At Odds With Our Culture


Thinking Biblically puts Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors according to the man in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”), construct sturdy banks, invent efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on—about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2014.

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Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Did You Know? First Christmas Facts


First Christmas Facts

A widely celebrated event like Christmas generates all types of art and music, which sometimes overshadows Biblical facts. Did you know what actually happened, though artists’ renditions might show something else? Here are various statements taken from the Bible that might be surprising in light of what we think we know from Christmas carols, cards, nativity scenes, and the like.

• The events surrounding the birth of Christ hinge on an understanding that God can do the impossible. (Luke 1:37)

• Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth. (Matthew 1:24-25)

• Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream. (Matthew 1:20-21)

• Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. (Luke 2:4)

• Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

• An angel appeared to a group of shepherds to announce the good news that that day the Savior had been born. (Luke 2:9-11)

• The angel gave the shepherds two signs by which they could identify this Savior: he’d be wrapped in cloths and he’d be in a manger. (Luke 2:12)

• A host of angels joined the first and spoke, rather than sang, praises to God. (Luke 2:13-14)

• The shepherds believed the angel and went to Bethlehem right away to see the Christ Child. In other words, they didn’t go to see if what the angels said was true. They went because they knew they would find the Savior. (Luke 2:15)

• Magi from the east visited Jesus later; they did not arrive the night He was born. (Matthew 2:1, 11, 16)

• These visitors saw, rather than followed, a star in the East and went to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews. (Matthew 2:1-2)

• The number of these magi is not specified in Scripture. There may have been three—each giving one of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But there just as easily could have been a larger group, each giving one of the three types of gifts. (Matthew 2)

• Scripture does not refer to the magi as “kings.” (Matthew 2)

• Herod told the magi to go to Bethlehem. Of course, he first had to ask the learned Jewish scholars. He himself apparently wasn’t knowledgeable concerning the prophecies connected with the Messiah. (Matthew 2:6-8)

• From Jerusalem the magi followed the star and came to Jesus who was now in a house. (Matthew 2:9-11)

Feel free to play the following as you continue blog reading this week.

Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Atheist Arguments: Humans Are Animals


Of course humans are animals. We live and breath and do all the things animals do, but Christians believe humans are more. Christians believe God breathed life into us, that by doing so He gave us an eternal soul. Or spirit. It seems there’s some confusion concerning the two. Are they synonymous, does one refer to our personhood, our personality, and the other to our spiritual existence?

It is the latter, the spiritual part of us, that separates us from other animals. For instance, humans pray. Animals have no apparent awareness of God, and do not make any clear appeal to a higher power. Pets might run to their owner if they become frightened, but they might just as often run away and hide. But at no time do animals appear to appeal to a supernatural being for help or deliverance or salvation.

Animals also don’t appear to deal with guilt. Oh, sure, those pets who know their owner is not happy with their behavior, might cower when they are told, No, but this is an instinctual reaction to the displeasure, not guilt for having done what they wanted to do.

I’ve seen cats that kill birds and show no remorse.

The dog I had for twelve years showed great sorrow when I scolded him for taking his food to the carpet and eating it there rather than leaving it in his dish, but he continued to drag it out. It was his instinct to do so. He didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong—just that I was unhappy he was doing it.

Third, animals don’t worship. They have ways of showing when they are happy or irritated, like wagging their tails or hissing or barking or baring their claws or laying their ears back or licking. But worship? Since they have no apparent awareness of the supernatural, they have no apparent desire to express praise or gratitude or awe.

Here’s the thing. If humans are simply a product of evolution and we are nothing more than the most advanced version of life, where did the sense of the supernatural come from? Why do we worship? Why do we deal with guilt? Why do we pray?

Those things are not found in animals. They are found in humans.

I know some will say they are nothing but a creation of our brains. But animals have brains, too. Where is the evidence of an animals’ underdeveloped awareness of the supernatural?

Interestingly enough, the same people that think the supernatural comes from our brains, also think the supernatural isn’t real. So how is that evolution? Wouldn’t our brains develop in such a way that we would be smarter, wiser, better, more capable of coping? How does guilt fit into that paradigm?

