When Scripture Gets Nasty: How to Read the Bible Today

I’m not going to lie, there are times when I really do not like reading the Bible. It’s not always the fun-loving book I want it to be. In fact, there are times when I am straight up uncomfortable with the Bible. When I wake up in the morning and open my Bible, I feel as though I am never prepared for what I am going to get. There are days where I feel total spiritual satisfaction after my morning devotional, there are times when I feel confused, times when I feel sad, and there are even times where I feel like I have wasted my time. There are messy stories in the Bible. There’s murder, destruction, rape, the slaughtering of entire people groups, the desolation of entire cities, people who are struck down by God, and many other things. I started to ask myself a few months back: Why is this stuff in the Bible?! Isn’t the Bible the inspired Word of God, which is supposed to help us gain knowledge and insight about Him? Why such a nasty book? Aren’t we supposed to grow spiritually from it? How should we make sense of the Bible?

The Bible is Not God’s Love Letter to Us

 

I was at a church camp several years ago and the speaker said something to me that I will never forget. He held up his Bible and asked, “Why would you not follow God if He wrote you such a massive love letter?” I think part of the problem Christians have with reading Scripture is that they are reading it through the lens of a false expectation. Let me make a bold statement: The Bible is not written TO us. It is, however, written FOR us. When you pick up the Bible, you have not just picked up a book, but an entire library of different genres that were written specifically to different cultures of different times. The Bible is an ancient document; so it would suit us well to read it like one. Not only is the above statement false, but it is also oversimplified. Instead of the Bible just being a love letter to us, it is a huge collection of documents that are all centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his eternal plan that IS full of love. The Bible is not a love letter, it is much more than that.

The Bible is Not a Rulebook

This one is kind of a given, but it’s difficult to live out sometimes. I often have a hard time reading the Bible and not getting the impression that it is just I giant book full of rules and regulations that I have to follow or God is going to cut me down. This is not what God intended for His Word. We will always be a slave to something, be it our own desires or something else. Christ has given us the opportunity to be a slave to Him, and He calls this the only real, true freedom. Instead of viewing the Bible as a book of rules that we have to follow or we are dishonoring God, view it as a book full of freedom opportunities. God has not given to you what is the only way to live, but what is the BEST way to live.

I only bring up what the Bible isn’t because I believe it is spiritually unhealthy to go into Scripture reading with those two expectations.

The Bible IS a Story Book

 

The Bible is full of stories. I have always wondered why this is. Once I figured it out, it became a lot more meaningful to me. People love stories. Jesus often taught in parables in order to keep people focused. The Bible has so much messiness in it because that is reality. There is very little you can encounter that is not documented in some form in the Bible. Often times the best way to learn is through the story of the experience of someone else. This is crucial. The Bible is not something written directly to us, and it is not a list of rules either. It is a book of insight. It is a book of real people who are messy, broken, and trying to find their way back to God. I am convinced that this is the reason so many Christians find the Old Testament obsolete. Instead of asking, “What does this have to do with me?” ask, “What can I learn from the men and women in this story, who are on their own journey to finding God?” The Bible can be difficult to handle sometimes, but if we keep in mind that these harsh, sometimes crazy stories are all about the journeys of people who lived a long time ago, we can gain more insight about what God is actually trying to teach us through His Word.

Christianity and Suicide

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Amidst the deeply theological/philosophical stuff I usually post on here, I like to occasionally speak to the Christian community as a whole, and how we should handle sensitive issues like this. This post in particular will be about suicide, one of the leading causes of death in the United States, especially among teens. This is a sensitive issue, in fact one of the most sensitive issues. Suicide in one way or another affects many people, whether it is struggling with suicidal thoughts themselves, a loved one, or even a good friend committing suicide.

