Rightly Dividing

Framing a Generation

There may be no better book in the Bible to confront our culture’s current issues than the book of Genesis. Our generation’s confusion about the roles of men and women is precarious, as is our understanding of marriage and family. We are a people thirsty for identity and purpose, yet our generation may be the emptiest ever. We are distressed about the condition of our planet, afraid we’ll wreck it or nuke it and deplete all our natural resources, so we campaign to save the whales and save the planet by thinking green. We argue about men descending from monkeys while simultaneously trying to build up their self-esteem. Personal and national standards of morality are weak, if existent at all. We are uncertain and unhopeful about the future, or simply unthinking and apathetic towards it.

We are disconnected. We are disconnected from each other. We are disengaged from dreams and drive and determination. We are dissociated from history and heritage. Most of all, we’re disconnected from God. So we are isolated and aimless. We have little, if any, structure of conviction to stabilize us. We are a wandering, wicked, formless generation disconnected from any story.

We need Genesis. In the book of Genesis, Moses tells the story of creation, of life, of humanity, and of God’s people. He doesn’t simply report the historical facts, he frames our entire way of looking at the world. Moses records the story of our ancestors, their relationships and their experiences, their triumphs and their defeats, their strengths and their defects, their rebellion and God’s faithfulness. More than that, he reveals the beginning of God’s eternal story of redemption through generations.

To tell this story, Moses built the book of Genesis on a pronounced literary structure. After a prologue/introduction in 1:1-2:3, the first seven days of creation, Moses weaves together 10 sections, all starting with the heading “These are the generations of X.”

The key word is “generations.” It is the Hebrew word toledot (‏תּוֹלֵדוֹת). The word refers to that which is born or produced, in other words, the historical result. Half of the generation formulas in Genesis initiate a genealogy, a simple list of descendants owing their origin to the head figure (5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 25:12; 36:1). Those family trees establish historical context and credibility.

The other half of generation formulas, however, introduce more than lineage, they launch into “the story of X.” For example, “this is the story of” creation (2:4), the flood (6:9), Abraham’s life (11:27), Jacob’s life (25:19), and Joseph’s life (37:2). Moses uses this phrase to frame the narratives of Genesis.

The illustration of framing is probably obvious to most of us. When we frame a picture or painting, we mount the painting with borders that protect and typically accentuate it. When we frame a house, we shape the footprint and the floor-plan and create structural stability. In a figurative sense, we frame an argument or debate by directing attention on a particular issue and constructing boundaries so the participants know what is out of bounds.

So Moses framed the broad outline (the Roman numerals) of Genesis by generations. But through the story of ancient generations, he also builds the framework our generation needs for interpreting our observations and experiences, for responding to moral questions and hot button topics, and for what it means to live in relationship with fellow creatures and with our Creator.

This is why we need to study Genesis. In the book of Genesis, God–through Moses–builds and defines and supports and sets in place exactly some of the most necessary truths for framing any generation, including our own. Genesis gives six studs that frame our beliefs.

  1. Genesis frames our beliefs about HUMANITY.
  2. Genesis frames our beliefs about FAMILY.
  3. Genesis frames our beliefs about SOCIETY.
  4. Genesis frames our beliefs about HISTORY.
  5. Genesis frames our beliefs about MORALITY.
  6. Genesis frames our beliefs about THEOLOGY.

One of the words thrown around during any study of Genesis is “worldview.” Genesis frames and defines our perspective and way of thinking about life on earth.

By framing our beliefs about humanity, family, society, history, morality, and theology, we learn who we are and what we’re to do, we learn where and when we do it, and how and why we do it.

What we think about elections and laws, our convictions about abortion, our attitude toward modesty (and clothing, it’s origin and purpose), our perspective on calling and vocation, our appreciation of marriage and family and kids, our approach toward art and culture, our position on the environment and global warming and tree-hugging, our outlook on the past and hope for the future, and our attitude toward science, are all framed by how we understand Genesis.

Moses framed Genesis by telling God’s story in generations to define and support his generation of God’s people. Genesis does the same for our generation, and frames our worldview and God-view. Genesis has divine, inerrant answers for every current cultural debate and international conflict. May God increase the convictions and confidence of His people in this generation, building them up and framing their beliefs according to His story in Genesis.

Rightly Dividing

Catching Genesis

This Sunday I start my teaching trek through Genesis in one28. I already sense the thrill of paddling to catch the wave, but likewise sense the fear that at any moment the wave may upend me and pound me into the rocks.

