Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bible Reading - Is It The Source of Our Troubles??

I was reading a blog I often turn to, but often disagree with. It was written by someone with a PHD which a friend of mine says that it means 'Piled High and Deep'. In this case, he was right. Well, this Doctor of Something or Other tells us that he is does not like the divisions within the Protestant community - too many denominations. And he thinks that the cause of this "problem" is the fact that the laity can read the Bible for themselves and interpret it. They interpret according to their own individual tastes and make a mess of it. Then they create new churches and denominations. He thinks that all Bible teaching should be left to the educated 'experts'.

First of all, I would like to point out that the differing viewpoints that we have on any given Bible subject don't really come from the laity as such. There seems to be more disagreement in the scholarly community and the clergy than among faithful laymen. I do not mean to suggest that laymen are not prone to certain kinds of errors - they are. And I certainly do not suggest that formal Bible education is not valuable - it can be.

But I would suggest that the biggest problems in the churches are not caused by the laity that reads the Bible. (Laymen, it seems to me, will more likely split the church over practical issues rather than theological ones.) The biggest problems have come from the scholarly community. Frankly, it has failed the church.

First, our seminaries accepted unbelieving scholars into the seminaries. By 'unbelieving', I mean those scholars who are called "critical" scholars whose methods assume that the Bible is not the Word of God, but of men. They produced unbelief in our budding, young ministers who, in turn, brought that unbelief into our churches. Naturally, churches declined and the society with it.

Meanwhile, our fundamentalist and Pentecostal assemblies exploded. They grew tremendously, and still are. They have opened their own Bible schools and seminaries, but their scholars never had the broad influence of the older seminaries. Nevertheless, the laity in these churches know their Bibles much better than even the faithful who are left in the mainline churches.

I have noticed, as a seminary-trained layman, that it is the Bible-reading laity that is far more faithful to Christ (even when they being are a pain in the neck) than many mainline ministers who have had faith educated out of them. I know personally ministers who were on fire for God and perhaps had some supernatural experiences like tongues or healing who, after seminary, lost all zeal for God and never said anything about the Holy Spirit moving, ever again. Instead of God speaking to them through the Word, they read the Bible through the prism of critical hermeneutics. They try to figure it all out in their head rather than let God speak to them through it.

Although I say this, I want to express my appreciation for those ministers, scholars and seminaries who have remained faithful to Jesus and the Bible as the Word of God. I think our mainline churches would have vanished by now without them. However, I must note also that some conservative scholars are compromising the Bible. This same blog that I mentioned above is hosted by a seminary professor whose "conservative" seminary never even brings up the subject of biblical inerrancy, much less teach it. They compromise the Bible. They even claim that Jesus was wrong about some things. This is the worst kind of hubris. And they are supposedly the ones who are 'orthodox'. "Well," they say, "none of our creeds require that we believe the Bible is inerrant." So, they are technically orthodox.

If the best thing that you can say is that you are 'technically orthodox' then I wonder where the church is going. The reason that the ancients did not include stuff like "the Bible is without any kind of error" or "everything that Jesus said was true, even historically" is that it never occurred to them that it could be any other way. They took it for granted. The creeds were established over controversies that argued over what the Bible actually taught and not about the Bible itself. The fact that they argued about what the Bible teaches proves that they believed the Bible was true, and not just theologically or conceptually.

I have written about this before, but my point is this: a layman who truly listens to the Spirit when reading the Word has as much authority as the 'expert' who has all the education.
“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes." Matthew 11:25 This is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus. Scholars don't like it because it can put an uneducated layman above them.

With all this being said, I certainly do not approve of how many laymen have acted. They sometimes act as if they are the only ones who can hear from God. I will agree with this from the article I have referenced above. It made a very good point about submitting one's "revelation" to the body to be judged. As Paul said, "prove all things, hold fast to what is good." He was talking about judging what someone in the church has taught or prophesied. That does not always mean that the body has judged correctly, but it does mean that we must be humble and be subject to authority. If you have something from God, that's fine. Don't make a big deal about it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Is Gender Only Physical?

I remember the phrase "the battle of the sexes" from when I was young. I am glad that that saying has pretty much been retired, though the idea is alive and well. I do not think that we should take the side of our own gender, only the side of the one who is right in any situation.

