Understanding The Bible


I confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others think it is myth, and anyone who believes it is foolish. Others see some parts to be true—the gospels, primarily—but the other parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times commenters confronted him with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men. Clearly that blogger was selective in the Biblical commandments he felt he needed to follow.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means through it God is speaking to me.

I learned it is inerrant and infallible—that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message—so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was learned that the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I also learned the Bible is determinative—how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I learned that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Some years ago another pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture that bring forward the meaning of the text. These can be helpful, I think.

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing. Some are historical, some poetry, some prophecy, some letters. Understanding their genre helps uncover their intention.

3. How does a particular passage fit into the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say. For example, Scripture says more than once, “There is no God.” But without the context, a person will not know that this is the statement of a foolish person.

Pastor Mike gave an illustration of this. First he showed promo for the movie Mary Poppins, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews that told the story of a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Next Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children, making mean faces and threatening gestures. The children responded with fright, and in the background soulful music played. Occasionally shots of a dark and bleak setting came on the screen.

So which is the “real” Mary Poppins? Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be so concerned by what they saw, they would refuse to see the actual movie.

In the same way, someone coming to the Bible must see how a passage fits into the big picture.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible reveals Jesus.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, you take up your cross, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.” Whenever that is true, it’s to our shame. We may not understand everything in the Bible, but the main things that are plain, that don’t take a seminary degree to comprehend, ought to be our mission statement, our focus, our To Do list.

That point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

This post is a revised edition of one that appeared here in May, 2014.

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Is The Lord’s Power Limited?


quail-2-703602-mI suspect if Christians were asked if God’s power is limited, most of us who believe the Bible would say, No, of course not.

Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is without limit or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God is all powerful. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that wasn’t consumed, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive the Ten Commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back-to-Egypt faction, and a Down-with-Moses faction. Already the Hebrews were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone.

In answer, God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census as warriors and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over-fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Somehow, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me. But did he?

He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up Egyptian crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course he should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust, and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting “Return To Egypt Or Bust” signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Clearly, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

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

Published in: on September 7, 2018 at 4:35 pm  Comments (5)  
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A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing


From time to time in discussions I have with atheists they will claim some false idea as if it represents Christian thought. They usually back this up with a Bible verse, taken out of context.

This kind of thinking distresses me because ultimately it defames the name of Jesus Christ.

The other day I ran across someone in the FB atheist/theist group who took the atheist stand one step farther. He actually knows a lot about the Bible. His main point was not, the Bible is a myth. He still reached a position of disbelief, however, and he did it by twisting Scriptures.

What’s really sad is that he parroted the line of thinking typical of those I categorize as “health-and-wealthers.” Others call them word of faith and still others, proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. With the backing of Scripture the line goes something like this: God promises to defend, protect and heal. Jesus said, by His stripes we are healed. People who think God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, will depend on God to do for us today what He did for people in the Bible.

He concludes these beliefs lead them to choose God instead of medical science. As a result, bad things happen. Consequently, people should not fall for the idea that God actually can be trusted and depended upon.

What’s so off here is that this atheist, someone who identifies as a former pastor, is examining a false teaching, finding it in error, and concluding that Christianity is unreliable, that God is untrue.

I have to admit, this is a new one for me. But it fits with all other error. It comes from A LITTLE knowledge. This Atheist Pastor (or AP) has more Bible knowledge than do most atheists, but he is still far from the truth. He apparently has gone no deeper into Scripture than have the false teachers he echoes.

Otherwise he would know that Job’s friends who spent days with him, essentially accusing him of wrong doing because he was suffering, were the ones who were wrong. Surely, God would not allow suffering if you haven’t sinned, they said. Well, surprise. Not true. And when God showed up in person, He accepted Job because he repented. The friends needed Job to intercede for them. I’ve wondered if that didn’t come with a bit of instruction on his part, explaining what he’d learned about God: that He is sovereign, that He won’t be manipulated, that He isn’t dependent upon us in the tiniest way.

