Christianity 201

June 11, 2022

People Who Trust and Respect the Bible, But Selectively

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A few days ago my son was reading the book of Joel, and in verse 4 of the first chapter came across these words:

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (NIV)

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten. (KJV)

The scientist in him wasn’t about to leave the word “cankerworm” just sitting there, so he looked it up, finding this listing in Wikipedia:

Alsophila pometaria, the fall cankerworm, is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species was first described by the KJV Bible. It is found in North America from Nova Scotia west to Alberta, south to Colorado and California.

He found it interesting that the first citation of such a species was in the Bible, and that the Wikipedia contributors recognized that it was the Bible where it first appears. His email to us had the subject heading, “The KJV is a nature journal.”

This of course stands in stark contrast to the many who think the Bible is out to lunch where it tries to tackle matters of science; people who would not grant it authority in any subject area. The scientific community has a hard time taking the first few chapters of Genesis seriously, and many volumes have been written trying to resolve the issues of the Bible versus science.

This reminded me of a tract — small folded piece of paper containing a 500-600 word evangelistic message — from years ago with a title like, “What if Noah’s Ark Were True?” The premise of the tract was that there are people in our world who remain ever vigilant about discrediting the story of the global flood because they feel that in doing so, they are discrediting the entire Bible. That done, if they don’t have to trust it in historical or scientific matters, they don’t have to do what it says. They don’t need make any lifestyle changes. Think about it: If the narrative of Noah and the Ark never happened, then I don’t have to respond to the rest of the Bible’s prescriptive advice for my life.

First of all, full marks to them for getting that principle. James 1:22 tells us, But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (NLT) On each and every page, the scriptures that we have been given invite a response. What are we going to do with what we are reading on the page? Essentially every chapter invites us to ask, “So what?” Every story has an application. In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones takes this even further and says, “Every story whispers His name;” in other words, each of the major Old Testament narratives not only has much to speak to our current condition, but each is foreshadowing the coming of a Savior, and why it was humanity needed a Savior.

Back to applying the words of scripture, in related passages listed at BibleHub.com, we hear Jesus saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 NIV) and earlier, Jeremiah wrote “The LORD said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Obey the words of this covenant and carry them out.’

Most readers here respect the scriptures, and you may want to check the boxes for today’s devotional and consider this done, but even within the church there may be those who practice “the form of godliness” but “deny its power.” This is a reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 “They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.” (NET)

…So the Wikipedia contributors conceded that the Bible contains the first reference to cankerworms. I suppose that it simply a statement of fact. On the plus side, it shows that the Bible is still visible in our post-Christian world. On the minus side, that’s really about all that it says.

But the skeptics — atheists and agnostics — shouldn’t be too quick to condemn the Bible’s attempts at science to be antiquated. Where the scriptures say “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised;” (Psalm 113:3 KJV) it would be easy to say, ‘Well we know that it’s the earth that revolves around the sun, it doesn’t really rise at all.’

However, the weather app on my phone clearly indicates times for “sunrise” and “sunset.” If we can continue to tolerate that in the 2020s, we should equally be willing to permit the Bible some latitude when it comes to matters of science.

And we shouldn’t be surprised when the Bible, even if read only as “a nature journal” gets it right more often that some expect.

Is it possible there are many who could use a change in their lifestyle right now?

 

April 29, 2022

A Thing About “All Things”

Having spent the better part of my lifetime in close proximity to the Christian giftware industry, I’ve seen my share of Bible texts plastered on mugs, key chains and picture frames which have been presented without proper context. The most often referenced is Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…”) I am certain that God does want to give us a hope and a future, but when people read that God wants to “prosper” them, it can send their thoughts down a doctrinal rabbit hole.

There’s also the issue of “the plans” God has for us. People rail against “open theology,” but decades ago in the book Decision Making in the Will of God, Garry Freisen argued that being “in God’s will” doesn’t mean there is only one place you are to live, one vocation you are to pursue, and one coffee order you are to place today at Starbucks. (Or to rephrase it, God’s will is a circle not a dot.)

But today we want to look at “all things.”

The first “all things”

The first is Philippians 4:13. The familiar King James rendering of this is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Perhaps you memorized that as a child, or it appeared on a plaque in the home in which you were raised.

Before moving forward, the post-Charismatic in me wants to remind you that there are no limits with God. Empowered by his Holy Spirit, there are stories of people who accomplished things which would normally have been physically or intellectually impossible. The “God of miracles” about which the TV preachers testify is, literally, a God of miracles.

But the immediate context in the prior verse (4:12) is, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (NIV)

Think about that. Being booked in a luxury hotel one night, and spending the next night sleeping in a tent. Eating at a five-star restaurant one day, and the next day subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches. Having had a huge bank balance one year, and the next year struggling with how to make the month-end rent payment.

The NIV forces us to consider the verse in context by responding, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (emphasis added). But most of the other translations perpetuate the KJV’s take on the verse, perhaps in the interest of not tampering with a text that is extremely familiar. We do however see,

  • I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him (AMP)
  • Christ gives me the strength to face anything. (CEV)
  • Christ is the one who gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do. (ERV)
  • I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (GNT)
  • I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. (Phillips)
  • I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Message)
  • I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength. (The Voice Bible, which combines the two thoughts into a single verse)

If you’ve ever heard of real estate agents saying, “Location, location, location;” then think of scripture this way: “Context, context, context.”