Anyway, the society and the church are arguing about gender. A blog post I recently read said, "To get manliness right is a fool’s game anyway. Our life in the family of God is not supposed to be focused on a long pursuit of biblical manhood or womanhood. Our lives are to be focused on Jesus, God the Son." The author was making the point that cultural expressions of masculinity or femininity may not be helping us in our walk with the Lord, but may actually take away from it. But his point also was that what is considered 'masculine' or 'feminine' is nothing but a social construct. (He said, or implied, this later.) He noted that Jesus, a man, wept contrary to some notions of masculinity.

Now I agree that many of our cultural expressions of masculinity and femininity can be silly, or even harmful. They create stereotypes that are simply not true of everyone of that gender. I remember a guest speaker in our old church who said that he never met a woman who did not like to shop. I wanted to introduce him to my wife so that he could never say that again.

It is easy to mock stereotypes and note that masculinity and femininity have different expressions in different cultures. There are even some things which may be considered 'male' in one culture and 'female' in another. I think it is rash, however, to jump to the conclusion that masculinity and femininity are simply cultural constructs and that the only God-made differences between male and female are biological/anatomical.

Are souls gender-neutral? This is a difficult question that could be answered in different ways depending, for one thing, how the soul should be defined. I have a hard time accepting the notion that the only differences between male and female are physical. For one thing, it would mean that a person would lose his gender when he/she died and went to heaven. They would not be in a physical body then, would they? How about after the resurrection? Would they become male or female again or are resurrected bodies without gender?

Once again, I think that maleness and femaleness is something that God gives to us, in our souls as a gift, though I am not dogmatic about it. Consider the scripture: "God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27) Now it seems to me that when the Bible says that we are made in the image of God that it is not referring to the physical body, it is referring to the soul and spirit.

I suppose it is possible to read the above scripture in such a way that we could draw that conclusion that the 'male and female' part of the verse refers to their bodies and the 'image of God' part refers to the soul and spirit. I do not think that is the best reading though.

I just am convinced (is it my cultural blindness?) that maleness and femaleness, both made in the image of God, are not just physical realities, but soulish realities as well. IMHO.

I invite your response especially on this one.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Power of Language

I have written before about translations and it is easy for those of us who do not have to actually do the translating to sit back and criticize. Yet, that is exactly what I intend to do. We are probably ignorant of most of the issues and dilemmas that translators have to face.

I am certain that one of their concerns is the push toward "softening" sometimes harsh language or language that might seem crude to us today. In this latter regard, I note the sort of amusing way that the OT refers to men as "any who pisseth against the wall." To us, this is crude, but it apparently was not to the ancient Hebrew mind. So translators now use milder language. They just translate it as "men". I have no problem with this since the meaning is exactly the same. The same point comes across to us.

Unfortunately, this tendency to soften language can actually take away from the meaning, or at least the intended impact, of the text. I like a more literal translation, which may require more notes, because it is less interpretive. We need to have understanding about how language affects us. A good writer or speaker will use certain words or phrases to get the readers attention and cause them to think.

Jesus, of course, was the master of this. His parables and teachings were designed to be memorable. Even those who have never picked up a Bible or even heard a sermon know about the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. To avoid sin, one might need to "pluck out one's eye" or "cut off one's hand". Nobody takes this too literally, but you won't forget it. Language is meant to have impact.

In a politically correct age, when our translators have to make every advocacy group happy, I think that this has been largely forgotten. I know one passage, Revelation 17:1, that has been a victim of this softening of our translations due to the delicate, modern sensibilities. The old KJV uses the term, "great whore" to describe "Babylon". The NASB uses "great harlot".

Both the terms 'harlot' and 'whore' are bit out of date, but they are not archaic. We know what they mean. And they are, especially the latter, very harsh terms. But the whore/harlot of Babylon is supposed to be harsh, even offensive. We should not soften the language because it might offend. The Harlot of Babylon is offensive! Our translations need to reflect that.

But I was surprised by what I discovered. I expected that the more politically correct translations like the NRSV would soften the language and the more literal, conservative translations like the ESV or HSBC would keep the older language. It turned out to be the opposite!

The ESV and HSBC both used the term 'prostitute' instead of 'harlot' or 'whore'. The NRSV used the term, "great whore". So, I am actually on the side of the NRSV on this one. The ESV and HSBC muffed it. Using "Prostitute of Babylon" instead of "Whore of Babylon" takes away the impact that the author intended to convey. We need to keep the stronger, more offensive, image to get across to the reader/hearer what this 'Babylon" truly is.

I think the only thing that is being 'prostituted' is our language. We err too much on the side of being "nice" and trying not to make someone feel bad or excluded. Frankly, we could all be a little less sensitive and, perhaps, grow up a bit.

