Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ezra, the scholar

This past Sunday, it was my turn to teach our adult Sunday School class. As I studied over the course of this past week, I had to stop and ask myself, "Did I lose a bet with the other teachers that I ended up with this text?" Of course, the elders at our church are not gambling men; apparently I did not pay much attention to the text when I agreed to teach it. The text? 1 Chronicles 1-9.

Yes, THAT 1 Chronicles 1-9. Nine chapters of genealogy. As it turns out, I learned a lot in my preparation for that lesson, but it stretched me both as a Christian and as a teacher.

One thing that jumps out at me when I am studying the Bible is any reference to books. As a part time used\rare book dealer I am interested in references to early scrolls. I have never had the privilege of handling any biblical manuscripts of early vintage, but I have read books about them and find them fascinating. As an evangelist, the manuscript evidence for the integrity of the Bible as the Word of God is immense and makes a strong apologetic argument for evangelism on university campuses.

As I did my background study for 1 Chronicles, I discovered that Jewish tradition names Ezra as the author. I also discovered that some scholars believe the books of the Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah to have originally been one large book, due to the similarity in style. There are good reasons to question this thesis and it has not been definitively settled. But one thing is for certain: the author of Chronicles cites his sources far more frequently than any other Old Testament writer. The Zondervan Bible Encyclopedia points out that the author of Chronicles cites no less than seven separate official records, nine separate prophetic writings, genealogical lists, official documents and letters from King Sennacherib, the words of Asaph and David, and Temple plans. Considering the mass of these sources, one is left to wonder, "Where did the author find all of these documents?"

The answer comes from one of the Apocryphal books. 2 Maccabees refers to an extensive library that Nehemiah (also of biblical fame) assembled containing some of these same kinds of sources. Specifically, it is said, "These same facts are found in the royal records and in the memoirs of Nehemiah, who established a library and collected the writings of David, letters of the kings concerning offerings, and books about the kings and prophets...If you ever need any of these books, let us know and we will send them" (2 Macc. 2:13, 15). Ezra, of course, was a contemporary of Nehemiah (see the biblical books of the same names). If Jewish tradition was right, it is likely that he got his sources from Nehemiah's library.

Ezra is the kind of guy that every biblical evangelist loves. In Ezra 8, after the Jewish people return from Babylonian exile, he read the Law of Moses to the people and they re-instituted the Passover and Levitical practice. His reading of the Law brought conviction of sin and repentance. There's something about that which resonates with us. But he is also the kind of guy that every informed evangelist loves. He valued historical accuracy and used the library that he had available to write, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, one of the historical books of the Bible. In short, he was a biblical evangelist who used books for a ministry which complemented his reformation\evangelism ministry in post-exilic Jerusalem. In fact, the book of Chronicles (it was originally one book) seems to have been written for the purpose of giving some national identity to the ex-exiles, which is part and parcel of Ezra's reformation ministry.

If it is true that we need a second Reformation (it is), then we need another generation of Ezras to not only proclaim the truth of the Law, but study to approve themselves unto God as diligent, unashamed workers, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Welcome to The Informed Evangelist. I hope that you are here because you love the Lord with all of your heart (enough to obey the Great Commission) and you love your neighbor as yourself (so that you will have enough guts to obey said Commission). My goal with this blog is to encourage a love of reading the printed word, mainly because we are not only commanded to love the Lord with our hearts, but also with our minds. Since there is no intellectual development apart from reading, the goal of this blog is to provide inspiration towards becoming not just a passionate biblical evangelist, but a properly informed biblical evangelist. An evangelist who loves God with his or her mind.

As a former pastor of thirteen years, a biblical evangelist of almost four years, and a used bookseller of about thirteen years I am shocked and awed by the lack of intelligent reading material in the homes of most Christians. This lack has nothing to do with the abundance of public libraries (at least here in the USA) which provide books for free. I am no scholar in the area of literacy, but it's safe to say that most Americans don't read for the following reasons:

  • The predominant role that television plays in American culture.
  • They were taught to hate reading by the public school system.
  • Parents do not read to their children.
  • The general "dumbing down" of America.
  • The continued growth of the internet as the main source of knowledge.
Christians are victims of all of the same societal scourges, but you can add a couple of bullet points for us:

  • A suspicion of anything "intellectual".
  • The dreck that is marketed to us as literature via the big Christian publishers and mini-big box Christian bookstores.
How ironic that Christians, people who it could be rightly said are people of one Book (the Bible), do not read! Most of us do not read even the one divinely inspired Book which distinguishes us from every other religion and cult, much less anything else which might help us understand or apply that Book.

As I see it, there is hope. Those of us who are turned on to biblical evangelism from sources such as Way of the Master (and others) come to the table with the same cultural deficiencies. Fortunately, as believers move beyond the TV program and pick up some of Ray Comfort's books they discover the joy of reading. They see authors and preachers that he cites and they begin reading books by these men and women. Reading becomes a life-line for newly discovered ideas about theology and evangelism.

The "con" in this situation is that most popular biblical evangelism resources are online. Many of these new biblical evangelists don't depend on the printed word, but on what they can glean digitally using Google and "cut and paste". This isn't the same thing (by a long shot) as reading. The proof lies in the mangled use of the English language they use when they write. Readers generally become fairly good writers, even if they are not formally taught grammar or style.

My hope is that this blog serves to point biblical evangelists in the direction of good, theologically sound reading. This will help us move beyond the habit of parroting popular evangelists and become original thinkers and communicators of the magnificent Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May He be glorified.