Of course the AP and the false teachers he was critiquing also ignore what Peter says about suffering:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.(1 Peter 3:13-17; emphases here and in the following passages, mine)

But there’s more:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (v 2:20).

Peter’s not done yet:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (4:12-16)

Of course these are by no means the only passages that deal with suffering in a way that demonstrates the falsehood of the health-and-wealth position.

The point is, this AP and the false teachers he critiqued have some knowledge. Yes, the verses they quote are in Scripture. But instead of wrestling with how they can exist side by side with verses such as Peter wrote, or with what James said when he told believers to call suffering, joy, they ignore the parts of the Bible that don’t fit in with the paradigm they have created. The one ignores them as a way to manipulate God. The other ignores them as a way to accuse God. Both are wrong because they depend only on the little knowledge they have.

I’ve believed for a very long time that Christians need to read the Bible. But this encounter has left me more fully convinced than ever.

People can disbelieve the Bible completely and leave it alone. They can believe what someone has told them about the Bible and discount it, distort it, or accept it, based on who they actually are trusting. Lots of Christians do this latter. They listen to a pastor or a family member or a teacher who tells them what the Bible says. And they believe what they’ve been told. But what happens when those tenets are challenged? What happens when someone with compelling arguments against their beliefs comes along?

No, the way to handle the Bible is not second hand. We ought all to be reading it for ourselves, from cover to cover, taking the whole counsel of God and wrestling with what we find there.

Feminism In The Church


Today I heard part 2 of an excellent sermon by Alistair Begg on his radio program, Truth for Life. He spoke from 1 Corinthians 11 and addressed the issue of gender and what God has to say about the role of men and women. It’s worth the listen.

I haven’t addressed this issue in a long time, in part because my position hasn’t changed and in part because what I say is, frankly, unpopular. People don’t want to hear that in God’s perfect economy women have a different part to play than do men. In terms of a stage play, we are the leading ladies, not the leading men. Both are significant, and both are needed, but both are not identical.

Anyway, this article is one that I have edited from—are you ready for this?—seven years ago. And I still believe what I wrote. Largely because the Bible is still the authority, no matter what various people try to make it.

– – – – –

Times, they are a-changin’, you may have noticed. This is true in any number of fields, but not less so in the Church.

Sadly, ungodly cultural proclivities seem to be creeping into churches—even my Bible-believing evangelical body. We are not immune. No one is. And for that reason, it is important for us to continually examine Scripture to see if these things are so.

The “things” I’m referring to today is feminism in the Church.

Of necessity we need to define terms. When I use “feminism” I have in mind the belief that women are equal to men in all respects, if not superior. Hence there should be no distinction in role or function between men and women.

One blogger [article no longer available] wrote “we overwhelmingly are affected by the outside world’s view of women and their role in the church and society rather than that of Jesus or the Bible.”

Interestingly, the majority of this article gives a justification for taking the teaching of Scripture about women and their role in the church and placing it in a cultural context. In other words, what was true in “that culture” isn’t true today. While there is some truth to this thought, there are firm principles by which we should stand.

Further, this place that we give to the thinking of our culture, over and above the Bible, disturbs me. Seemingly we are playing the “keep up with the Joneses” game, and the Joneses are those that make up the mainstream of our culture.

I believe this is the kind of false teaching that the New Testament writers warned against. Paul said to the Colossians that he was laying down doctrine about Christ “so that no one will delude you with persuasive arguments,” and that they were to “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Today we seem all too happy to give in to the persuasive arguments of those who discount Scripture. We seem happy to be captivated by the traditions of men.

But I want to look at the BIBLICAL role of women in Christianity.

I believe, as another blogger said beautifully in “Christianity v. feminism,” that “Christianity allows women to be women. Allows them their femininity. Allows them their freedom.”