Now I am not saying that we do not need to update the translations and make them more palatable, especially when meanings and culture changes. But, please, let us not forsake the power of the biblical languages and images that are meant to convey more than mere words can. They are images, either positive or negative, that are intended to stick in our minds and which may arouse either admiration or disgust.

Let's set aside our cultural agendas and get back to using language in such a way that we can grasp the full reality of what God has revealed to us in His Word.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Idolatry of Evangelical Intellectualism

A few decades ago when I became a Christian, I found that I had some disagreements with many evangelical scholars. Most of them believed that things like tongues and divine healing and other spiritual gifts had ceased while I believed they were for today. I had discussions with brothers in Christ about these things and we often agreed to disagree. But one thing that we had in common was that we believed that the whole Bible was the Word of God whether or not we understood everything in it. I took great comfort knowing that evangelical scholars could generally be relied on to stand up for the Word.

Sadly, this no longer seems to be the case. Evangelical scholars and ministers today often deny the inerrancy of the scriptures. In other words, they think that the Bible contains errors and they even think that Jesus and Paul and other authors of the NT were in error, at least about facts, though not about doctrine. Additionally, we are assured by these scholars that they are still orthodox and believe in the inspiration of the scriptures. But this post is not exactly about inerrancy but about where some who do not believe in it are going.

I am concerned that without the inerrancy doctrine many Christians have slipped down that proverbial slippery slope. It started with saying that little facts of history may not be perfectly accurate and has led to some asserting that Jesus was wrong about certain facts of history and now has "progressed" (pun intended) to the point where some are saying that God did not command Joshua and Israel to commit "genocide" against the Canaanites. Where this all ends up I am afraid to speculate.

Recently, I got into an online discussion with someone regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve. They denied it and I challenged them with the words of Jesus and Paul. Paul clearly teaches that Adam was a real person in history. Jesus spoke of Abel, Adam's son, as a real person. They still denied it, insisting that Jesus and Paul were mistaken. First of all, it is arrogance to the highest degree to state that one knows more than Jesus about the Bible. Even when Jesus was in His kenotic, limited state here on earth, He knew more about the scriptures than these people will ever know.

As I dug deeper into this I found out that these scholars were using scientific hypotheses to re-interpret the Bible. They said that there could be not a historical Adam since science tells us that the human race could not have descended from one pair of humans. Therefore, the first chapters of Genesis (1-11) were not history but fiction. And they said that God does use fiction to teach us truth. Jesus taught with parables. Yes, I responded, but everyone knew that His parables were fiction; Genesis, all of it, was written as historical narrative. Jesus and Paul treated it as historical narrative. Nevertheless, they deny it.

Here is the real point I want to make: These scholars insisted that to treat the Bible as inerrant when they "knew" that it contains errors would be intellectually dishonest. Therefore, they could not assert something they did not really believe. I want to suggest that this is not admirable intellectual integrity. It is closer to idolatry, an idolatry of the mind. I must listen to my mind even when the Word of God says I am wrong. This is what bothers me the most in all this. Do we think so highly of our own thoughts that when we read the Word, we insist that it must be wrong?

If we think that the Word is wrong, we are wrong. We must adjust our thinking to line up with the Word. We might have to admit that there are some things that we do not understand, but we must lay aside our own thoughts and accept the Word on faith. Of course, we may not have complete understanding of the Word and our modern, scientific understanding is not as sure or complete as we may believe. If we find some "contradiction" with "established" science we may need to reexamine the scriptures to see if we have understood it correctly. And we also may have to reexamine the science and its assumptions before we simply throw out what is clearly taught in scripture (e.g., Adam was a real, historical person). This is what I did in rejecting the hypothesis of evolution. (I am not suggesting that one cannot believe in inerrancy and evolution at the same time. I am only telling my own story.)

Intellectual idolatry is exalting our own minds above the Word of God. It is the opposite of humility and honesty. We must be humble enough to realize that there are things that God says that we do not like and that we have trouble accepting. The problem is with us and not the Bible.

I have far more respect for the rigid fundamentalist who believes the Bible or, at least, believes what he thinks the Bible says despite the fact that he may be wrong than I do some scholar or other Christian whose "intellectual integrity" leads them to deny what the Word clearly says.

God help us.

By the way, I suggest that you all visit Billy Birch's blog. He is really on a hot streak with his posts right now. Don't miss any of them. The website is: