Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I occasionally have had it said of me that I color outside the lines and I’ve even said it of myself a few times. But that’s really not true. When I was a little boy I always colored inside the lines! In fact, I became quite upset when some other kid did that in my coloring book – or used the wrong color! Of course, that was many years ago. Maybe I’ve changed.

I got to wondering the other day if Jesus ever colored outside the lines when He was a little boy. I don’t suppose He did. They didn’t even have crayons in those days. But He sure seemed to do so when He was older and He apparently encouraged His disciples to! Though it depended on who was drawing the lines.

Jesus ministered under what we know as the Old Covenant – the Law that God gave Moses to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. I included the 10 commandments and many more – 613 by one count. I believe that He never violated even one command. He said, “Don’t suppose I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I haven’t come to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17). He could even say, “Which one of you can convict me of sin?” (John 8:46).

So we could say that Jesus “colored inside the lines” when they were lines drawn by God.

But there were others who drew lines in Jesus’ day: the strict religious party of the Pharisees and the scribes or teachers of the Law. In their devotion to, and enthusiasm for God’s Law, they “built a hedge” or fence around the Law. They had rules to keep them from violating God’s rules. Or so they thought! And the lines that they drew became more important to them than God’s rules. These were the lines that Jesus and His disciples colored outside of.

These people could not understand why Jesus ignored their rules. To them this was the same as breaking God’s rules. And Jesus clashed with them on this issue.

“And when the scribes and the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they were saying to His disciples, ‘Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

“And John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, and they come and say to Him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?’” (Mark 2:18)

“And He happened to be passing through the standing grain on the Sabbath and His disciples began to make their way, picking (and eating) the heads. And the Pharisees were saying to Him, ‘Why are they doing on the Sabbath what isn’t lawful?’” (Mark 2:23, 24)

Over and over Jesus clashed with these people, and most times it seemed to be over their rules. He usually had an answer, some teaching in reply to their judgmental questions. In one episode found in Mark 7:1-23, we find Him turning the tables and accusing them.

“And the Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem and gathered together to Him (This looks like an official fact-finding commission.), and saw some of His disciples eating their bread with defiled – that is unwashed – hands” (verses 1, 2).

“And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why don’t your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?’” (verse 5)

Jesus tears into them, first quoting Isaiah the prophet, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as their teaching, commands of men!” (verses 6, 7; Isaiah 29:13)

“Forsaking (aphentes) God’s command, you hold the tradition of men! (verse 8)

“Nicely you cancel (atheteite) God’s command in order to establish your own tradition!” (verse 9)

He then goes on to show how their practice of Corban, or pledge violates the fifth command by allowing a person to pledge his wealth to God and thus be able to neglect the care of his aged parents (verses 10-12).

“…nullifying (akurountes) the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down!” (verse 13)

Apparently Jesus did not see their rules as harmless, or as matters of indifference. By their holding these rules and enforcing them on others they were violating God’s laws. The three words He used, “forsaking,” “canceling” and “nullifying” were very strong.

So when Jesus colored outside the scribes’ and Pharisees’ lines, He did it because coloring inside their lines would mean coloring outside of God’s!

When, then, should we color outside the lines that others draws? I want to be careful here not to draw up a new set of lines of my own, but here are a few thoughts:
• There are many areas of life where God has given us freedom to not conform. We are not restricted in these except by personal preferences (See: THE WILL OF GOD, PART 2).
• When we can see that a rule held by some believers is in violation of God’s law, we may need to not simply ignore that rule, but deliberately demonstrate our convictions concerning that rule.
• There are times when we need to protect the freedom of others by showing them why we don’t keep a certain man-made rule.
• All our actions must be done in love. We must recognize that those who maintain rules are not necessarily “Pharisees” but may be what Paul refers to as “weak.”
• Our actions must not be done in a spirit of rebellion or to draw attention to ourselves.


Bill Ball

Monday, April 19, 2010


I have been accused of being many things, both by those who agree with me and those who disagree. I’ve mentioned many of these labels on previous posts, so I won’t bring them up again except to say that I usually feel uncomfortable with labels of any kind. However, I don’t feel uncomfortable with this one, even though it’s often misunderstood.