But the culture has said, No, Christianity has taught men to oppress women and keep women from doing and being all they can be.

I don’t doubt that down through time there were religious leaders who taught error in regard to women’s roles. However, that’s true about error in a lot of areas, such as indulgences and renting pew space.

We ought not look at tradition, as Paul said in Colossians, whether that tradition comes from religious or irreligious people. We need to align our beliefs with the sure Word of God.

The Bible is not murky about women and our role:

1) We are equal with men in ministry (see Philippians 4:3b “…these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life”)

2) We are equal in salvation (see Galatians 3:28 “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”)

3) We are unique in our roles. In this respect we are not less than but different from men. (see 1 Cor. 14:34a “The women are to keep silent in the churches”).

Athletes understand this perhaps better than anyone else. In football there are “glamor” positions—quarterback, running backs, and receivers. But without linemen, the guys who literally do the heavy lifting, those in the glamor roles go nowhere. The quarterback gets sacked, the running backs get thrown for a loss, and the receivers never see the ball.

The point is, women are biologically different from men and as Scripture reminds us, we came into the creation process after Man. In God’s perfect plan, He therefore assigned men to the “glamor” positions in the Church. Not all men, of course.

Some men are to be pastors and elders, and other men are to be parking lot attendants or library volunteers or servers in the coffee shop. Are these latter to be filled with envy because they don’t have the glamor positions? Clearly not.

Why, then, should we assume that it’s OK for women to covet the glamor positions? And covet is exactly what it is.

Our culture has told us we women should have something Scripture says is not meant for us. This all sounds so Garden of Eden-ish, doesn’t it?

Doubt And Uncertainty


More and more I’ve encountered people who elevate uncertainty and doubt to the level of virtue—at least when it comes to God. I suspect those same people don’t want any uncertainty or doubt when it comes to the planes they fly in. They want assurance that they have a fully trained pilot and crew, that the vehicle has been properly maintained and inspected. Doubt and uncertainty about the plane aren’t virtues. They are red flags.

The same is true about the money in their bank account. When they deposit funds, they want to know with certainty money will be available to them when they write checks or make withdrawals.

Or how about doctors? Not many people stand out on the street with a sign: “Doctor wanted, anyone willing to try will be hired.” Quite the opposite. When it comes to medical care, we want some assurance—doctors who have attended medical school, for instance–because we want doctors who oversee our treatment to know what they’re doing.

Few people are up to the task of building their own homes. They know they don’t have the expertise in electricity, plumbing, and basic architecture. When it comes to a house, they want something they have reasonable assurance will not collapse, or leak, or blow up—and that isn’t going to be a structure of their own concoction.

So why is it we are willing to accept the murky, the questionable, the uncertain, or the self-made when it comes to spiritual things? I can think of three possible reasons.

  • 1. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty exists.
  • 2. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty matters.
  • 3. People who embrace uncertainty believe there’s freedom in it.

Undoubtedly some people who find virtue in doubting and questioning when it comes to spiritual matters, do so with the idea that they are being intellectually honest, not uncertain. After all, are we really supposed to take the word of some musty book written thousands of years ago?

The thing is, true intellectual honesty will dive into that “musty book” and study it to see if there’s truth within its pages.

Once I read a comment online that gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

I find that pronouncement to be odd. Why would someone who wanted to know about democracy dig into Hitler’s writing or Stalin’s philosophy or look at China’s Cultural Revolution? I mean, I suppose a person could come to the idea of democracy by rejecting opposing systems, but wouldn’t it make more sense to study the thinkers and writers who played a part in establishing democratic societies, and beyond that, the actual tenets of democracy itself?

Intellectual honesty will also embrace the possibility of finding answers. Doubt and questioning won’t be virtues for someone who is honestly looking for answers. Why would you look for what you don’t believe you’ll find?