Or worship? Certainly the atheist must think spending time with others to give praise to Someone who, they say, doesn’t exist, is not making us smarter or wiser or better or more capable. So how did we become worshiping people?

The point is humans are more than animals. We do have that God-breathed part of us that makes us eternal. Human life, therefore is precious and valuable, and we need to treat it with more care than any other life.

Some scholars speak of a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each of us. No one is quite certain of the origin of the phase, but Augustine, Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and Scripture itself have been credited with the concept, if not the wording.

The Bible clearly does identify us as people with an unquenchable thirst, satisfied only by the Living Water.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7″37-38)

Lewis described that “empty place” that only God can fill and actually his awareness of it was one of the factors that turned him from atheism to Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)

The interesting thing to me is that secularists admit the existence of this hole, this vacuum.

We are all searching for something. What that something might be is never really a certainty, but it typically displays itself as a nagging sense of something unfinished or a thing undone that plagues our days and troubles our sleep. It is a restlessness within the human heart described by St. Augustine as “…humanity’s innate desire for the infinite…”

This restlessness is a metaphor for seeking after the infinite, for something larger than ourselves (“The God-shaped Hole” by Michael J Formica, Psychology Today)

Actually the author goes on to say that this “something larger than ourselves” actually is ourselves, but the point for this discussion is the fact that this realization of something beyond is not a made up Christian concept. It’s real and it sets us apart from animals.

We long for . . . more, even when we don’t know what that more is.

Where does that longing come from? Not from animals. The best answer is the one God gave us: He breathed into us life, something our sin has seriously affected so that, as the Psychology Today article went on to say, we try to fill our longings with “things outside of ourselves — objects, money, love, release or our perception of it, sex, drugs, new experiences, whatever is at hand.” And the current craze—us, ourselves.

But the very attempt to fill this “emptiness” shows that it is real, that we have in us a need that spurs us to look for satisfaction. It’s defining. We do what animals don’t do, and that, by deductive reasoning, separates us from animals. We are more. We have an awareness of God. Romans 1 says we do, though we don’t acknowledge Him:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (v 19)

Humans are animals? Sure we are, but God gave us something animals don’t have. He’s set us apart for relationship with Himself.

Photo by Laurie Gouley from Pexels

Gratitude, Day 12—Music


I admit: a friend of mine wrote a cool piece on Facebook yesterday, about being grateful for music. Me too, I thought. That one belongs in my list of gratitude topics. (As an aside—fair warning that when you have dealings with a blogger, what you do or what you say might end up as fodder for a blog post. Just saying!)

When I was a kid, I wanted in the worst way to learn how to play an instrument. I never told my parents, though, until I was probably in sixth or seventh grade. Well, what instrument are you interested in playing, my parents asked. The violin. It was an identifiable instrument, and I loved the various solo pieces I heard. One of my favorites was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, I think. My dad in particular was a classic music aficionado, so I grew up with the great classic symphonies and concertos and even a number from minor composers.

But the problem with me learning the violin—well, there were many issues. For one, I didn’t read music. For another I hated the idea of practicing. I knew this because there was a time when my sister took piano and she was supposed to them teach me what she learned. The few times I actually sat down and practiced did not convince me that this was something I wanted to do. My parents didn’t force me.

In truth, I wanted to have learned the violin so I could perform. I didn’t actually want to learn.

I had one short stint with the guitar. My inability to read music was not an issue, but there was still the part about me not liking to practice, so that went nowhere.

The only real success I had with music growing up was with the harmonica. Again, I didn’t read music and so I didn’t really have a clue how to play tunes I was familiar with. So, I simply made up others. I learned to string a bunch of notes together that actually sounded pretty good and expressed my heart. But I could never duplicate what I was playing. It was really only just for me.

Singing. I love to sing and I love to be a part of great congregational singing. It’s the closest thing to being a part of a choir. I imagine. I’ve never actually been part of a choir, because, you know, I don’t read music and I don’t like practicing.

But I love music.