As I said above, I think you can read the verse more broadly, but you shouldn’t try to force the verse into situations where you’re being presumptuous. A good verse to read in parallel to this one — again with a unique context, as Paul considers his “thorn in the flesh” — is 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The other “all things”

By now you’ve figured out that the other verse we’re thinking of is Romans 8:28. Again, we’ll start with the familiar KJV, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

The NIV states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This verse has led to the maxim, “Everything happens for a reason,” a saying which doesn’t allow for the possibility of some things happening by virtue of random chance but consistent with keeping the idea of God’s sovereignty.

The opposite situation however can be equally distressing. If some things are a product of random of chance, this may not bring comfort to someone who has lost a loved one through an act of mass gun violence, or an earthquake, or in the case of a woman I follow on Twitter, a rogue wave at the beach.

However within the random events of life, God can still be working; or to say it differently, given what has already happened, God can work to form good out of those circumstances.

Again, the question will follow, ‘If God can orchestrate the events of life so that the good shines through tragic events, why could he not have orchestrated things so that the situation never happened in the first place?’ It is a fair question, but it says more about the problem of evil and suffering in the world than it does about the ability of God to shape present realities for good.

A parallel perspective is found in Philippians 1:6, And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (NLT)

If you want to go even deeper on this, the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 18, tells a story — a beautiful analogy to how God is working — in the section headed in the NIV as At the Potter’s House.

If ‘I can do all things’ is about getting the context from the previous verse, ‘All things work together’ is more about the tense of the verb. Some commentators have suggested that a better translation might be “In all things God is already at work…” or “is working” which creates the visual image of God coming alongside us.

Also, before you start to send me an email, yes, it must be said that if you are claiming the promise of this verse, you must remember that it is a conditional promise, the conditions being met by those who

  • love god and
  • are called according to his purpose

We tend to lean in to the first part of the verse, and gloss over the conditional part.

Finally, here’s how Eugene Peterson renders the passage in The Message:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

March 15, 2022

Thoughts for 3:16 Day

Wednesday is “3:16 Day.” I could have waited to post this, but as we post in the afternoon, I thought I’d release this the day before. The reference is to one of the Bible’s most quoted verses. The day’s revival this year is because a publishing company saw a tie-in with the re-release of the book of the same name by Max Lucado.

That usually makes me skeptical, but apparently an earlier iteration of the day also had its roots in a marketing program. The press release from Faith Gateway states,

The origin of the celebration is unknown, but some media outlets trace it as far back to 2011 when a K-LOVE radio station listener suggested that the day, March 16, should be “John 3:16 Day,” in honor of the biblical verse that affirms the hope we have because of Jesus.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that their motivation was to draw attention to the verse in a cultural moment where Christianity and the Bible have to fight harder to be heard.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (NIV)

So join us on a tour of past John 3:16 references here at C201.

Clarke Dixon writes,

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

This echoed something Clarke wrote a year earlier,

Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Quoting GotQuestions.org, a year ago, we noted,

The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ,

Quoting an unnamed author at Theist Thug Life (that’s the title) we’re reminded,

While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel.

Ron Harris is, like Clarke Dixon, someone who lives locally to me in Canada. In a book excerpt he expands this further, writing,

I would like to amplify the word “world” to include; “every living person ever been born or even aborted; every weak, suffering, sickly soul, every Down’s Syndrome person, every child with cleft lip, every person regardless of age that is abandoned, abused, beaten, sexually or verbally assaulted and every soul ravaged by sin or tormented by Satan. Despite all of this, God still sees something in us because we were created in His image.

Morgan Murphy said something similar in 2015, emphasizing,

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

Back in 2015, Clarke Dixon restated this in the light of the Bible’s concluding book, Revelation. He wrote,

…There is the entire trajectory of the New Testament, where Jesus dies not just for the Jew; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); where the Holy Spirit is given to people from any background; where looking forward “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) One cannot read the entire Bible without getting the impression that God’s love stretches far and wide.

Before you dismiss inclusion as self-evident, or feel it’s being over-emphasized today, consider these words from the NIV Application Commentary which notes:

Judaism rarely (or never) spoke of God’s loving the world outside of Israel. God desires to reach this world through Israel, his child. It is a uniquely Christian idea to say that God’s love extends beyond the limits of race and nation.

In 2018, Clarke reminded us that as wide-reaching as this salvation offer is, not everyone opts in. He says,

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The same year, an excerpt from Billy Graham fills in the context of the Bible’s famous verse, which was a late-night conversation I sometimes label “Nick at Night.” Graham wrote,

This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. Imagine what must have been going through his mind when he heard Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Bible does not record what happened after their meeting; and if the Book of John ended there, we might not know what became of Nicodemus. But John 7 tells of a debate that later arose among the Jewish leaders about Jesus, for He had told them also that He was going away, and “where I am you cannot come” (John 7:33-34). Jesus knew the chief priests were planning to seize Him, but He spoke of returning to His heavenly home. Then the Pharisees asked one another if any of them believed Jesus, and Scripture says that Nicodemus spoke up for Him (John 7:47-51). Jesus’ words had illuminated Nicodemus’ darkened heart.

Dennis from Luke252 made the application very personal, stating,

John 3:16 teaches us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! When I live a lukewarm lifestyle, it hurts Him when I only want part of what He sent His Son to die for.