A second group embraces uncertainty because they don’t believe certainty matters. These people, I suspect, haven’t thought deeply. They don’t want to think about what happens to a person when they die or whether or not people have souls. They would rather feel good.

They want pleasure, not pain, and thinking about death and dying is painful, or scary, at least. Thinking about God is scary, too, especially the idea that He can be a judge who ensures people receive just consequences for their actions. So, frankly, it’s easier not to think about God, and one way to dismiss Him is to say He can’t possibly be known. So why try?

Which dovetails to the third position. Some think there’s freedom in uncertainty. If I don’t know for sure that God is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, then I can fashion a god who will reward me for my doubts instead of for my belief, for my pursuit of my own pleasures instead of his glory. I can sound spiritual without having to deal with any unpleasant repentance business, without any “denying self” stuff.

So, yes, for some, uncertainty sounds like the preferred path when it comes to spiritual things. In the same way, some people “invested” their life savings with Bernie Madoff and his fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Others “bought” homes they couldn’t afford when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were greasing their credit wheels.

We can look back and say, why didn’t those people pay attention to what Madoff was doing with their money? Or why did those people not pay attention to the details of their loans? They could have known. They should have known.

And so should each one of us know with certainty what God has made apparent about spiritual things. He is not hiding. Quite the opposite.

He announced ahead of time, what He was doing. He painted pictures with the lives of any number of people—Joseph as a savior of his family during a time of famine, Moses as a redeemer leading an enslaved people to freedom, David as a king freeing his people from oppression.

In addition, God sent spokesmen to prepare people for what He had in mind. Throughout generations He announced His plan, and when His Son fulfilled His work at the cross, He broadcast the fact that God completed what He’d foretold. And now He has a people who once were not a people, all commissioned to be His ambassadors, repeating the announcement—God is; His Son Jesus shows Him; and by His death and resurrection, believers can know Him.

Doubt and uncertainty? Those are not virtues when it comes to choosing someone to baby-sit your children. Why would they be virtues when it comes to thinking about God?

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in October, 2013.

Christians Should Not Be Silent


African_sunsetWhen I say Christians should not be silent, I don’t mean Christians should complain more or rail against our culture more or even call out false teaching more. We do those things with some frequency. I’m one of those who does.

Some time ago, I was reminded that I’d much rather be known for what I believe rather than for what I oppose. In a discussion on another site, I made a comment that included these words: “Christ offers healing. He gives us grace. He made a way of escape from sin and guilt. His plan and work is Good News.”

However, I also pointed to things with which I disagreed, and consequently, the ensuing discussion, as far as concerned me, centered on my opposition (not on what I was opposing but on the fact that I was opposing). That taught me a lesson

I should talk more about Christ—the Way, the Truth, the Life—and how He came to show us the Father. I should talk about how Luke compiled his report for Theophilus “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” I should talk about how John ended his book by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

In essence, the issue at stake is the certainty or uncertainty with which we can know God. One perspective is that we cannot know with certainty and it is arrogant to say we do know with certainty. Somehow knowing is assumed to contradict faith. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

The assurance. The conviction. About what do I have assurance? These are the things I think Christians should chat up. We are too often silent about the things about which we have assurance. Why? Do we think everyone else already knows and believes the things about which we have assurance? Or the opposite? No one believes as we do. Neither position provides sufficient grounds for us to remain silent. The first is false and the second is the very reason we need to speak the truth in love.

So, what am I assured of? First, that God is.

I had occasion years ago to do some hiking in Colorado. One adventure was supposed to be a short mile hike to a small lake, but my hiking buddy and I both agreed when we arrive, it was far too short and there was too much day left, so we headed for the high country. At the end of our trail we stood on a glacier field looking up at rocky spires more glorious than any cathedral I’d visited. Over our heads was a canopy of blue, so rich and pure. Everywhere I looked, I saw God’s fingerprint.