I’m not too particular, either. Having grown up listening to classical music, I still love a number of pieces, like that Tchaikovsky concerto I mentioned. But I also grew up when “contemporary Christian music” was birthed. As songs went from the somewhat sappy and simplistic (“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going . . .) to more worshipful and challenging, I went right along with it. I bought praise tapes every chance I got. I loved Second Chapter of Acts and Keith Green and Amy Grant, then Jeremy Camp and a host of other artists.

I skipped over my “secular phase.” When I was in high school, I listened to the same songs every other teen was listening to. The thing was, the music was so far from punk or rap or raggae or heavy metal. It leaned more toward folk music, though it was transitioning to rock. I was pretty much fine with the style of the day. What I did not like was jazz or big band or country.

More recently I’ve had some exposure to country (The Voice, anyone?), and I have to say, I no longer hate it.

The point is, I’m not all that picky about the style of music I listen to. I mostly like music that touches my heart, that expresses something inside.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I think a lot of the old hymns do that for me. On top of the music that takes hold of my soul are the lyrics that point me to Christ or to the Father or even to the Holy Spirit, though I think the hymns that are Biblically accurate in their depiction of the Spirit are few and far between.

I like the hymns that have been inspired by Scripture and portray Biblical truth. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the classic by Martin Luther, is one of them:

1
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
2
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
(from hymnal.net)

There are so many though, and not the least are contemporary hymns by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty.

I find that the music that stirs my soul, in combination with the lyrics that focus my thoughts on God are the ones I like best. I still like classical music, though. I just have to supply the “lyrics” myself, in prayer and meditation.

So music, though I don’t listen to it the way so many do today, is something I’m so thankful for!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Gratitude, Day 9—The Internet


I know a lot of people now who bemoan the internet, who “fast” from the internet, who warn others about excessive screen time, and chastise users of the internet as shallow or contentious. Of course people can misuse any tool, so there can be people who have issues with using the internet. Major issues. Damaging issues.

But in truth, the internet is an incredible tool that has made the world accessible to anyone.

I remember the first time I realized I had an international follower for this blog. It shocked me! I could hardly wrap my mind around the idea that someone half a world away was reading what I was writing.

More than that, various preaching platforms have made their sermons available on the internet, so that hundreds of thousands of people are able to receive the kind of Bible instruction that would not have been available to them before the internet. Oh, sure, there were books, but these resources are free of charge and available to anyone with a smart phone, a tablet, or a computer. That’s incredible.

When I was younger, a group of Christians took seriously the idea that Christ will not return until there are believers from every tribe and tongue. Consequently they invested in Bible translation. But a new problem quickly emerged: literacy. It’s one thing for a person to have the Bible in their heart language, another for them to actually be able to read it. As a result, more missionaries focused on teaching reading. But then came the Jesus film in multiple languages, and audio platforms. Suddenly, technology was providing many different ways to provide the Bible and Bible instruction to people around the world.

Well, the internet is actually more of the same. It’s an awesome tool that brings people from all over the world together.

I’ve personally benefited from the internet. First, a site like Facebook developed that put me in touch with former students I thought I’d for certain lost track of once and for all. Then it also created writing communities, first through forums, then through blogs, team blogs, Facebook groups, and back to like-minded collections (some of which require a fee to join).

All of that came together when I had my stroke as a friend (a live, and in person friend) created a Go Fund Me account which allowed all these diverse people I know from various walks of life to learn about my situation and to contribute to my needs.

Every once in a while I marvel at the technological advances that have taken place in my lifetime. There are so many I couldn’t begin to enumerate them all. In a few cases, as with the VCR, I’ve seen advances both come and go!

All of them, like other parts of culture, have their advantages and disadvantages. And of course that makes perfect sense because we humans are a mixed bag. We are made in God’s image, which means we have great capacity for creativity and moral goodness. But we are also sinners, filled with selfishness and pride, using people and loving things instead of the other way around.

No wonder the internet has the capacity to be used for great good but also for great ill. It’s a device conceived of by humans, so we bring who we are to bear in the use of a device that is actually amoral. That has no goodness and no evil that is inherit to it. The internet simply is, and we use if in conjunction with our nature.

We can get in fights with strangers, and we can tear down people based on our prejudice, our hatred, our stubborn, willful heart.