I was fed Dispensationalism as a young Christian and even before my conversion. The churches I attended held to the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible (THE Bible of Dispensationalists) with nearly the same reverence that was held for the text itself. As I grew, I read widely from the Bible and other theological sources and though I questioned many of the details and much of the legalism, I still found myself in agreement with the basic tenets of Dispensationalism. I attended Dallas Theological Seminary, the bastion of Dispensationalism at the time and didn’t find myself in too much disagreement.

So why then do I like this label? And what is Dispensationalism anyway? There are many definitions given in various theological tomes, each disagreeing slightly or greatly with the others. So here’s my own brief definition: Dispensationalism is a system of Bible interpretation that takes into account the fact that God has dealt differently with different people down through biblical history.

Some basics of Dispensationalism, which I believe are clearly taught in the Bible:
• God has made different covenants (contracts) with different persons or nations, each having its own stipulations that applied to those persons or peoples and or their descendants: Noah (Genesis 9:8ff); Abraham (Genesis 17:1ff; Israel as a people (Exodus 19:3-6); David (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89; 2 Chronicles 7:18); a New Covenant with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31ff).
• Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenants with Abraham, Israel and David, as well as the One who has inaugurated the New Covenant (Luke 1:31-35; Galatians 3:13, 29; Luke 22:20).
• We who have faith in Christ are partakers in the New Covenant.
• God still has a plan for Israel as promised in His Covenants (Romans 11:1, 25-27).
• Things are going to get worse before they get better, culminating in a Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21) in which the Antichrist will rule (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10).
• Jesus’ promised Kingdom is still in the future.
• Jesus is coming back to reign on the earth.

For many years I taught Bible Study Methods at the College of Biblical Studies. Some of the first questions I taught my students to ask were the “Who?” questions – “Who is speaking?” and “To whom is he speaking?” In a sense Dispensationalism is simply answering those questions. As I often reminded my students, contrary to an old Gospel chorus, not ”every promise in the Book is mine.”

Dispensationalism is widely criticized, sometimes unjustly, but sometimes justly. Often those who criticize do so because it is in disagreement with their own tightly held position(s). Some criticize from ignorance of what it really is, or from some exaggeration of or misunderstanding of some particular detail (and love details).

If I may, I’d like as a Dispensationalists (an insider) to offer my own criticism of Dispensationalism:
• We sensationalize. Though we would be the first to deny “date-setting” – claiming to know exactly when Jesus will return – we still do set dates, with our reading of major events (especially in the Middle East) as “signs of His coming.” This has been going on for hundreds of years. I can vouch for the last ½ century (cf. Matthew 24:36).
• We misread the news. While I believe that it’s true that (as Karl Barth is alleged to have said) we should preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, it should not be simply to find some correlation between particular current events and our scheme of prophecy. We need rather to read so that we will be able to speak to the religious, moral and philosophical trends of our culture.
• We are inconsistent in our “political” reactions to events in our world. Our political views are often shaped more by our eschatology (Doctrine of Last Things) than by our ethics.

Dispensationalists often fear events, or acts of our government which are perceived as moving toward “globalization” – which if course sets things up for the coming Antichrist.

Dispensationalists believe (correctly) that the Bible foretells that the nation of Israel will be situated in their land in the last days. So, many are active in promoting politics that support Israel, no matter what that nation does.

I am not here attempting to debate political positions. What I am asserting is that our political positions should be determined from a biblical ethical viewpoint and not by our eschatology.

We don’t need to worry. We know God has a plan and He’s working it out. God doesn’t need our help in fulfilling prophecy. He has given us an assignment: “Go … and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). We’re not finished with that assignment yet.

Bill Ball

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The picture that many have of Christian evangelism is an angry, in-your-face presentation. A grab-you-by-the-collar confrontation with a “Do you know Jesus?” Or perhaps it’s a harangue against certain sins with the threat of hellfire if the hearer does not repent.