I’ve seen His creative glory when I looked at the stars from Catalina Island or watched the sun sink below the western horizon of a Tanzanian sky as a full moon rose in the east. I’ve marveled at bull elephants protecting their herd and ostrich scampering across the grassland.

Who is God, but the LORD?
And who is our rock, except our God? (Ps. 18:31)

I know God is. I’ve seen His work.

I’ve also experienced His presence. His Spirit has taken up residence in my life. I am now one of those living stones Peter talks about:

You also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

I know God is. I’ve read His Word. The Bible is a lamp, a light, and what it illumines is God’s person, plan, and purpose. Where creation paints the general outline of God’s existence, the Bible fills in the details.

It shows through the narrative, from beginning to end, His love and power, His mercy and justice, His patience and faithfulness. He shows His redemptive purposes in His dealings with Israel. He shows His plan to rescue the condemned in His provision of the ram for Abraham to substitute for his son. He shows His patience when He rescued Jonah on his way as far from God as he could get. He shows His faithfulness in holding back a pride of lions from devouring Daniel when he refused to back off from his worship of God Most High.

The Bible is rich, so rich—filled with the greatness of the Author and Finisher of our faith.

I know God is. Jesus showed Him to His followers. He is the image of the invisible God. It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. Look at Jesus, and you see God.

So yes, the first thing about which I have assurance is that God is!

This post is an edited and updated version of one that appeared her in October, 2013.

Published in: on August 15, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Bible Plus …


Most obviously, if someone wants to know what Christians believe, they need to read the Bible. But some people don’t seem to be content with letting God reveal Himself through the words given through the Holy Spirit.

In the past I’ve read that people would do well to read a particular book (which I am not naming) in order to understand how language and argumentation work, because it serves as a model by which to actually understand what Scripture means.

Earlier, from a different source, I was told repeatedly that I needed to get in touch with a Jewish rabbi in order to understand the Old Testament as it was intended to be understood.

All this troubles me.

Has the Bible stopped being good enough for the average person to understand?

Have we decided that something else needs to come alongside God’s authoritative Word to make it make sense? Do we no longer see it as sufficient? Or perhaps it never was really authoritative and we need to find some other source that gives the final word on who God is, how we should pray, and how we should understand Scripture itself.

But if someone needs all these extra-biblical helps, why did Jesus say we should come to God as a child?

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:15)

How complicated must the way into the kingdom be if we are to come like a child? Must we learn Greek and Hebrew in order to accurately handle the Word of God? Or can we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth as Jesus said?

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God wants to be known. He isn’t hiding and hasn’t made His plan of reconciliation hard to understand.

Rather, it seems that I am the cog that makes coming to God impossible. Where is that humble, child-like attitude Jesus said I must have? Where is my trust in what He has said? Where is my willingness to obey because my Father has told me so?

I’m not saying other books, articles, blogs, sermons, or conversations aren’t helpful. God can open the eyes of my heart to see Him more clearly in any number of ways. But it seems to me, people are becoming too eager to search other sources rather than the primary one.

It’s not a good research technique.

 

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in August, 2010.

Published in: on August 10, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Not The Verse We Think It Is


Like most people, I have a few pet peeves. One is people taking verses of Scripture out of context and making them say something they don’t actually say. For instance, in the atheist Facebook group to which I belong, an atheist says that according to good Hebrew rabbis, Jesus saying He fulfilled the Law means that we too are to obey the Law.

Well, actually it doesn’t mean that at all as the rest of the New Testament makes clear. Take Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance. I could quote any number of verses, but these should suffice:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4; emphasis mine)

Sadly, atheists are not the only people who take Bible verses out of context and make them say something they don’t actually say. Christians do that too. Well-meaning, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians. I can postulate why that happens, starting with the fact that we are fallible, and moving on to the fact that not enough of us know the Bible, so we’re ignorant of the context of many of our favorite verses.

It’s one of these favorites that I want to address.