Or we can speak with kindness and truth to people in walks of life that are far different from our own. Truly, the internet can be the source of great good, setting up sites where Christians can pray for someone afflicted with a serious illness, and for their family, giving encouragement and hope.

I haven’t even mentioned the wealth of information available on the internet. How many times have I been editing and stopped to research something for a client—did they get the name of that city right, was that weapon actually in existence when this story was to have taken place. I’ve checked manuscript formatting, I’ve researched agents and publishers. I’ve learned so much about writing from blogs put out by editors.

Should I mention videos and games? Yes, because of the internet we can also enjoy a wide variety of entertainment that was not available some twenty years ago. Yes, they can also require self-discipline, but books and movies and TV do as well.

Without a doubt, the internet has changed culture and changed life. Though I know some people use it for evil, I can only be thankful for it. Sure, one more thing to challenge our self-control, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to exercise that muscle.

Published in: on November 13, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


A number of years ago, I began reading through the Bible from cover to cover. When I first started the process, I’d inevitably bog down when I got to certain parts that seemed . . . well, boring. I thought they weren’t relevant, didn’t give the spiritual nourishment I needed.

So one year I got the idea to skip the parts that were too hard, that I didn’t find engaging.

But since then, I’ve changed.

As it happens, the Bible is constructed in such a way that one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting my reading plan, as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it some years ago when I felt a sense of sadness that I was finished with Leviticus. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare, either. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”My note:

By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs after whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that would have cost them their lives under the Law. Instead, they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ” My notes:

How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

These notes were compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the verses came clear and one thought built on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition, enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

On the [__ numbered] day it was [name of tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father], leader of the sons of [name of tribe]; his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then tried to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Much of this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

Atheist Arguments: Who Can Believe The Bible?


Without realizing it, I’ve been answering, from time to time, the various arguments atheists make against Christianity, against God. For example, I wrote “The Early Church and Problems” back in July. Before that I wrote “Deductive Reasoning” back in May. A month earlier I wrote “Daniel’s Prophecies—Evidence That The Bible Is True..”

Without much difficulty, I can turn these posts into a series. So today is the first official post in the series, Atheist Arguments.

The common atheist argument is to say that Christians have no evidence that God exists. When someone says, sure we have evidence: take a look at the Bible, what follows is a litany of reasons we should not believe the Bible.

In a comment to another post, a regular visitor here, an atheist, brought up one of these many reasons: he claims the Bible has too many inaccuracies, too many controversial interpretations.

I’d like to examine these points.

First, inaccuracies. According to Biblical scholar Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, there are about 400,000 textual differences among the existing New Testament manuscripts. On the surface, that number seems to legitimize the atheist claim. But one reason for so many variations is that so many copies of the New Testament exist—more that 5,800 in Greek alone. “But the New Testament was translated into various languages early on—languages such as Latin, Syric, Coptic, Georgian, Gothic, Armenian, and Arabic.”

True, not each of these copies is complete. Some are mere fragments, but the average size is 400 pages long. In other words, we have lots of manuscripts we can compare to one another.

It works like this. If there were ten news accounts of the last Dodger game, and nine said Manny Machado hit a three-run home run, but one said Max Muncy hit a three-run home run, it is a pretty fair deduction that the nine are accurate and the lone Muncy claimant is wrong. So too with Scripture.

Obviously, the more manuscripts you have to compare, the easier it is to spot the inaccuracies. But there’s more.

This one, I had never heard before, but Dr. Wallace included it in an article about the New Testament, in the newly released third edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. Apart from all the early copies of the New Testament in existence, scholars also have extra-Biblical sources that quoted the Bible.

Kind of like I do from time to time on this blog. Apparently early Church scholars wrote “homilies, commentaries, and theological treatises” that include more than a million quotes from the New Testament. “Virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced many times over just from the quotations of these fathers.”

But what about all these inaccuracies? A better word actually is variations. More than 70 percent are spelling differences. You know, the same kind of spelling differences we have in English between America and Britain: color vs. colour and the like.

Some of the variations have to do with Greek syntax and can’t be translated into English; some with synonyms such as Christ or Jesus. The meaning’s the same.