Indeed what does it truly mean to believe? Russell Young, who wrote for us here for several years dug into this in 2016, explaining,

Since “belief” is the means of gaining everlasting life one should be sure of its meaning.  “Believe” is translated from the Greek pisteuo which is defined as “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication, to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ): -believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #4100)

Belief in the context of salvation goes beyond understanding that something is true; it means that one has sufficient faith in Christ or is sufficiently persuaded concerning the being and mission of Christ that he is willing to entrust his well-being to the Lord.  One’s conception of “belief” should not be limited to the understanding that his well-being can be assured by absenting himself of all responsibility for it by allowing Christ to do all that is necessary.  He cannot abrogate his obligations unless the Lord has allowed him to do so, and He hasn’t.  The writer of Hebrews has recorded that eternal salvation comes through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) “Belief” means accepting the Lord’s teachings in the gospel with the commitment to honouring them with his total being…all his mind, soul, and heart. (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)

As early as 2015, Steven and Brooksyne Weber were discussing the “red-letter” status of the verse, which is an ongoing discussion today regarding the need for Bibles with this feature. They said,

The understandable grandeur of John 3:16 may tend to diminish the rich, instructive material that follows. Bible students differ as to whether John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus following His discourse with Nicodemus or whether these are the interpretive words of John when he wrote his gospel late in the 1st century. Either way they are God’s inspired Word!

It’s also important to state that despite all the common ground we have with this passage, our churches do vary in their expression of its truth. As early as 2013 I was writing,

Despite the familiarity of John 3:16 and the partial familiarity of successive verses, the concepts are not as easily processed as might first seem. Great doctrinal distinctions and differences exist from denomination to denomination over God’s over-arching love for us versus God’s justice and judgment. Ultimately, you can’t get close to this truth from the text or commentaries; you have to pause, think these things through and work them out in your own heart and mind. That’s why we’re told to meditate on scripture; I personally like the idea that we need to chew on it. Getting to know and understand the ways of God can take a lifetime.

Finally, here’s The Message rendering of the passage:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16,17, MSG).

Enjoy 3:16 Day and share it with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 8, 2022

The Debt Christians Owe to Atheists and Skeptical Critics

Today’s another one of those, “How did we not discover this writer earlier?” moments. Barton Jahn was at one time a competitive surfer in Southern California and knew almost nothing about Jesus. Today he’s the author of seven books on Christianity and 18 books about construction, and his blog is an interesting mix of construction and faith-focused posts. Some of his more recent posts are longer than what we run here, but this one, from two years ago, caught my eye when he approached apologetics from a different perspective. His blog is titled, The Cross in the Christian Life, and clicking the header which follows will take to this article from March, 2020.

Thoughts on Apologetics and Journeys of Faith 1

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentile, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”                                             (Jas. 3:17)

In the contemporary Christian apologetics debate…about the reasonableness of faith and the existence of God…the questions raised and the answers given in response…are both equally brilliant and well-articulated.  They represent the highest and the best of human thinking, knowledge, research, reasoning, and argumentation.

But the program of Christian apologetics…as brilliantly persuasive as it is…is partially the product of responses to criticisms and objections originating out of philosophical atheism over the past four to five-hundred years…coming up to current issues in today’s modern times…as we should expect.

The formulation of the systematic Christian apologetics argument has been partially reactive…ably constructed piece-by-piece in response to criticisms about the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Bible…criticisms originating naturally and historically from the atheist viewpoint out of the Scientific Revolution, the Doctrine of Progress stemming from the two Industrial Revolutions, and the enormous,  thought-provoking, beneficially progressive advances that have been made in the political, economic, social, and cultural structures of modern societies.

Modern Christians actually owe a debt of gratitude to atheists and skeptical critics of the Bible…in a counter-intuitive sort of way…like Joseph might owe a debt of gratitude in the big-picture graciousness of hindsight…toward his half-brothers selling him to slave-traders bound for Egypt…adverse starting circumstances which God then used to turn around the story originally meant for evil…into a brilliant new story shaped and channeled over time by God…into the life of Joseph the ruling governor of Egypt…for the highest good (Gen. 45:3-8).

Atheists and skeptical critics have raised the issues that have forced Christian theologians, Christian scholars, and Christian experts in other fields like science, philosophy, and history…over the past recent centuries…to focus and think hard about the credibility, reliability, and authority of the Bible and its message.

But the subtle problem here is that in the reactive mode…in the defensive position of responding to criticisms and objections raised by atheists and skeptics…the starting point of many of the issues debated within this context…land within what I call in this book the realm of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…confined within the large zone of normal human experience, inquiry, and investigative research…thereby limited by definition to the normalcy of worldly conventional thinking.

When placed on a vertical, graduated graph-line of goodness and light…these limited topics of inquiry and analysis coming from the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…position themselves lower in elevation on the vertical graph-line of goodness and light…compared to the goodness and light entailed within the biblical narrative stories of faith.

The biblical narrative stories of faith actualize from God’s perspective the whole point of true religion: a personal, joint-venture relationship with Him…by definition a supernaturally composed and initiated relationshipby divine intention and rational necessity positioned higher-up on the graph-line continuum of goodness and light…above commonplace, everyday experiences of conventionally normal life.  

The biblical narrative stories of faith define the real truth about God.

The biblical narrative stories of faith distinguish and separate themselves from the human invented fertility faiths of ancient religious practices and rituals…named after the “gods” of the forces of nature that ancient people aimed to appease and to placate…in their precarious struggle for survival…in an attempt to understand and to control these mysterious and unpredictable natural forces that affected their material and economic destinies.

This is a fundamental area where the biblical narrative stories of faith differentiate themselves as having a divine origin from God-ward to humans…rather than man-invented from us-ward to God.

Because the biblical narrative stories of faith do not incorporate the materialistic goals and aspirations of the American Dream…ancient or modern…they distance themselves at the outset by the worldly unconventional concept of highly specific and detailed life-scripts that displace our ways with God’s higher ways and thoughts…transcending above the everyday concerns of survival and reproduction (Mt. 6:31-33).

This is the diametric opposite of petitioning and appealing to the deities of wind, rain, storms, and mountains for protection, stability, and fertility in farming, raising herds of cattle and sheep, and producing large families of sons and daughters.