The verse is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In truth, the verse fits well with our doctrine of God. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, that He can do the impossible. Consequently, it seems quite logical that God’s strength can also enable His followers to do the impossible, or as this verse says, “all things.”

But what are the “all things” that Paul was referring to here?

I mean, if we think about the verse logically we know that “all things” can’t possibly mean anything we can imagine or wish to do. I can’t fly, for example, or shed 20 years off my age. I can’t become an Olympic star simply because I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Rather, I think Olympic stars need to be considerably younger than I am, that they need to dedicate their lives to their craft, and work hard.

This reminds me of a story my pastor told us. He was with a group of Christian school kids on a science camp kind of trip. At one point he was in a boat, but ended up in the water. With lots of kids watching, he tried and tried to get back in that boat. As he struggled, some of those kids began calling out, You can do it, Pastor. You can do all things through Christ. Except, he never was able to get back in that boat.

So, is the Bible not true when it says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

Actually the Bible is always true. We can be sure of that. When something in Scripture doesn’t fit with our perception, we can know that our perception is off—our perception of God or the world or the Bible itself.

In this instance, by taking this verse out of context, our perception of the Bible is actually the thing that is off. Our perception of God is fine. He can do the impossible. Our perception of the world is fine. There are hard things that we can’t do without help. But what about our perception of the Bible, of this verse?

That brings us right back to the meaning of “all things.”

Paul had just finished thanking the church in Philippi for their financial gifts, but he qualifies his statement by saying, he’s not bringing up the issue because he’s hinting that they give him more–not because he’s needy. Rather, he says, he’d learned to get along no matter what economic conditions he encountered. Sometimes he had lots. Sometimes he had little. No matter, because he could do all through Him who strengthened him.

In other words, the verse kind of means the opposite from the meaning many Christians give it.

Paul’s point: even when I don’t have a lot, God gives me the strength to endure not having.

Sadly, contemporary Christians generally quote the verse meaning, if we don’t have something we want, God will give us the strength to get it.

I think the latter presumes upon God. We want something, so we tell God He needs to give us the strength to get what we want. Of course, we will sing His praises if we succeed, but all too often, like my pastor, we’re left in the water when we wanted to get back into the boat. In those cases, it’s easy to see a bit of doubt creep in. Does God really give us strength? Is the Bible really true?

In short, we do no one any favor by taking a verse like this out of context and “claiming” it, as if we’ve got God lassoed now, and He has to do what we want. That’s the definition of presumption—as if I know what God should do for me, better than what He could know.

On the other hand, it really is sweet to realize that no matter what circumstances I find myself, God will strengthen me to endure. I’m sure that’s what got Paul through all those beatings and ship-wrecks and imprisonments.

Published in: on July 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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Jesus, Progressive Christians, And The Bible—A Reprise


Some years ago a number of people began identifying as “Progressive Christians,” meaning, essentially that they were spiritual but didn’t believe the Bible to be infallible or inspired or authoritative. In fact, it’s hard to distinguish in what ways their view is different from atheists’. One such pastor who self-identifies as a Progressive Christian, Roger Wolsey, begins a definition of Progressives by saying,

What has come to pass as “conventional/popular Christianity” — isn’t what Christianity is actually about. Friends, Jesus isn’t God.* Jesus didn’t “die for our sins.” Jesus wasn’t killed “instead of us.” None of us living today killed Jesus. God didn’t “need” Jesus to be killed. God isn’t wrathful or vindictive. There isn’t a hell (other than ones that we create here on this earth). Going to heaven after we die isn’t what the faith is about. There isn’t going to be a “rapture.” And it isn’t particularly necessary for Jesus’ resurrection to have been a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one. (“A Definition of Progressive Christianity“)

[By the way, the asterisk refers to this note:] *UPDATE: I do believe that Jesus was divine, and that he’s the 2nd person of the trinity. Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate manifestation of God. I don’t believe that he’s literally God (at least not what most people tend to mean by that word). We live and move and have our being in God, so did Jesus. The trinity as [sic?] a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us. But poems don’t literally define things. Like all art, and theology, they point to what is beyond them.

