously engage in every time we read scripture, but it helps if we know basic principles of biblical interpretation so that we don’t take a certain text out of its context. As I was thinking about your post, my eyes fell on a book by Walter C. Kaiser “Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics” sitting on my husband’s bookshelf. Wow, that’s a happy coincidence, (but not a “life – verse” kind of moment :P) I haven’t read it yet, but it certainly looks promising!

    Simple thumb rule – Ask myself what a particular text meant THEN to THAT intended audience before asking myself what it means to ME, here and now. Ideally this would mean taking all factors such as historical setting, its place in the whole canon etc into account. That said, sometimes I may feel too lazy, be too hard-pressed for time, or not have the relevant resources or may just sense the Holy Spirit giving me clarity without my having to delve too deep because it connects to something I already know about God’s character, or His dealing with us etc. Is it a coincidence that the degree to which random verses minister to me is directly proportional to the level of my desperation at that given moment ? 😀 Like a drowning man clutching at straws, but hey if the straw holds up, great – till I get a rope, you can be assured I’m going to clutch that straw for all it is worth! (I don’t mean any disrespect to the Word here by comparing isolated verses to straws, but hey, you get the picture right.) So for that moment, I may feel like I have a life-verse. But since one of our goals is to rightly divide the Word of God, I do need to get deeper into the text before I get to the application. If you were to hold a gun to me and make me sum it all up in a simple formula, I’d say – past significance in past context, past application by target audience, present significance in present context, followed by application to my current context. But let me see what my study of biblical hermeneutics unearths!

    • Tim says:

      Thank you so much for that analysis, Shalini. So helpful!

      The only thing I’d add is that all the hermeneutics in the world is not going to get anyone anywhere unless it is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Without him, we can’t really understand anything spiritual, and with him even the least detailed hermeneutic is going to be a blessing for the reader.

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