The idea that the Canaanite goddess of fertility Astarte…known to the ancient Jews as Ashtoreth (1 Ki. 11:5), or Baal (Nu. 22:41)…chief of the fertility gods in ancient Canaan, or Marduk…chief god of the ancient Babylonian religion, or Diana of Ephesus (Acts 19:35) in the New Testament first-century…would live perfect moral lives to qualify themselves to be the atoning, substitutional sacrifice for the sins of mankind…and enter into a human body to accomplish this…is outside of human contemplation.

The biblical narrative stories of faith hit the center of the bulls-eye target of purpose and meaning in life…precisely because they radically cut-across-the-grain of the basic human motivation to appease the gods of nature for self-survival…through the control of the natural environment…storms, floods, agricultural crops, marauding beasts, birds, and insects, and invading armies of enemy peoples.

This is a timeless, universal motivation that fuels the attempt to appeal to and to appease the gods of the forces of nature…for our success and well-being.

That this same motivational drive permeates the modern Christian church should come as no great surprise.

Many people attend Christian churches today with the express purpose of petitioning the God of the Bible for His help in the very similar and common pursuit of the ancient religionists…to control their environment and secure stability in their lives.

This is evidenced in the modern phenomenon of the “prosperity gospel” of “name-it and claim-it” regarding materialistic covetousness…that has invaded Christendom in recent years…being a corruption of the commendable Protestant ethic of the virtue of hard-work in our chosen profession (1 Th. 4:11-12).

What this all tells me is that there is an unbridgeable gulf between human-invented fertility religions from us-ward toward God…aimed at securing our goals and aspirations according to self-sovereignty…crafted through ignorance and guesswork…in contrast to the biblical narrative stories of faith…clearly exhibiting the directional origin from God-ward to us…having the inconceivably unconventional trajectory of innovative life-scripts that displace our ways with the transcendent, higher ways and thoughts of God (Isa. 55:8-9).


As you may have guessed from the title, there’s more to this article.

January 28, 2022

Bible Fatigue

MSG.Josh.1.8 And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed.

CEB.Josh.1.8a Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it.

NLT.Psalm.119.44 I will keep on obeying your instructions
    forever and ever.
45 I will walk in freedom,
    for I have devoted myself to your commandments.
46 I will speak to kings about your laws,
    and I will not be ashamed.
47 How I delight in your commands!
    How I love them!
48 I honor and love your commands.
    I meditate on your decrees.

…97 Oh, how I love your instructions!
    I think about them all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
    for they are my constant guide.
99 Yes, I have more insight than my teachers,
    for I am always thinking of your laws.
100 I am even wiser than my elders,
    for I have kept your commandments.

…113 I hate those with divided loyalties,
    but I love your instructions.
114 You are my refuge and my shield;
    your word is my source of hope.

…127 Truly, I love your commands
    more than gold, even the finest gold.
128 Each of your commandments is right.
    That is why I hate every false way.

…162 I rejoice in your word
    like one who discovers a great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor all falsehood,
    but I love your instructions.

I think it’s rather ironic that Psalm 119 has become associated with the weariness some people have with Bible reading. Its 176 verses are simply either too lengthy or too repetitive for some people, and yet, it is a Psalm that is all about having a love of God’s word.

In David’s time, the “scriptures” would refer primarily to the books of the law. Many people reading this feel about Leviticus the way they feel about Psalm 119; it epitomizes something that seems to just go on and on and on.

And yet, these books, Leviticus included, are what David says he loves. He talks about his love of — depending on the translation you use — God’s laws, statutes, instructions, precepts, decrees, commands. Ask people their favorite Bible book and see how many name Leviticus.

Is David the kind of guy who gets excited reading the complete federal tax codes? Does he enjoy studying the Motor Vehicle Act? Would he actually study the instruction manual that come with most consumer electronics? Read the software terms and conditions?

I don’t think so. He had bigger fish to fry. (Okay, maybe lions and bears and giants.) But I think he really sees the character of God expressed in the laws he gave.  And he believes that they were written for his good.

I say all that to tell a story.

Over a decade ago we were in a Goodwill donation processing center, a place, we are told, where merchandise is returned from various stores for final sale prior to being destroyed.  These are the shoes no one wanted, the t-shirts that didn’t sell, and the books that were picked over.

Yes, books. And among those books were three New Testaments.

Now you need to know four things about me:

  • At the time we weren’t loaded with money; the 50-cents a copy they were asking for these was a bit of a stretch, especially after my wife had already selected some other items.
  • Our house is already full of books; we didn’t need three more; there truly is no place to put them.
  • I didn’t have anyone in mind who I was going to give them to.
  • I sell Bibles for a living.  I have a vested interested in selling new books, not used books.

But I bought them.

They were in reasonable condition, and I couldn’t handle the idea of them being pulped for recycling into other books.

I could spiritualize this and say that it was because I have ‘such a great love for God’s word.’  I could say, ‘The Bible is so precious to me, I couldn’t bear to see one thrown out.’ I won’t do that here. It was simply my WWDD — What Would David Do? — moment.

My Psalm 119 moment, perhaps.

Maybe we’d feel differently if we were part of a faith where they don’t leave their sacred texts lying on the floor of a room. Maybe we’d feel differently if we were in one of the 50-or-so countries where owning a Bible is illegal. Maybe we’d feel differently if we lived in poverty and simply couldn’t afford to purchase a Bible.

While we don’t want to be guilty of bibliolatry — worshiping the book instead of the One to whom the book points — we need to value and treasure and God’s word. That becomes a challenge when most Christians in North American and Western Europe have, on average, ten copies of the Bibles in their home.