In his article “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible,” he explains how he looks at Scripture. As another Progressive Christian recently reminded me, these PCs are not united in their specific ideas about God and Jesus and the Bible. Nevertheless, some, including Wolsey, “employ a ‘canon within a canon’ lens” when studying the Bible, meaning that some books are more important and all others should be understood based on those.”

For Mr. Wolsey, his “canon within a canon” consists of the gospels, though he clarifies that not all are equal. John, apparently, is the least of the gospels, with Mark, Luke, and Matthew coming in first, second, and third respectively.

What I don’t understand is how Mr. Wolsey can use the gospels and yet say things like this:

The hermeneutic of love seeks to see the forest for the trees and that allows the spirit of the law to trump the letter of the law (which Jesus modeled). (Emphasis in the original.)

In contrast to this notion, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18)

I understand that Matthew is only third in importance to Mr. Wolsey, but Luke also records a similar statement.

Perhaps Mr. Wolsey is thinking of Jesus’s refusal to follow the traditions the Pharisees added to the law, such as certain ceremonial washings for lay people and their definitions of work.

I’d think Mr. Wolsey would have realized Jesus’s dismissal of Pharisaical tradition was not Jesus choosing the spirit of the law over the letter since he claims Progressives believe in “interpreting Scripture with Scripture.” However, he apparently missed the fact that the Law recorded in Leviticus and Numbers spells out the specifics the Jews were to follow, and what the Pharisees tried to make Jesus do simply isn’t found in the Law.

More than that, Jesus Himself made clear His view of the Law when He rebuked the Pharisees: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42, emphasis added). In other words, Jesus was not blowing off the Law in order to serve the spirit of the Law. Rather, He was clearly saying religious activity does not replace what that religious activity was supposed to express.

Mr. Wolsey also said

We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones. (He did it a lot) [emphasis in the original].

Because no specific passages or theologies are listed, the point is clearly unsubstantiated. But I suggest it suffers from something greater—it clashes with what is known from Scripture about Jesus and the Old Testament and the theology it contains.

Jesus made clear what He thought about Old Testament Scripture on more than one occasion. For instance He said after His resurrection,

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)

Earlier, in Matthew He said

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

In fact, the New American Standard Version, from which these quotes come, puts Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament in all caps. It’s easy to tell, therefore, that with some frequency, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, as did the gospel writers. (In fact, the gospel of Mark, the one Mr. Wolsey thinks is most important, begins with a quote from Isaiah.)

Here’s one passage from Mark in which Jesus quoted from the Old Testament:

And He was saying to them, “To you [His disciples] has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” (Mark 4:11-12)

I’d think this indication that God gave something to His followers that He didn’t give everyone else would be one of the theologies that the Progressives would think Jesus rejected. But here it is, quoted from the Old Testament right there in Mark.

I could go on—Jesus referenced “certain passages” such as Genesis 2-3, the account of Adam and Eve in the garden; or Jonah 1-4, the account of Jonah running from God only to be swallowed by a big fish which God appointed; or in Exodus, containing the accounts in which Moses encountered God in the burning bush, in which God gave His people manna from heaven, in which He cured them when they looked on the bronze serpent lifted up.

All these are passages Jesus clearly did NOT reject.

There’s one other passage Jesus quoted from the Old Testament which I think pertains to Progressives—this one also from the book of Mark:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’
Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men
.” (7:6-8, emphasis added)

In short, there’s not much in Jesus’s teaching that squares with what Mr. Wolsey said in his article, and yet, since it was published six months ago, nearly 57,000 people shared the post on Facebook.

I suppose the purpose of sharing it might be to help Christians understand what Progressives believe. It is instructive, but what it says about the Bible and Jesus isn’t remotely true. I hate to think anyone would read that article and think Progressives have come up with the right way of approaching the Bible.