Suicide has affected me personally, and this is spread out among four very specific instances that have taken place in my life. When I was in seventh grade, there was a student in my history class named Joe. Joe was a nice guy, even though I never really knew him that well. But one morning, I came to school to find out that Joe had taken his own life. This was the first time I had ever encountered anything like this. Even though I did not know Joe very well, it deeply affected me. I could not imagine how much of a low point a 14 year old kid had to hit to do something like that. It was a tragic event, and it affected many people in Joe’s family and many people at his school.

On my 15th birthday, I got news that a local pastor’s son, Aaron, had taken his own life. I never actually met Aaron, but I knew many people who knew him very well. This affected me primarily because my dad was a pastor, and Aaron was very close to my age.

The third event, and definitely the most personal, happened on December 26, 2011. It was the day after Christmas, and I was sitting in my room enjoying the video game I had received as a gift the day before. My dad walks in, sits down, and tells me to turn the game off. He proceeded to explain to me that my good friend, Zane, had passed away. When my dad got back from meeting with Zane’s family, he told me that Zane had taken his own life. I immediately broke down crying. I couldn’t help it. Zane, one of the happiest, most joyful, most adventurous people I had every known, was gone. Zane was so caring. He loved everybody in his life, and he even donated his time to helping people with physical disabilities. He was one of the strongest believers in Christ I had ever met. I was in a daze all week leading up to his funeral. At his funeral, I saw more pain in the souls of the people surrounding me than I had ever seen before. It was at this moment that I realized that suicide is the most one of the most detrimental things human beings can experience, not just for the person who it is directly affecting, but for the people around that person as well.

The final event happened just this last July, when I received news that pastor Ergun Caner’s son, Braxton, had taken his own life. This one sort of began to anger me based off of the Christian community’s response to it. A pastor up in Montana, JD Hall, was getting all kinds of flack for engaging in conversation with Braxton on Twitter just weeks before. Let me say this real quick, JD Hall and I have gone at it before on his own blog, and we have had our disagreements, but he is NOT responsible for the death of Braxton Caner. Hall even came out two weeks later and repented for his sin, which is all we can ask of him. To have this kind of attitude toward people like Hall is not only a false accusation, but it is making an assumption that one fully knows what Braxton was going through, and NOBODY knows that.

Now, these four events did have a significant impact on my life, but I need to say some things about suicide from a Christian perspective:

Suicide is the single worst decision one can make.

 

Please don’t misread what I am saying. Suicide may be the worst decision one can make, but you have got to at least partly understand what suicidal people go through. They hit the absolute lowest point they could ever hit in this life, and they feel as if they have no other way out. We often try to figure out why someone would do such a thing, which to a degree is healthy. It helps us to better understand the situation that is at hand.

Our culture influences suicide.

 

Christians, we have got to be aware of the fact that we live in a day and age that borderline encourages suicide. You don’t believe me? How many times have you heard somebody say, even if it was a joke, “go kill yourself”? Christians all over the world talk about how selfish suicide is, which is insulting and degrading to someone who struggles with suicidal thoughts and actions, and it does absolutely no good. Euthanasia is becoming increasingly popular. Involuntary suicides are beginning to take place in certain countries around the world, and voluntary assisted suicides are being encouraged, not just for people who are severely disabled, but for people struggling with anxiety and depression as well. It is a poison that is affecting the very world that we live in, and it is madness. We have got to become conscious of this fact, and spread Christ’s love and offer help to people to prevent it from taking place.

And my last point…

 

Handling suicide from a Christ-like perspective.

 

Let me make this very clear. Suicide does not prohibit one from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Many Christians try and make this claim, and it is not only perverting but bastardizing the Word of God. It is literally adding a false doctrine into the Bible. Suicide is a sin, but God doesn’t get mad and throw you in hell because of it. It breaks God’s heart, and He mourns for you. My good friend Zane made a terrible mistake, but I follow closely to the words of his uncle, who spoke at his funeral. “I cannot allow a single act of sin to outshine an entire life devoted to God.” I cannot help but find so much truth in that. Just because we may have been saved by God’s grace, doesn’t mean that we will not struggle in this life. We must allow our lives to flourish in God’s creation, and to spread His good message to the entire world. We should help Christians and non-Christians alike if they are struggling with suicide thoughts, and we should be there to support one another through the hard times. God did not create us to be lonely creatures, but to be interactive and to support one another. This is discipleship, and it is Christ-like.