We need a Psalm 199 moment.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your love of scripture; your love for God’s word?

 

January 26, 2022

Only by God’s Spirit is Truth Revealed; Error Countered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This devotional blog operates on the premise that, while some of the original material is occasionally re-purposed, the book excerpts and work of other writers only appears once. But as I looked back at old posts, I realized I wanted to bring more visibility to this book which the publisher, Harvest House, has continued to keep in print.

The gift that I felt Bob George brought to the table was illustrations, in fact, closer to the time of printing, a companion volume was released containing illustrations and analogies which could be used with Classic Christianity.

This is excerpted from an early chapter about separating truth from error. The full title is Classic Christianity: Life’s Too Short to Miss the Real Thing.


There’s a big difference between knowing what something says and knowing what it means. Millions of Christians know what the Bible says, but many do not know what it means, because that can only be revealed by the Spirit. Man’s pride rebels against the idea that he cannot understand spiritual truth on his own but this is what the Bible clearly says:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (I Cor 2:14)

The reason why is very simple, there is no human alive who can read another man’s mind and if we cannot know what another human being is thinking how much less can we ever know what God is thinking? I Cor 2:11 reminds us of this:

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

How then can God teach us his thoughts? “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (v. 12) Man does not need the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit to understand the law; the law was given specifically for the natural man. We need the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the things having to do with the unfathomable riches of His love and grace, those things that “God has freely given us.” Those truths are described in I Cor. 2:9 this way:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

In order to understand the things that God wants to teach us regarding His grace we must have a humble, teachable attitude for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) Just as the same sun that melts wax hardens clay, the same message of God’s grace that softens the heart of the humble hardens the proud. The proud cannot receive grace because the proud will not receive grace…

That is why an uneducated but humble person will receive far more genuine and intimate knowledge of God Himself than a highly educated but arrogant theologian…

Bob George, Classic Christianity


Publishers usually impose word limits for book excerpts, and so far we’re well within that, but as I thought more about this book, I remembered a section which greatly impacted me many years ago. If we have to take this down from the website for over-excerpting that’s fine, but at least subscribers will get to see it.

Making it practical

I sometimes wonder how often a story like the one which follows is the case in the lives of people we know.


Late one night as I was drifting off to sleep, I was jolted by the harsh ring of the telephone. It was a neighbor, apologizing for the late hour, but asking for help. “What’s the matter, Sue” I asked

“It’s Stan,” she answered in a low and tired voice, “he’s drunk again please come over and talk to him.”

Wearily I climbed out of the bed and dressed. Stan again! I wondered what I could say to him tonight when, quite frankly I had already told him everything I know.

In my first two years as a Christian I became quickly involved in all kinds of ministries, from evangelism to teaching to counseling. I saw God do wonderful things in people’s lives, but Stan was a mystery to me. Sixty-five years old, Stan had been an alcoholic since his college days. He was always open to hearing about Jesus Christ and about his offer of forgiveness of sins and a new way of life. Stan had even walked the aisle of a local church to profess his personal faith in Christ. But nothing seemed to happen to him. It was as if something was keeping the message was from getting through. The drinking continued just as before, with all its degrading results.

In those days I had the tremendous experience of sharing the gospel with hundreds of people, and it seemed that most of them experienced an immediate turnaround. In the case of someone like Stan, someone who accepted the message without being changed afterwards, I didn’t really know what to do next except share the same message again and hope that it would take this time…

“Lord,” I prayed… “If I’m going to help him tonight you’ve got to put some words in my mouth… give me direction… something.”

On that night though, I knocked on the door without a clue is what to what I was going to say… There was Stan, a heartbreaking sight in his drunken condition, with the familiar empty expression, lurching movements, and slurred speech. With an attitude of total dependency upon the Lord to guide me, I sat down to talk to him.

For a long time we covered the same territory that we had discussed many times before, making no apparent progress.

Suddenly without any premeditation whatsoever, I asked Stan a question I’d never asked before. It went like this: “Stan when you accepted Christ which Jesus did you believe in?”

He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “What do you mean?”

“Did you have in mind an honorable man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2000 years ago in a place called Palestine? The historical man who performed miracles, made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear? The man who taught people to love one another, and eventually died on a cross? In other words, Stan, did you accept Jesus the man? Or did you accept Jesus the God who became a man who was raised again from the dead? He who is Lord and is alive today? The Lord Jesus Christ who offers to come and live inside you and gave his very life to you?”

Stan’s eyes seem to clear a little as he looked up at me intently.  He said, “I received the Jesus who was a man 2000 years ago.”

“Then the question is, Stan, are you willing tonight to put your full trust in Jesus the God? Not just accept the fact that there was once a good man who walked on the face of the earth, we are trying to imitate, but to accept the fact that this is the Lord God Himself who is alive today and wants to live in you? Are you willing to get on your knees with me right now, Stan, and accept the living Christ the One who has the power to change your life from within?”

Stan immediately responded, “Yes.” We knelt together and in his half drunken state, he trusted in the Living Christ. I looked into his face and saw a new man! After being an alcoholic for more than 40 years, Stan was totally free of his dependency that night.

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January 2, 2022

Doctrinal Humility

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I have to confess I’ve not read John Stackhouse’s book Humble Apologetics, but I do resonate with the title. The publisher blurb in 2006 seemed to indicate that he was writing more about evangelistic, or conversion-focused discussions.

Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.

Sometimes the discussions we have are with fellow-Christians, a first-time confession of faith is not the focus, and the topics can become rather thorny.