Yet there are some variations that are significant. This is where the number of copies available to study comes into play. “Because of the poor pedigree of the manuscripts they are found in (usually few, or very late manuscripts), no plausible case can be given for them reflecting the wording of the original.”

When we pare all those away, we’re left with 1% of the variations actually being significant and realistically plausible. Of these differences none impacts the central doctrines of the faith. In many cases, scholars have a good idea which verse or two have been added because “they do not fit with the author’s known syntax, vocabulary, or style.”

In modern English translations, there are two passages I’m aware of that have footnotes stating that those particular verses come from later manuscripts and likely are additions. In a couple other places, questionable verses have been included in the footnotes and identified as probable late-date additions.

In short, what comes from this type of careful scholarship is the verification of the accuracy of the Bible, that in spite of human fallibility, God has preserved and protected His word. We can, in fact, trust that the Scripture we have today is true to the original inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It certainly makes sense. I mean, God who is so powerful as to breath His very words into the writings of a man, certainly is also powerful enough to preserve and protect those words down through the ages.

We can and we should have every confidence in the reliability, the authority, the accuracy of the Bible.

Critical Thinking and the Veracity of the Bible


When I started my blog, one of the first posts I created dealt with critical thinking. Surprisingly, to me, I had an atheist who visited because he wanted to know what a Christian and critical thinking had to do with each other. What followed was a series of posts I did about critical thinking. That was . . . are you ready? . . . twelve years ago.

My thinking hasn’t changed about the fundamentals. I know more now, but I’m happy with this article. So I’m running it again, minus the personal references to my atheist friend who visited back then.
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A commenter once posed a question for discussion:

Given the plenitude of glaring scriptural contradictions combined with the complete lack of currently available supporting evidence for either deity or biblical veracity, is it possible to be a critical thinker and still believe in the Bible and Christianity as anything more than philosophy and parable?

It’s a fair question, but I cannot accept the “given” properties.

Before addressing that issue, let me say, I believe it is not only possible to still believe in the Bible and Christianity, such belief is the most logical outcome of true critical thinking.

To a degree, all Truth is something we must choose to believe. Think for a moment of gravity. The dictionary describes this as a force that attracts a physical body toward the center of the earth or toward another mass. I have never seen gravity, yet I choose to believe in its existence. Scientists who study such things say it exists. I have the repeated experience of seeing things fall, not rise, when I drop them. I conclude the scientists are right. This requires faith on my part, but it is not faith in a vacuum, or faith that flies in the face of the evidence. My faith in the existence of gravity is the logical conclusion a thinking person can arrive at.

As I sit here typing, I can gaze out at an overcast sky. However, I choose to believe the sky remains blue and the sun is still in place even though I can’t see either. I have multiple reasons for such belief, but for someone who would enter the discussion with the presupposition that only that which can be seen is real, nothing I said would change his mind, simply because his presupposition is wrong.

Similarly, if this discussion hinges on accepting as true the presuppositions the commenter laid out—namely that there is a plenitude of scriptural contractions and that there is a complete lack of currently available supporting evidence for either deity or biblical veracity, then this discussion can go nowhere.

Therefore, I need to address these one at a time. First, the contradictions. I agree that there are apparent contradictions in the Bible, but I disagree that there are any real ones.

At times I have said I am hot. At other times I have said I am cold. Which is true? Aren’t those contradictory? Not given the circumstances which surrounded my making the statements. So too, with the Bible. What may look like a contradiction is not when the circumstances are clarified.

As to the lack of supporting evidence for deity and/or biblical veracity, I suggest there are books and books that refute those statements.

For a cogent argument that is longer than a blog post, Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nelson Reference, 1999) or Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998) are clear presentations. The subtitle of the latter is telling: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. And by “evidence for Jesus” he means evidence that Jesus was who He said He was. (He also has written a second volume, The Case for Faith [Zondervan, 2000] which might be even more helpful).

Let me give my reasons for believing in the veracity of the Bible, in no special order:

  • extra-Biblical writings reinforce the historical facts recorded in the Bible
  • archaeological findings continue to support the events of history as told in the Bible
  • science and the Bible agree, whenever the Bible speaks to the field of science (apparent “unscientific” terms do crop up in Biblical poetry, as they do in my speech when I say such things as sunset, knowing scientifically that the sun, of course, does not set)
  • fulfilled Biblical prophecy supports the Bible’s claims
  • the unity of the Scriptures—though written over centuries, by forty or so different writers, the need for and the message of redemption are consistent throughout all 66 books
  • internal evidence—the Bible’s own claim of being true, of being the Word of God
  • experiential evidence—people’s lives are changed when they believe and act upon what the Bible says

For me, this is a compelling, though incomplete, list.

Let me expand the second-to-last point: internal evidence. Much like this blog, the Bible is a text we have from the hands of a writer we do not contact directly. Most of the readers here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction have not met me. In fact, there is no compelling evidence to prove that Rebecca LuElla Miller is writing this particular post—except that I am telling you, I am the author.

Does believing me exclude critical thinking? Not in the least. There are internal evidences you can use to verify that this is in fact my writing. First, the content. Does what I am saying sound like other things I’ve written? For those who know me, is it consistent with my character? Are the facts revealed in the post consistent with reality? (For instance, in various bios I say I live in Southern California. In today’s post I mentioned that I can gaze at an overcast sky. Can both be true today?)

In the same way, critical thinking can address the claims of the Bible to be true, to be the Word of God.

But what about those presuppositions about the veracity of the Bible that the commenter assumes as given? Held under the microscope of critical thinking, they will crumble because of the weight of the evidence.

Holding Fast To The Word


When I say hold fast to the “word,” I’m referring to the Bible, but I could just as easily say this about the Word, which is Jesus Christ. The Bible actually only points to Jesus. It isn’t itself an object of worship. But it is through the Bible that we can learn about God and all that He has revealed to us.

I love the first two verses of Hebrews because the truth is right there—about both the Bible and Jesus:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

The fact is, we know about God because He spoke long ago and we know about the Son because He came long ago.

I know a lot of atheists think this “long ago” business is suspect. They say, if God is really all powerful, why can’t he speak now, today, so that we can know first hand what He wants us to know.

I don’t have a real answer for that other than that God shouldn’t have to repeat Himself. I mean, He graciously has said many things many times, but not for every generation in every place.

I have to believe His decision when and to whom to reveal His person, plan, work, and word, is part of His sovereign choosing based on His omniscience. I know it’s beyond my pay grade. It isn’t within in my ability to determine God’s best way of revealing Himself to the world, apart from what He has already told us.

What He said was that we, His followers, are to be his ambassadors, that we are to go and make disciples. In other words, getting the word out is something He asked us to do.

I’m constantly amazed that God, who spoke the universe into being, actually wants me to come alongside Him and do something with Him.

Best example I can think of took place when I was teaching. For a number of years I had the benefit of a student or two working as my teacher’s aide. Several years I even had an adult who came in and worked in that capacity. But inevitable, when someone new came in and I had to ask them to do a task—say, put up items on a bulletin board—I realized I could do the work faster, more efficiently, and more to my liking. Of course, the more the aide worked, the better they got.

I think of that as an illustration of God allowing me to do work He could manage way better. There certainly could be multiple reasons He decides to work this way, but one reason certainly is for our benefit who do the work. We enjoy the blessing of serving Him.

What does all this have to do with holding fast to the word? I think some people are so preoccupied with hearing something new from God, they miss what He’s already said.

I think some people want the next new spiritual thing in the same way they want the next cool development in technology.

God doesn’t change, though. Who He is, is who He has always been. He’s not going to surprise us with a new slate of Ten Commandments. He isn’t giving a pope or a prophet a new set of regs He wants the Church to follow.

In truth, He’s already said what we need to know. Now it’s up to us to listen and to do what He’s asked us to do. That’s not complicated. But it does require us to get a good grip on the truth.

Athletes who are successful have a good grip on the fundamentals of their sport. The study film, they compare notes, they research analytics, they listen to coaches, and they practice. They take the job that they have—pitching or batting or fielding; blocking or throwing a football or rushing the passer or running pass routes—very seriously. They might be gifted athletically, but their physical prowess will not earn them a spot on a team unless they hold fast to the fundamentals.

Christians need to do the same. We need to learn the fundamentals and we need to hold fast to the fundamentals. Those fundamentals are in the word and in the Word. Everything else comes from those two: prayer, how to handle temptation, dealing with sin, with fear, and mostly how to draw close to God. It’s all in the Book and the Book points us to Jesus.

Published in: on September 26, 2018 at 5:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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Spiritual Disciplines


Sunday we had a guest speaker, a pastor from the Seattle area. And yes, he spoke on spiritual disciplines, though he didn’t call them that. This term goes way back to the 1970s and maybe was recycled from an even earlier time. I first heard it when I was a young adult, and the disciplines were ways in which we can grow spiritually.

Our speaker Sunday said essentially the same thing, but instead of “grow spiritually,” he referred to intimacy with Christ and sanctification and building habits.

He even provided a handout so we could pull together his general comments and apply them personally. On the handout the habits that will help us cultivate a closer relationship with Christ are of two types, those we “inhale” and those we “exhale.”

As you would expect, the things on the “inhale” list are things we take in such as Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fasting (not necessarily from food), and so on.

On the “exhale” list are things we give out: service, generosity, hospitality, and the like.

I have to say, I’m excited to see this kind of emphasis, and I’m happy to know that other churches are emphasizing these things. For some time there was so much confusion among Christians.

There were divisions but by far the most serious aspect of what affected the Church was the willingness to have our ears tickled by those who said what was culturally pleasing and not necessarily Biblically true.

I’m thinking of two extremes. On the one hand there were the people who followed “America’s pastor”—and even that silly title says a lot about the error slipping into his teaching. These are people who wanted to have their best life now, who wanted to hear that their fondest dreams would come true, that they too could become free from sickness, that they could have all the technological toys and still be debt free.

In a camp that seems quite the opposite are those who wanted to re-image Jesus, though they pretty much liked what he did about social justice. In many ways this “progressive” view is nothing but a reiteration of the social gospel of the early twentieth century. They’d likely say that a Christian can reach heaven by doing good deeds. Except many don’t believe in heaven. Of course whatever heaven might be, all of humanity is going there. Here’s what one “progressive Christian” site says:

The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God. But it is not the only way.

Christianity is the truth for us. But it is not the only truth.

This principle stems from the reality of the 21st century. We share our lives with people who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist. We experience these people as loving and caring by following their religious traditions.

So, yes, speak about the environment and gender issues and social justice in terms that the culture at large will like. Or speak about becoming rich and self-satisfied in your own cocoon. Both those positions will garner followers, but neither is presenting the gospel.

I think a return to the habits that will bring us into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is needed. Of course, I also think reading the Bible and studying it and memorizing it should be first on the list of habits believers should cultivate. The bottom line is this: we first need to know who God is, what His plan for humankind is. Without that in place, we’re simply operating from our own thoughts and desires and judgments a la the groups that have drifted from the truth.

Here’s what Bart Campolo, son of the evangelist Tony Campolo, said about his own experience:

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why?“Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”.

Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”
How Christians become atheists

Campolo doesn’t think he’s a special case. On the contrary, he believes the current world of ‘progressive Christianity’ (what he calls “the ragged edge” of Christianity) is heading towards full-blown unbelief . . .

Campolo is predicting that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists over the next decade. In his view, the process of abandoning Christian doctrines is almost addictive. Once you start, you don’t know where to stop. It might begin with “dialing down” your view of God’s sovereignty, but it could easily end with unbelief.

“When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.” (Premier Christianity, “Bart Campolo says progressive Christians turn into atheists. Maybe he’s right”)

Hebrews was written to first century Christians who were questioning their faith, wondering if they shouldn’t return to Judaism. The writer gives a number of reasons they should stand firm, the first being that Jesus is the only one God ever identified as His Son, “whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Since Jesus is who He is, the writer concludes, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)

Yes, we do need to pay much closer attention! That’s a good habit to form, a good discipline to cultivate.

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