From this short look at what Mr. Wolsey said, it’s clear that he, at least, must not even know what the gospel says which he believes to be the most important. And that, I think, is the critical issue. It’s easy to say the Bible is important and “we” approach studying it in these sixteen ways, but how many of the “we” are actually reading it?

In fact, how many of the “we Evangelicals” are reading it?

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2014.

The Early Church And Problems


I’m amazed at some of the crazy ideas that atheists have regarding God’s word. Of course the standard idea that they repeat over and over—as if saying it a lot will make it true—is that the Bible is just a bunch of made up myths.

That concept is so full of holes, it could be a good colander.

One of the holes I have noticed lately is the fact that whoever the critiques are claiming “made up” the Bible, would have to be fairly dumb to include the stuff they did.

I mean, more than once Christians have pointed out that women, who were not accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court, were the first witnesses to report that Jesus had risen. Even further back, shepherds, we were considered the lowest in the social strata of the day, were the witnesses of the angelic announcement of Messiah’s birth.

Who does that? I mean, who makes up such a story with witnesses who had no standing in society?

But I’ve been thinking of late about the early Church and the idea that the Biblical account of its inception was fabricated.

I suppose the events recorded in Acts would sound exciting—I mean, conflict that led to near riots, arrests and beatings, miraculous earthquakes, and a prison break led by an angel. Some might think that, yes, a myth maker was behind such exciting and improbably stories.

But after Acts?

The following letters are filled with reproof and warning and censure. Take 1 Corinthians, for example. Paul wrote that letter to a church in Greece as a way of addressing problems that he’d heard about. There were divisions and immorality and church workers who weren’t being paid and the question about eating food that had come from an idol temple.

Add on a serious lack of love and some concern about pride resulting from the exercise of spiritual gifts. The scene was not pretty. This church had deep problems.

Would someone inventing a mythological letter about a mythological Savior have really created such a flawed, needy group?

The other letters aren’t much different. The New Testament writers warned about false teachers and “evil workers.” They warned against a “different gospel,” and against those who would come into the Church as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The book of Hebrews has as its central theme the reasons someone who turned to Christ should not desert Him after empty years of waiting for His return and of increased persecution. James and Peter specifically address the suffering that the new churches were experiencing.

But would someone inventing a religion and writing mythical letters to pretend churches, ever come up with such negative content? Wouldn’t they be more apt to write about how joyful and loving and prosperous the new churches had become, how they were growing daily?

Why would they deal with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles and not simply paint over the fact that some Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and dietary laws on the non-Jewish believers? Or that some were saying God’s grace meant Christians could “sin all the more.”

Really, if the New Testament is myth, the guys who made it up were pretty foolish. They made up the things that made Christianity look dangerous and risky. Nothing about those letters would win someone to Christ—unless they actually were written by God’s Holy Spirit, not for the sake of growing a church, but for the edification of it. The building up, not the building out.

But the way God works, as Christians matured and learned from the examples of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Peter and James and all the other first or second generation leaders, the Church also gained in numbers. Seemingly it didn’t matter how many Christians lost their lives in the Colosseum, more converts joined the persecuted Way.

That’s counter-intuitive, too. Why would anyone invent the stories and letters of the Bible, and not use the opportunity to declare how successful they were as they withstood Rome?

But of course the Bible doesn’t read like the mythology invented by humans for human ends, because it is actually God breathed and the historic events really happened, the letters were really circulated to real churches dealing with real problems.

Consequently, the Bible contains the unexpected, the “underbelly” of the early Church, the parts that most people would not include in their Christmas letter, let alone a letter that was accepted by others as Scripture.

And yes, Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, so from the beginning the leaders of the early Church knew the documents we now have collect as the Bible, to be inspired by God, profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training.

Even though they contained a lot of dirty laundry.

Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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