Last week I stood in a light rain in a grocery store parking lot speaking with two people who had left their church when both the number and degree of differences became too much for them to bear. Much of it focused on a single issue, a second one contributed to it, and a third was mentioned in passing, though I know it’s high on their list of concerns.

The thing is, when it was all said and done, all I really took away from it was their cockiness; their arrogance. They were not at all impressed that the weight of church history is not on their side. Neither is the support of present-day churches in our community. You can only get to their position through misunderstanding the context of certain scriptural passages; through proof-texting; and through a belief that some poor translation work done in the past on key words outranks Biblical scholarship.

The Apostle Paul would be the first to admit that the waters are sometimes muddy. In the oft-quoted “Love Chapter” of his first letter to the church at Corinth he writes,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  (13:12 NLT)

Two chapters later, as he speaks of the resurrection of the church, he says something with great clarity, but it’s still, to him at least, part of the realm of what he calls mystery:

Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, (15:51 CSB)

At other times there is no doubt at all in his mind or the readers’ minds:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:13 NLT)

In other words, he hadn’t mastered this in his own life, but there was absolute conviction about the spiritual destination in front of him.

If the phrase “one thing I do” sounds familiar, it’s a lot like, “one thing I know,” the phrase uttered by the man born blind after receiving sight. Referring first to their charges against Jesus,

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25 NASB)

It was, quite literally, black and white; and today we use the blind man’s confession as a model for the conversion experience

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

This type of certainty stands in contrast to “seeing through a glass darkly” (KJV) or “seeing things imperfectly” (NLT, as above). But here’s a truth

We don’t have to know and understand everything to know and understand the things that count.

Paul writing to the Philippians said,

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. (1:6 Amplified Bible)

Other translations use the word confident. Obviously, some things were not seen imperfectly to Paul. He could say some things with confidence.

There is a book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. Having followed Enns online for years and read several of his books, I have no doubt (ironic use of phrase here, don’t you think?) that he is certain when it comes to the deity of Christ and the fact of the resurrection.

Rather, the book was a response to what was a growing body of people who expressed their intransigence online; the type of people who will defend to the death some sacred pet doctrine on social media. Unintentionally — and I am being gracious here, perhaps it was intentional — they are modeling for new believers a stance where one must be absolutely certain of everything. That’s just not possible when you haven’t had time to work out your salvation and it forces people to simply parrot rote responses or take ownership of parts of a catechism not through life experiences, or Holy Spirit leading, but because of their ability to call up key words and phrases.

Eventually, this can lead to a spiritual arrogance. When reviewing Enns’ 2016 book, I wrote;

Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

There is however value in creeds. When we remind ourselves that Christ was

…conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.

and that

He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty…

Those times, we are discussing the things that are non-negotiable and these are things which the body of Christ around the world should agree.

But what if your faith is in that creed and not in the one to whom the creed points?

A book similar to The Sin of Certainty released three years earlier. About that one I wrote,

With… Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

…While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all…

What is the ultimate expression of God’s position and power? What words does he say? What doctrine does he clear up for all time?

Nothing. Just as the orchestra builds to a crescendo we get this:

John 13:3-5Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… … 12-14 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

Utter, absolute humility.

Six months before reading the Boyd book I wrote,

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

This devotional is messy because our attempts to do theology are often messy. There is a balance between the things on which we can place our trust — think of the hymn “Standing on the Promises” if that helps — and the things which we will never see with perfect clarity.

To the person in the parking lot last week, I would say, “You lack a humble apologetic, and that may be your spiritual downfall.”


“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe...”

– Alexander Campbell in The Christian System

 

 

 

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December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

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November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

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November 2, 2021

Why Four Versions of the Sign above the Cross?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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I’m sitting at my computer getting ready to type a review of the latest book by J. Warner Wallace, titled Person of Interest, and I decided to look back previous reviews of his book I’d written at Thinking Out Loud. There, I found a book excerpt which really should have appeared here at C201, not there. If anything has that extra “201” bite to it, it’s this type of topic. So from 2015, here’s some of his writing to chew on from the book Cold Case Christianity. The link below will take you there directly where other resources await.

Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them at ColdCaseChristianity.com. One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. Click To Tweet

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.


J. WARNER WALLACE is a Dateline-featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker, and bestselling author. His is a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University). Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, Wallace provides the tools needed to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. His latest book (2021) is Person of Interest.

Read my review of Person of Interest at this link.

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October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

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October 5, 2021

Fearing and Trembling

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Over the past year, in the wake of differing opinions on everything from health issues to politics, I have seen a great proliferation of new books being published on how Christians should work out their differences with other believers.

It’s hard to do this, because the answers are not always black-and-white; not always crystal-clear. Two people can have different answers to the WWJD? question. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT) states,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Philippians 2:12 advises us to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.” As other translations make clearer, this references what was translated elsewhere as “fear of God.”

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

…Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. (MSG)

But sometimes, you find yourself fearing and trembling your fellow believer, especially when the “working out” means that you walk away from certain scripture verses with a different take on them than that of a brother or sister. I know fear of your fellow man wasn’t what the verse intended; but sometimes life seems to be play out like that.

In the early days of my other blog, I would spend over an hour some days catching up with moderating and reading and responding to reader comments. With a few of them, I would reach a point where we clearly agreed to disagree. But hopefully neither of us were being disagreeable.

It’s hard not to be passionate about our pet doctrines. I can easily fall into that trap. But it becomes even more difficult when people have grown up without exposure to anyone who feels different about a particular element of theology than their own.

And then there are the people who shut everything down with, “Well, that’s not in the Bible;” expecting that the scripture would provide crystal-clear guidance on things that weren’t invented or didn’t exist back then.