“O Lord, we call upon You in our time of sorrow,

That You give us the strength and will to bear our heavy

burdens, until we can again feel the warmth and love of

Your divine compassion. Be mindful of us and have mercy

on us while we struggle to comprehend life’s hardships.

Keep us ever in Your watch, til we can walk again with

light hearts and renewed spirits.”

Amen

Sexual Ethics and Homosexuality

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

 

-Rick Warren

 

 

I am writing about this issue for a couple of reasons.

 

  1. I have been asked to by many people.
  2. I have been avoiding it too long and it is arguably the biggest issue our culture is facing today.

 

To start off I posted a quote from Rick Warren. Many people have criticized Warren for being hateful and a bigot because of what he said. Looking at this quote from any sort of viewpoint, I cannot see what they are talking about. He stated his opinion, and he stated it good. Now, in terms of the issue of homosexuality, I have recently, in the past few years seen a few very, very big issues on the news and in the theological world surrounding the issue of same-sex relationships.

 

  1. The Chik-Fil-A issue – S. Truett Cathy states his view on same-sex marriage… JUST HIS VIEW! What happens? Protests, protests, and protests. In this area, many people who supported same-sex relationships showed just what they were claiming to fight against: hateful bigotry.
  2. Phil Robertson stating his view on homosexual relationships. Now, while it was his own view, A&E did have the right to suspend him for whatever reasons. I don’t have much to say about this issue because it was blown way out of proportion on both sides.
  3. Then we have good ole John MacArthur. MacArthur recently released a video describing what he thought about how we should handle professing Christians who are gay, claiming we should completely alienate them. He gave a very hateful response to the gay community that should not be advocated by any kind of Christian group.
  4. Then we have a new book that’s been put out on the radar. God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines has grasped the attention of many in the evangelical community. He offers a new outlook on how Christians should view same-sex relationships.

 

While these issues may be big, all they really show is issues on both sides of; (a) People who support homosexual behavior and, if you oppose it, you are being hateful, and (b) Conservative Christians who take issues with sexuality way too far and end up becoming hateful themselves.

 

So, where does the heart of the matter really lie? Is homosexuality wrong? To ask such a question, as the great theologian N.T. Wright says, is to admit defeat right off the bat. If what is “right” or what is “wrong” is defined by social or cultural standards, then we have no choice but to subject ourselves to an arbitrary way of thinking when it comes the issue of sexual ethics. For instance, Paul wrote Romans 1 in an effort to describe to the people of that time what was honoring to the Lord and what was degrading. It is so incredibly easy for us to jump on the bandwagon of “this was just a cultural issue.” Once we do that, the game is lost. Every single ethic, and in this case, every sexual ethic, goes directly against what is considered “love” in our way of thinking. This is a mistake that our society has made, and it is the very lie that Pastor Warren was describing in that quote.

 

Now, it is very important to discuss WHY many Christians claim that homosexuality is not sinful. The argument often goes like this: “Every moral or ethical issue in the Bible has one central problem behind it: It causes harm to people. As long as an action is out of love, such as homosexuality, then there is no harm.” Wait, so as long as it doesn’t cause harm, we are to disregard it completely, right? After all, who am I, a sophomore in college, to tell someone that they can’t love who they want because I think the Bible says so? Yes, homosexuality is counter-intuitive to our culture. I completely get that, but let’s not be so quick to jump to a conclusion because of our current cultural state. I think everyone would agree that there is something that they think is pretty screwed up about our culture. The purpose of Paul’s teachings were to establish just exactly what the creative order should look like. Not only that, but they are about how to become a renewed human in the sight of God, to restore his very image within us. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. Homosexuality is just the wrong way. Yes, I get that it’s counter-intuitive to the culture, but that’s because the entire system of sexual ethics in the Bible are counter-intuitive. It’s not supposed to be abnormal to our culture simply because, well, our culture has accepted a huge moral lie. Everybody struggles with SOME kind of sexual sin that they can’t seem to shake off (Pornography, polygymy, pre-marital sex, lust in general, HOMOSEXUALITY, etc.) Everybody craves sexual intimacy, and everyone struggles with it for different reasons in the wrong way. This does not in any way excuse the behavior. Just because “that’s the way you are” doesn’t mean the behavior is beneficial in any way. THIS is the point that Paul was trying to get across. Not that “homosexuality is wrong because your culture says so”, but “this is literally God’s creative order.” We must be very careful about our biblical compromises, because, what may look beautiful on the outside may just be a lion ready to attack.

