Life and Church Lessons from White Water Rafting

In my office is a photograph of my family on vacation a few years ago. It is an action shot of three generations of our bunch white water rafting together. My wife and I, two young adult kids, and my in-laws all having the time of our lives shooting some rapids––if you believe this single snapshot in time.

Now don’t get me wrong, rafting is tons of fun. That is, if you define fun as getting soaked with ice cold water, paddling your arms off and finding yourself tossed out of the raft in the midst of class IV rapids. And, remember, I paid a lot of money for us all to do this!

But seriously, being with my family on a beautiful day, on a gorgeous river, successfully living through it and sharing the Gospel with an unsuspecting college student/river guide made it all worthwhile and something I have done again since. Plus, there are important lessons to be learned from being in a raft together going down a river. Lessons that might just apply to life and the church. Here are a few I was thinking about:

First, you have to listen to your guide. They are experts at rafting and have done this a thousand or more times. They will give you instructions before you ever begin and tell you exactly what to do while on the river. You must pay attention to them or you will not be safe. If you cannot listen, rafting (or life) will be a very difficult event.

Second, you have to paddle as a team when you on the river. Your guide will yell out orders and tell you when to paddle right or left and how often. If teamwork is not part of who you are in a raft, going down the rapids sideways, becomes your new definition of “fun.” I wonder how many churches I have known I could use that phrase to describe?

Third, sometimes you have to paddle forward and sometimes you need to back paddle to maintain control. Pace and direction are everything when it comes to navigating the rapids. Some want to just hit full bore all the time and others simply want to float along. Neither works well. There is a wise balance that makes rafting (or life) successful.

Fourth, when someone falls overboard, everyone has a job to do to get them back to safety. Some are reaching directly out with their paddles to pull them back in while others have to maintain control of the raft. I speak from fairly scary experience that this coordination is vital. I wish the church responded with such effort when they see someone “falling out.”

Fifth, it is better every now and then to pull to the bank in a calm place to catch your breath and maybe take a swim. After an especially strenuous time on the river, everyone will need a break every now and then. It is helpful to find the calm and quiet and jump in to be refreshed and reenergized for the next set of rapids.

Sixth, when you have just successfully navigated an especially rough patch of river, take time to celebrate and slap your paddles together. This paddle “high five” is a tradition on the river. Take time to celebrate and enjoy the wins. Find the joy in the midst of the journey.

Seventh, always wear a life vest. You never know when things could get rough around the bend. You might find yourself thrown every now and then. It is good to have the promise and assurance of hope that no matter how deep the water, we have help to stay afloat.

Lessons from the river, who would have ever known? I believe I will go find another paddle to slap!


Doing Theology as a Servant of Jesus (15): Christian theology aims for wisdom.

In the last installment, we noted that Christian theology strives for truth. In our Western intellectual context, we tend to equate “truth” with science-oriented knowledge. But Christian theology provides more than that sort of knowledge. It also leads one to wisdom. In fact, for two millennia, theologians have debated about what type of intellectual activity characterizes the task of theology. Should it be construed upon a scientific model (Latin, scientia) or upon a wisdom model (Latin, sapientia)? Augustine preferred sapientia to scientia, but later medieval theologians preferred scientia to sapientia. This chapter will argue that theology is indeed science, but more ultimately it is wisdom. We agree with Vanhoozer that, “Doctrine has a cognitive component . . . but the thrust of Christian doctrine is not mere knowledge, but rather wisdom.”[1] In our opinion, wisdom is the ultimate goal of theology because it includes not only the scientific aspect of knowing, but also the prudential aspect of living wisely in light of what we know. In order to flesh out this view of theology as science and wisdom, we will address both aspects of theological knowledge.

On the one hand, theology is scientific, if by scientific we mean that it is a bona fide discipline oriented to a legitimate object and possessing appropriate methods of investigating.[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg argues that theology is a science because it has a defined sphere of investigation, an internal coherence, a purposive attempt to describe external reality, and a public sphere of justification.[3] Likewise, Millard Erickson writes, “(1) Theology has a definite subject matter to investigate, primarily that which God has revealed about himself. (2) Theology deals with objective matters. It does not merely give expression to the subjective feelings of the theologian or of the Christian. (3) It has a definite methodology for investigating its subject matter. (4) It has a method for verifying its propositions. (5) There is coherence among the propositions of its subject matter.”[4] Pannenberg and Erickson both argue that theology must be subject to verification, and in Pannenberg’s criteria, public justification. We agree with Pannenberg and Erickson that theology is a bona fide discipline oriented to a legitimate object and possessing appropriate methods of investigating, and in that manner science-oriented.