Guess what? You’re right. It’s not in the Bible. But other things are, and we can interpolate where the dots connect by reading what the Bible does say about very similar things.

Especially one thing: The mind and heart of God.

The popular bracelets, buttons and bumper stickers from two years ago asked the question, What would Jesus do? Sometimes we have to (with fear and trembling) figure that out by asking the question, What did Jesus do? Knowing how he did respond (and teach us to respond) gives us an idea how he would respond to what we face today.

We’re so quick to say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship;” but many people fail to express their faith in relational terms. To which I would say maybe you are missing out on something. To know what God feels about things in our modern context, you need to first know God as a friend. I have friends who I haven’t seen physically in a long, long time; others who I haven’t so much as e-mailed; but I know how they would respond and react in certain situations because I know them.

At this point however, it can still be a standoff, because the other person may feel they have as deep a knowledge of God and His will as you do. We know that while we may all stand in personal relationship to God; or if you prefer, to Jesus; the dynamic of that relationship may be quite different for different people.

So work out your doctrine with fear and trembling.

Work out your personal ethics with fear and trembling.

Work out your systematic theology with fear and trembling.

Work out how you respond to others with fear and trembling.

But remember, that all around you are other Christ followers — seeing as through frosted (or fogged up) glass — who are doing the exact same thing. With the cross of Christ in view, we will eventually find ourselves drawing closer to each other. But it may take time.

Our closing words are from the next chapter of Philippians. Here’s what Paul says in 3:12-14 (NLT)

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.


So should we just clam up and say nothing ever? Tomorrow we’ll look at the idea of “preaching to the trees;” affirming our faith in declarations even when it seems nobody is listening.

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September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

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September 24, 2021

New Testament Authors Had Different Approaches

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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It’s been five years since we last highlighted the writing of author and college president John Mark Reynolds who appears at Eidos, a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Peter and Paul and Difficult Questions

Paul and Peter are often portrayed together: two apostles with contrasting, but not conflicting messages. They were very different, a rabbi and a fisherman. Peter became the Prince of the Apostles, the first amongst apostolic equals. Paul wrote epistles that remain some of the most profound expressions of Christian truth ever written.

The powerful did not want to hear what they were saying. The Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Peter. Before martyrdom, both could see the way things seemed to be going and so both faced mental difficulties: how could Jesus be Lord, but Caesar seem to have all the power? Where was the promise of His coming?

Peter and Paul thought, prayed, and lived within the new Kingdom. They did so the best they could, but both came to see the limits of what they could know.

Despite limits, think we must. 

Life can get tedious. The world is not as the world should be, broken by sin, and so can be hard to understand. In fact, there are, most probably, problems that we will never solve to our own satisfaction. The answers may be beyond the capacity of the human intellect!

We have to accept a reasonable uncertainty, the just live by faith. We have faith seeking understanding continuously. 

The Christian does not have the option of not thinking, of doing the best reasoning possible. The Second Person of the Divine Trinity is called the Logos, the Word, a term strongly related to thinking well in New Testament times. The Bible calls us to study, to love God with our minds, and God allows Job to make his case. If the case fails, that is not God’s fault and God condemns those false friends who would stop Job from pressing his case.

Our reason has limits, but reason we must. Peter and Paul kept the faith and kept seeking understanding. Their contrasting comments on the process give me hope.

Peter and Paul 

Peter had three years with Jesus: a profound experience. We cannot be sure if he was fully literate. Nothing about his job or life would have required much formal education. Paul had, and often displayed, at least some classical and a first-rate Jewish education. He too had a profound experience of the Risen Lord, but not as Peter had. Peter saw Jesus eat and drink. He heard him teach and saw the miracles himself. Peter went to the empty tomb and ate breakfast made by the Risen Lord. Paul was confronted by the ascended Christ in a vision. He experienced healing and heard the testimony of those who had known the Lord. To a great extent, Paul knew Jesus as the rest of us after the first generation of Christian have known Jesus- through the witness of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the testimony of witnesses.

Peter comments on Paul’s writings:

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Peter accepts Paul’s wisdom, but also points to the dangers of difficult answers. There is almost nothing so simple people cannot misunderstand it. Look at what has been done with Christ’s command to love enemies! Wrestling with the deeper things of God  provides room for twisting words. Despite this, Peter commends Paul’s writings to the attention of his readers!

Peter could not write like Paul or perhaps think as Paul thought, but he valued the wisdom given him.

Intellectual types might stop there, feeling smug, but Paul stands in the icon with Peter. While Peter, who was no intellectual, merely a saint, affirms the value of intellectually difficult writing. Saint Paul, who was one of history’s great intellectuals, looked at the limits of credentials and reason:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

People do the best we can, but we often confuse credentials with real wisdom. We become “scribes” in the system of our own age and opine. Our opinions can prevail when all there are only words, but then reality comes. There is no negotiating, no debating, reality. Jesus comes, is crucified, and raised from the dead. He is the power and the wisdom of God and against that reality, the one true Word, Greek words failed.

We keep thinking, reality keeps making us modify what we think. Our words must fail, but the Word endures. This gives us a heavy dose of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility was the beginning of science, philosophy, and true theology.

This much endures:  Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and the gospel that Paul preached. They endure because however we might try to deface that hard won realization and profound teaching, their works were icons to Christ and Christ is immortal truth.

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September 3, 2021

What I Love About the Bible Despite My Misgivings About It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

How could I, a Baptist pastor, possibly have misgivings about the Bible?