 

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

-C.S. Lewis

 

Genesis 2-3: Adam and Original Sin

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I wrote a post a while back on Adam and the significance of his character in biblical history. In this post, I want to go a little bit deeper into who Adam is. I was reading a book a while back entitled Four Views on the Historical Adam. To some, a book like this may be crazy. Many may see Adam as a necessary being for the Bible to function properly as a whole. However, I would make the claim otherwise. One of the contributors to this book, Denis Lamoureux, argued for a non-historical Adam. In the book, he makes a very profound statement:

 

“Adam [and Eve] never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

 

Now, I am unwilling to make this much of a profound statement. Why? Because I am unsure if I agree with the first part of it. Now, let me phrase it how I would:

 

“Adam [and Eve] may have never existed, but regardless of whether they did or not, this has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

 

Now, do I think Adam existed? I would argue that the question is completely irrelevant. It’s not a question I’m even willing to answer. The reason why is because the truth of Adam’s function does not hinge on his historicity.

 

In my last post on Genesis 1, I wrote about the purpose of the creation story was not to give an account of material origins, but rather an account of functional origins. Carry that over into Genesis 2. Now, the focus in this chapter is on humanity. God creates man for the purpose of giving him a function. The Hebrew word, “man”, literally means “Adam.” (This just happens to be a strange coincidence that the Hebrew word for “man” is also an english name.) I would propose that Adam is simply a representation of mankind as a whole. The function of Genesis 2 is to give man a purpose on this earth. God created us to thrive on this earth in perfect harmony with his creation, but, as Genesis 3 points out, we messed up and sinned against God. The focus is not a woman eating from a tree because a snake told her to. The focus is on the fact that humankind is sinful and we disobeyed God.

 

Now, I’m often asked how we can reconcile original sin and the human soul with evolutionary history. Again, I don’t feel it’s worth answering. The reason why is because adding evolutionary history into the mix literally does nothing to our understanding of the emergence of the human soul or original sin. Evolution is telling a story. It’s telling a material story of how we arrived here. The narrative in Genesis 2-3 is simply telling us that man is created in the image of God, and that we fell. The difference here is that one is a scientific truth, while the other remains a theological one. Evolutionary history cannot answer questions about God’s image being in human beings. Nor can it tell us about how human beings fell away from God. That is left up to a whole different set of issues.

 

So, in a nutshell, what is Genesis 2-3 trying to tell us? God created man in His image. He gave mankind a set of commands to follow and, as long as man stayed within those commands, they could live in His creation free from the effects of sin. Man sinned against God by breaking these commands and turning our back on Him, we fell away from His grace, and now we are forced to live in a world infected with sin. The purpose of Genesis 2-3 is actually very simple. It is just overcomplicated if you take a scientific approach to it.

Christian Films and Rational Arguments

Recently I saw a trailer for this new movie coming out entitled God’s Not Dead.  My first thought when viewing this preview is that the acting was terrible and it is not going to attract a very large crowd.  I do like the fact that the film industry is creating movies that are centered around rational Christian philosophy.  However, I am not too sure about this film.