On the other hand, theology is wisdom-oriented. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10; Ps. 111:10). As Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd have argued, the wisdom theme pervades the biblical witness.[5] Although theology is science-oriented, it is more ultimately wisdom-oriented for two reasons. First, theology is more than science because it involves a personal relationship between the knower and the known.[6] True knowledge is rooted in commitment to God. Gerhard von Rad writes, “The thesis that all human knowledge comes back to the question about commitment to God is a statement of penetrating perspicacity. . . . Israel attributes to the fear of God, to belief in God, a highly important function in respect of human knowledge. She was, in all her seriousness, of the opinion that effective knowledge about God is the only thing that puts a man into a right relationship with the objects of his perception.”[7] Indeed, theology goes beyond correct information, extending ultimately to right relationship with God. Second, theology is more than science because it seeks to equip the church to live wisely in light of its knowledge. Theology is wisdom in that it involves both true theory and right practice. David Ford writes, “[theology] asks not only about meaning, interpretation and truth but also, inextricably, about living life before God now and about how lives and communities are shaped in line with who God is and with God’s purposes for the future. In short, it is about lived meaning directed toward the kingdom of God.”[8] If one focuses on theology’s science-orientation to the exclusion of its wisdom-orientation, one warps and distorts the task of theology and hinders the mission of the church.[9]

In summary, theology is more than science because theology is missional by its very nature. Theology is centered on knowing and loving God, on being transformed by Him, and on being a light to the nations so that they also can know and love God. David Bosch writes, “Just as the church ceases to be church if it is not missionary, theology ceases to be theology if it loses its missionary character.”[10] God’s biblical self-revelation is the true story of the whole world, but he does not reveal this account merely for us to step back and be wowed by its elegance and power. He has given us the Bible so that we can live within its pages, allowing its missional story to shape our identities so that we can in turn take this story to the nations.

[1] Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 88.

[2] This sense of the word “scientific” stems from the earliest medieval universities. I have adapted this definition from David Clark’s definition. Clark, To Know and Love God, 213.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and Philosophy of Science, trans. Francis McDonagh (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 326-345.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 36.

[5] Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd, Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 231-260.

[6] Ellen Charry writes, “Sapience [English, “wisdom”] includes correct information about God, but emphasizes attachment to that knowledge. Sapience is engaged knowledge that emotionally connects the knower to the known.” Ellen Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 4.

[7] Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, trans. James D. Martin (London: SCM, 1970), 67-68.

[8] David Ford, “Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God (1),” in David Ford and Graham Stanton, Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM, 2003), 4-5.

[9] David Clark notes that overly cognitive approaches to theology (1) obscure the transformational aspect of theology, which is its true purpose; (2) give the false impression that one must have a seminary degree in order to read the Bible; and therefore (3) intimidate Christians who have not formally studied theology. Clark, To Know and Love God, 240-241.

[10] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 494.

Engaging Exposition (12): Analysis of Poetry

The development of a thematic outline will help you discover the author’s MIT when you encounter Poetry in the Scriptures. It is essential to consider rhyme and meter and the use of figurative language when interpreting Poetry.

Poetry Type and Pattern
There are a variety of poetic styles in the Scriptures. Determining the type and pattern of a poem is one of the most challenging aspects of studying poetry, especially for young interpreters. For instance, Psalm 4 is a Psalm of trust-it reminds the reader of God’s faithfulness in life’s trials. If you do not know what type of Psalm you are studying, you will run the risk of misinterpretation.

Produce a Thematic Structural Diagram

When dealing with poetry, you are not attempting to identify the plot like you would in a narrative. You are not concerned with producing the kind of intensive structural diagram required by an epistle. Rather, you are attempting to trace the development of the poem’s themes and movement. As a result, you want to produce an analysis of the poem that will identify these.

In Psalm 4, David addresses several primary themes: a) God is righteous, and he hears the prayers of his people (4:1); b) man’s natural inclination is to participate in destructive activities (4:2); c) God’s people fear and trust him (4:3-5); d) God alone is the source of provision and safety for his people (4:6-8).

Identify Figurative Language

Poets use figurative language to describe the issues and emotions of life. Furthermore, the theological content of poems is often contained in their poetic devices. Consequently, interpretation requires an ability to understand a poem’s figures of speech and their connotations.

Identify the Theological Themes
As is true for every other genre, biblical poetry is about God and humanity. Consequently, it contains theological themes about God and his work among his people. The thematic structure that you develop will reveal the theological themes in the poem. Trusting God is the overarching theological theme of Psalm 4. He can be trusted to hear our prayers, to set us apart to fulfill his purposes, to infuse our hearts with joy, and to provide safety and security as we follow him.

Analysis of Wisdom Literature
Wisdom literature is a genre that incorporates both narrative and poetic elements. When you are studying in either Job or Ecclesiastes, use the narrative analysis form in the appropriate places and apply the appropriate criteria. When you are studying Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and the poetic parts of Job, use the poetry analysis form and apply the appropriate criteria. Note that there are significant similarities between Poetry and Wisdom Literature.

Analysis of Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalyptic literature is a very challenging genre to interpret. Because of its unique forms and language, Apocalyptic literature incorporates both narrative and poetic elements. As is the case with Wisdom literature, use the analysis form that works best for the text under consideration, whether narrative, epistolary, or poetic. To see how I have treated this genre, you can go to where you will find almost 40 verse by verse studies of Revelation.


Every biblical genre requires a unique model of outlining. You must properly identify the key elements used by the author in his writing. Rushing through the inspection stage may rob you of the joy and significance you will find in letting a text “speak.” Your haste, often influenced by personal presuppositions, may hinder you from “hearing” the text in the way God intends. Make the commitment to study the Scriptures carefully. Your close inspection of every biblical text will help you discover the author’s MIT. It will also yield rich expository fruit!mobile gamesgames java