For one thing, the Bible has often been used to abuse. The movie, “The Book of Eli,” sets out a post-apocalyptic future where there is only one copy of the Bible. The main villain of the story knows that if he can get his hands on that one copy of the Bible, he will have incredible power over others. Throughout history many villains and nice people alike have used the Bible to have power over others, sometimes with terrible results.

Second, The Bible is terribly complex, convoluted, and leaves itself open to being misunderstood by everyone, including me. Such misunderstandings have often been divisive, and sometimes deadly.

So what do I love about the Bible despite my misgivings?

I love the genuine nature of the Bible

Let me take you back to my experience of preparing a study on the Book of Philemon when I was a student. Yes, we call Paul’s writings “letters,” or sometimes “epistles,” which sounds more religious, though it isn’t. But in preparing a study on Paul’s letter to Philemon I came to realize that this really is a letter. This did not sound like a letter from God to us, but from one person to another, about another person. The letter concerned a very real situation. In fact it seemed to me to be a very real situation that had nothing to do with me!

The Book of Philemon is not God saying to everyone “here are some rules to live by,” but rather Paul saying to Philemon, and I summarize, “since Jesus is Lord and Saviour, there are implications on how you are going to treat your runaway slave Onesimus, namely with forgiveness and treating him like a brother, not a slave.” What we have is an example of the good news of Jesus being worked out in a real life situation. And that has everything to do with me.

All the letters of the New Testament are like that. They speak to real situations. Through them we learn how to work the Gospel out in our lives. In fact all the writings that make up the Bible are very much tied to real world situations. Being rooted in real events, they are the record of real people responding to a real God in a very real relationship between God and humanity.

Let us consider these verses from Acts:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1-3 (NRSV)

Notice what the writer of Acts does not say. He does not say “God told me to tell everyone this.” Rather, “these things happened, and so I’m telling you about it, Theophilus.” We can thank God for some guy named Theophilos, because though the writer wrote for his sake and learning, we get the benefit!

These are very real events the writer wants to share with Theophilus. While there are metaphors, and poetic devices in Scripture, the Book of Acts tends to not be very poetic. These things happened!

All the writings of the Bible are rooted in things that happened in history. These historical events point to the relationship of God with humanity. The New Testament especially, is rooted in who Jesus is and what Jesus did and said, and what happened including his death and resurrection. In Jesus we find the greatest self-disclosure of God. The Bible is not the greatest self-disclosure of God. Jesus is. In the Bible we have very real people responding to very real glimpses of God. Jesus is the greatest glimpse God has ever given of Himself.

We don’t want to just know the Bible, we want to know God, and we do that supremely through Jesus, whom we meet through the Bible.

I love the complexity of the Bible

Because the Bible is the record of a very real relationship between God and humanity, it is complex, and rich, with many genres, written by many different people in many different circumstances. The complex and convoluted nature of the Bible might be something we do not like about the Bible, however, it is actually something to love!

While some people come to the Bible expecting a simple rule book, we find so much more, including things like;

  • Frustration when God seem so distant, or not concerned – many of the Psalms.
  • The angst of trying to figure out the meaning of life – Ecclesiastes.
  • Questions around suffering – Job.
  • The beauty of romantic and sexual love – Song of Songs.
  • Questioning the fairness of God – Jonah (we should note that the Book of Jonah is not really about Jonah’s obedience, or lack thereof, but the reason for his disobedience; namely, his perception that God’s love of the enemy is unfair).
  • The historical event of God being with us, in Jesus – the Gospels.
  • The working out of “what does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?” – the letters of the New Testament.
  • Encouragement for when we face persecution – Revelation (many interpretations of Revelation miss the point)

With the Bible we don’t have a simple rule book, but wisdom, wrestling, waiting, wanting, and the record of God with us.

While the Bible does not give easy answers, or give answers easily, I love that it leads to great questions.

There are easy answers found in the Bible. Is it okay if I murder someone? No! But it does not always give easy answers. Instead it invites us to wrestle with questions.

Consider, is it okay to kill someone? Killing someone can be different than murder, in self-defense, for example. Christians are divided on the answer to that. Those of the Anabaptist tradition point to the radical love of Jesus in responding to violence with peace and non-retaliation, this being the Kingdom-of-Jesus way. We Baptists tend to focus on the expression of love for those we want to protect from violence, which sometimes may require violence. The point is, there is no easy answer on this, people have read the same Bible and come to different conclusions on it. But wrestling with the question is a great thing to do and deepens us, no matter what answer we may come up with.

I have heard people describe the Bible as an answer book, with the answers to every question you might possibly have about anything and everything. I simply have not found that to be true. But I have always found that it leads to great questions. Great questions lead us to greater depth. Sometimes it is better is better to be deep than correct.

The Bible does provide the answers to the most important questions we could ever ask, like; Who is Jesus? Who is God? What does Jesus have to do with God? And with us? We are reminded of those important questions, and the answers when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. There is a place for deep conviction and for sharing answers. There is a place for for deep humility and living with questions. We do well to figure out which is best where.

While the Bible did not fall from the sky, I love that the Bible is God-breathed.

This is something that cannot be said of other writings:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

We should not think of the Bible as being God dictated. The fingerprints of human authors are all over it, human authors who faced very human situations, just like we do. While the fingerprints of human authors are all over the Bible, the heart of God is in it. The writings which are collected into the Bible are what God has seen fit so that we can know Him.

Conclusion

If people are looking for a simple book dropped from heaven that explains everything and gives us simple rules to live by, we will be hard pressed getting people to love the Bible, especially if they actually read it.

But if people are looking for authenticity, for genuine writings by real people experiencing real problems, in real situations, in relationship with a real God, as really experienced in the real person of Jesus Christ, then we can be hopeful, for I know I will not be the only one who loves the Bible!

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