 

This is about the typical atheist professor who gets a Christian student who shows him up and then all is happy in the end.  These movies are good, but do they get the full point across?  There are rational Christian arguments, and there are bad Christian arguments.  There are irrational atheist arguments, but there are also more sophisticated ones.  What I really hope to see from this film is a story where both sides are represented fairly, not one dogmatic view that turns people away from Christianity.

 

Something we often see in these kinds of films is there is a secular person who is living an absolutely miserable life.  Once they come to Christ, everything starts working out in their favor and they are happy all the time and have no more troubles or hardships.  This is at best a poor description of what the Christian life is like.  In fact, in some ways Christians suffer a lot more than non-Christians.  What the film industry needs to do is make movies that focus more on what the Bible says, not the stereotypical view that most people have of Christianity.  Why might this be important?  Because if people see a film like this and accept Christ, they might be really disappointed!  God did not put us hear to live a harmonious, comfortable life with no suffering once we accepted Him.  He put us hear to live a harmonious life in Him WHILE we endure the sufferings of this world.

 

Another problem with the Christian film industry is the lack of intellectual stability within the films.  God’s Not Dead may be an attempt to compensate for this instability, but we have to approach nonbelievers with a good argument against their beliefs in a respectful way.  That is my biggest fear with this film.  Are there going to be good arguments presented and is the student going to present them respectfully?  We will just have to wait and find out.

 

My main point in writing this post is to show that Christianity needs to be grounded in good, solid apologetics.  Atheism has gotten a lot louder in the past couple decades and Christians felt like they were almost done for.  Recently, however, I have noticed a comeback on the Christian part.  Theologians and scientists such as William Lane Craig, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Francis Collins, Al Mohler, and many more are starting to establish good, solid reasons to believe in Christianity, and I don’t want this film to be a step backwards.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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This next post is about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  This Mormon movement was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s and since then it has risen to be a major religious sect.  What separates this group from traditional Orthodox Christianity?  What are the problems with this belief?  Should Mormons be considered Christians?  Can Mormons attain eternal salvation?  I will attempt to answer these questions in this post.

 

There is one key difference between Mormonism and traditional Orthodox Christianity.  Mormons add another testament.  The Book of Mormon is an entirely new testament that many have tried to apply to the rest of the Bible.  Now, why is this important?  MANY reasons.  First, Mormons declare that there are many gods out there, separating themselves from traditional monotheistic Christians.  Second, according to Mormons, Jesus and Lucifer are brothers.  Third, there are three stages of heaven, and if you achieve the top one you can become a god yourself.  Fourth, almost everybody gets to go to heaven and faith is completely unnecessary for eternal salvation.  Fifth, the god of our planet was once a man himself.  These are just a few of many reasons why Christianity and Mormonism are drastically different.

 

So why is this a problem?  Jesus came into the world to save, but we have to accept this eternal gift of salvation.  This is the core part of the Christian religion, and Mormons just kick it right out and completely ignore it.  Also, Mormons do not believe in the one true and living God, and this is a BIG deal when it comes to authority with the rest of Scripture.  The idea that you can become a god completely undermines and destroys what the Bible says about God and His sovereignty.  Overall, Christians have a much higher view of God than Mormons do.

 

What are some of the problems with Mormonism?  The Book of Mormon has been changed over 4000 times since Joseph Smith wrote it.  This is in complete opposition to the rest of the Bible, which has not been changed once.  This just proves that the Book of Mormon is not at all reliable.  Secondly, the Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus was born in Jerusalem, where as the New Testament claims He was born in Bethlehem.  This is a big problem considering these are two completely different countries.  Thirdly, according to Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni came to him in a vision and this is where he got the text.  This is a big problem because, according to Galatians 1:8, even if an angel brings a new text, a we are not to take it seriously.  This is probably the biggest problem, because it strikes right at the heart of Mormonism.

 

So, should we consider Mormons as Christians, and can they attain eternal salvation?  If they withhold the beliefs above, the answer is no.  The central doctrines of Christianity are completely changed in the Mormon belief system.  They do not believe in the same god or the same method of salvation.