Photo thanks to Roy’s World

I am excited about Genesis because it is (obviously) the explanation of the beginning of almost everything. Genesis casts God’s light of revelation on why we exist and what He made us to do. Not only that, any study in the Old Testament compliments the standard fare of current evangelical exposition. More time in OT study also lets me continue to work on my Hebrew, in which there is significant room to excel still more. I look forward to the challenge of accurately interpreting narrative and trying to communicate the story in a way consistent with the genre. And more than anything else, I’m eager to catch the gravity of the Creator/creature distinction and why we as image-bearers should be both head-bowed before Him and heads-up in fulfilling His mandate.

On the other hand, I am fearful to begin Genesis because I suspect it will take a lot of rear-in-the-seat time just to scratch the surface of the book. I haven’t spent much previous effort studying narrative and even less time preaching it. If insight is “the product of intensive, headache-producing meditation” (From John Piper’s chapter, “Brothers, Let Us Query the Text” in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 75) then I may need some Costco size bottles of Tylenol in my attempt to subdue Genesis. I hope to move through the book quickly, but not too quickly. I want to show how it frames our present-day story, without missing the historical-providential-redemptive, all-by-itself importance of the text itself.

And apart from all those things, I’m afraid I may also be confronted with my failure to enjoy the bounty God has provided for men in vegetables. (Prior to the fall, men ate vegetables only, and somehow this was no quandary for the first couple living in paradise. So if there is something to enjoy about living in a Genesis 3 world, eating meat must make the list.)

Enjoying the Process

You think English is easy?

  1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
  2. The farm was used to produce produce.
  3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
  8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  10. I did not object to the object.
  11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  13. They were too close to the door to close it.
  14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
  15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
  16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  18. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  19. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  20. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let’s face it–English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

A Shot of Encouragement

The Savanna Project

My friend, David W. Cleland, is now writing at and about The Savannah Project. He has moved a time zone, switched blogging platforms, and even converted blog genres (the third day of my week feels empty without Cat Tuesdays). More than that, he’s committed to planting a church in his hometown, a church he hopes will be rooted in the rich soil of God’s Word.

A Shot of Encouragement

Discerning Repentance

One’s attitude does not produce discernment, like sadness can’t diagnose disease. On the other hand, the right attitude should be one of the results of discernment, like an accurate diagnosis may cause sorrow. As always, discernment flourishes only when energized by the light of doctrine.

Discernment is not created in God’s people by brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance. It is created by biblical truth and the application of truth by the power of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and minds. When that happens, then the brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance will have the strong fiber of the full counsel of God in them. They will be profoundly Christian and not merely religious and emotional and psychological.

Quoted from John Piper’s post, Test Revival with Doctrine.

Enjoying the Process

How Do You Respond

One week ago I was minding my own business, working on something in my office when I received a text message on my iPhone. I suspected it was a one28 staff person letting me know they were unable to make it to our meeting later that evening, but when I looked at the snippet I didn’t recognize the number. I was even more surprised upon opening the entire message, and though they said they didn’t want a response, I sent one anyway. The following image is a screen capture of the original (in grey) and my response (in green). The only photo edit was to mask the final four digits of the phone number.

He Will Build His Church

Making Disciples Booklet

I’ve blogged through a series on Making Disciples, and here is the whole thing put together in a couple formats by my friend Jesse.

Here’s a PDF in portrait view:

And here’s a landscape format that works well as a booklet.

A Shot of Encouragement

You Can’t Pay for This Kind of Promotion

Ryan Hall is eager for the upcoming seminar on Bible study. We should all have this attitude and perspective toward our copies of God’s Word:

I want to become a kid in the candy store when it comes to reading through the pages of Scripture. You can never out-study the truths of the Bible.

A Shot of Encouragement

Pastoral Wisdom

According to 50 former pastors, faithful pastoral ministry requires initiative and discipline, with a vivid sense of divine calling, from a constantly refurbished theological commitment, and personal, growing affection for the sheep.


Rightly Dividing

Rightly Dividing Your Copy of God’s Word

Today we announced a new seminar at church:

Rightly | Dividing aims to move believers beyond personal Bible reading to Bible study. There are many useful Bible reading plans, and for that matter, much excellent material is available from good Bible teachers. But this seminar hopes to train people how to understand and depend on the Book, not only on teachers of the Book.

I’ll be teaching this seminar on Saturday, October 11. (Don’t tell anyone, but October 11 also happens to be Mo’s due date with Hallie.) It will include over six hours of teaching, covering topics like how to prepare for study, basic principles (hermeneutics) for Bible study, how to find the point of a paragraph, and recommended tools.

Anyone in the area is welcome to attend. If you’re interested, jump over to the Rightly | Dividing website for more details and online registration.