The New Testament, however, does not present such a picture.

When the apostle Paul travelled through Asia Minor and southeastern Europe carrying the good news about Jesus Christ, his usual policy was to go “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16); even though he was “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). He usually began his work in a new area by finding a synagogue, where he preached to Jews and to God-fearing Gentiles. There are three Greek words used of preaching:
KERUSSO: to proclaim as a herald; KATANGELLO: to proclaim; and, EUANGELLIZOMAI: to announce or proclaim good news.

But though Paul followed his usual practice when he arrived at Athens, we find a few differences. The full story is found in Acts 17:15-34.

“…his spirit was agitated in him when he saw that the city was full of idols. So he was reasoning (DIALEGOMAI) in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearers and in the Agora everyday with those who happened to be there (Acts 17:16, 17).

Here we first find the word DIALEGOMAI in Acts. The word is usually translated “reasoning.” It was not simply a one way proclamation, but a two way conversation. The suffix DIA implies this. Our English word “dialog” is related. In Athens, Paul had come to the center of Greek philosophical thinking, the place where people came from all over to carry on discussions, to dialog. Perhaps even the Jewish synagogue was affected.

And Paul moved out from the comfort zone of the synagogue and went to the Agora, the market place, the very heart of public life and conversation. Here he encountered the Epicureans and Stoics, the philosophers of the day (verse 18).

[Luke, the author of Acts gives a rather noncommittal description of philosophers, “Now all the Athenians and visiting strangers used to spend their time with nothing else to do than to tell or to hear the latest thing (Acts 17:21).]

Paul’s radical ideas gained the philosophers’ attention and they brought him to the Areopagus, apparently not only to more clearly to understand these new ideas, but to pass judgment on them. The Areopagus appears to have been a forum for just this activity (17:18-20).

When Paul addressed the council of teachers there, we don’t find him opening the Scripture to them as he had done in the synagogue. I believe Paul knew better; he probably knew that Greek philosophers had no use for Jewish holy writings. They were committed to reason, to dialog, not to dogma. Rather, Paul started with where they were religiously. Even though he was internally agitated by the idolatry around him, he found a religious bridge.

“Men, Athenians, I observe that in all ways you are very religious. Why, when I was passing through and observing your objects of worship I even found an altar on which was inscribed ‘To An Unknown God.’ The One then whom you worship without knowledge, this is the One I proclaim to you!” (17:22, 23)

I don’t believe Paul was putting down their ignorance or their false religion. He had found an admitted area of need and was pointing out how the true God could meet that need and had met it through Jesus.

Paul goes on and introduces them to the Creator God, who did not need man’s worship, but who was seeking it (verses 24-26). He even quoted Greek poets to make his point (17:28). “’For in Him we live and move and are,’ as some of your own poets have said (quoting Epimenedes), ‘for we are His offspring’” (quoting Aratas).

Though Paul quotes pagan writers, he does not ascribe authority to them. His authority is always the Word of God, even though the Scripture isn’t mentioned.

There’s much more to the story. Paul argues the fact that God will judge through Jesus and that He “furnished proof to all by raising Him from the dead.” (That last doctrine, by the way, was totally objectionable to the Greeks.) The story goes on to tell of the Athenians divided reactions to the message (verses 32-34).

But there are some points I believe we should take from this passage concerning our witness as followers of Christ. I believe we can learn to be imitators of Paul in these areas.
• Paul listened and observed before he spoke.
• Paul tailored his presentation to his audience.
• Paul started where his hearers were. He sought to understand their religion and culture. He tried to speak to their perceived religious needs.
• Paul dialoged. While Jesus has given the authority to speak, listening gives the right to be heard.
• Paul was bold. He didn’t seem to fear the intelligence of the ones he dialoged with.
• Paul did not compromise the truth, even when attempting to make it palatable to his hearers.

In America, even more than in Athens, we who know Christ encounter a plethora of “gods”: The gods of philosophers, of scientists, of other religions. Do we do as Paul did – seek bridges to present to them the true God?

Bill Ball