Afraid of the Bible?

Why do some people feel a relentless need to attack the credibility of the Bible?

These attacks were (for many years) aimed primarily at an assumed contradiction between the Bible and science. The notion that the Bible requires a certain age for the Earth fueled these efforts to discredit the creation narrative. What many still do not realize is that the assumptions behind the science vs. creation debate are faulty (see: Confusing faith and science).

The endless attacks on the Bible beg the question: “Why are people so afraid of the Bible?”

It cannot be denied that the Christian Scripture played a central role in the founding and formation of our nation. The first English settlers looked to the Bible to guide them. “The influence of the Bible on their literature, their music, and their lives came with them. Their Christian faith was as much a part of who they were as their audacious spirit.” (Woodrow Kroll).

Perhaps this fact from history is behind many of the recent attacks aimed at Christianity and the Bible. Some feel that Christians have enjoyed status as the reigning ideology for long enough. Whatever the motivation, there is a growing band of anti-Christian missionaries who joyfully celebrate the marginalization of Christianity. But don’t let them fool you into believing that they are safeguarding us from some sort of Christian imperialism. Closer to the truth, they despise the influence the Bible carries on moral conclusions of voting members of the nation. Because the Bible doesn’t support their desired lifestyles, they increasingly see it (and those who take Scripture seriously) as an enemy to their cultural agenda for reshaping American life.

The tone of condescending ridicule aimed at the Bible has been common fodder for late-night comedians, and the media. What is more disturbing is the number in ordained ministry and on seminary faculties who encourage people not to take the Bible seriously. This reminds me of the New Testament warning that “a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Many of these ministers insist upon some sort of allegiance to the Bible even while they discredit it as a reliable moral guide for life today. With all their doubts about the integrity and reliability of the Bible, I honestly wonder why they don’t just get another book to teach and follow.

One of the latest waves of anti-biblical rhetoric  follows a pattern of listing strange laws meant to govern Israel as a nation during the Old Testament era and scoffing at how incredulous they sound to modern times (see: A strange yet realistically hopeful book). Another approach picks out the transparent stories about the bad things done by some of the main characters of the Bible. These things are all used to make the closing argument: “You cannot look to the Bible as a reliable guide for life today.”

Some critics are even more misleading by suggesting that the Bible promotes slavery, oppression of women and genocide. These accusations are not based on careful historical research of ancient Near Eastern contexts. Most often they are taken out of context and manipulated to serve a biased agendas.

I am not suggesting that everything in the Bible is easy to understand or accept. It is not easy to read about God’s judgments, but perhaps our perspective misses the greatness of his mercy in allowing rebellious creatures to live. Although we do not understand all the laws meant to govern Israel as a nation during OT times, we do know from repeated emphasis in the New Testament that believers today are not under those laws.

The fact that the Bible reveals its main characters violating God’s will for things like marriage and sexuality actually strengthens the authenticity of the text. As author, Dick Keyes wrote, “I never felt the God of the Bible was asking me to put on rose-colored glasses. Even the heroes of the Bible were described unsparingly in appalling moral failures—lies, sexual aberrations and murders.”

“I did not have to give up the honesty and realism that I had valued. Cynicism claimed that the world— both inside and outside of our heads—was profoundly broken and bent. I realized that the Christian faith had been saying this for two-thousand years, and Judaism for longer than that” (Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion).

The honesty of the biblical narrative reminds us that we are all sinners who have not lived up to God’s plan for us. So I come back to one compelling question: “What way of seeing things corresponds most with reality and does not contradict what I clearly know to be true?” Asked differently, “What seems to be the most plausible way of seeing things in light of what we know about humanity, the observable world and its history?

I believe the biblical narrative and the Christian worldview it presents offers the most logically consistent and plausibly realistic understanding of life and the world. It simply does the best job explaining the world we encounter each day. And it offers the best explanatory frame for the most extensive range of evidence in the world and in the human spirit. There is no other way of understanding the world that corresponds with reality as comprehensively.

Steve Cornell

Refresher on the First Amendment

The First Amendment was primarily about protecting religion from government control (to keep government out of religion). The amendment prohibits congress from imposing a national religion. It doesn’t require a kind of separation of Church and Sate (a phrase not found in our constitution) aimed at removing God from all of public life and discourse.

The myth that the First Amendment separates church and state has grown to such ridiculous proportions that it must be debunked. Notably absent from the Amendment is the words ‘separation,’ ‘church,’ and ‘state.’

Those who demand removal of God and religious reference from public life actually violate the part of the amendment protecting freedom of speech. The founders aim was to protect freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

Those who want to force God and religious influence out of public conversation and policymaking, shouldn’t pretend that it’s about the First Amendment. It’s not. And they should be honest enough to admit that they’re voicing their own moral and religious opinion when they reject those of others.

It’s relatively easy to find moral and religious sources or motives behind most policy and law. Any time we declare one action to be right and another wrong, or any time we demand a certain value as a human right, we’re using a moral code to influence public opinion, policy and law.

When we feel uncomfortable with a particular moral code, we should not make our case against it based on its’ source in a particular religion by claiming that it violates the First Amendment.

Steve Cornell

The history of evil

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Why is evil a consistent part of human history everywhere in the world and in every human heart? What accounts for this ugly part of our story?

What is evil? How do we name it? What is the most plausible accounting for the reality of evil as we know it?

The biblical account for answering these questions tells the story of evil with a convergence of characters (see: Genesis 3:1-6).

A strange being  approached Eve (the first woman created by God) and offered her an alternative view of reality – a different way of seeing things from the one God gave.

Prior to this, she had only known one way of seeing things – God’s way. But this character (whom we know as Satan or the evil one) offered a different way of looking at life. He offered a different version of God and of what happens when one abandons…

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Plank eye disease

Plank-Eye-Disease-4x3

Are you quick to see (and talk about) ways others don’t measure up while overlooking failures and sins in your own life or family?

A recent survey of 20 somethings indicated that 9 out of 10 think of Christians as judgmental. While this is often inaccurate and likely a result of a culture with deep aversion to absolute truths, we should be aware of the perception. Understanding Jesus’ warning against judging is an urgent matter related to Christian witness.

But what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” These words might be the most well-known of all that Jesus said. They’re commonly used to keep people from making moral judgments about others. And some use Jesus command to excuse themselves from making judgments. “Who am I to judge?” they ask. “After all, Jesus did say, ‘Judge not…’”

  • What exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke these words?
  • Was he advocating a mind your own business policy?
  • Was he forbidding all judgments about the actions of others?

John R. W. Stott asked if obedience to these words required us to “…suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to avoid all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil?”

 Consider the context

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure      you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Obviously, Jesus is not renouncing all judging. If we stopped at 7:1, we might conclude that all forms of judging are wrong. But the context as well as verses 15 and following, indicates a clear need for judging. Hypocritical or self-righteous judgment is what our Lord condemns.

In the larger context of the sermon on the mount, our Lord’s warning seems unexpected. C. S. Keener sated it well, “The graphic language of Jesus teaching so far (5:3-6:34) challenges its hearers to a radical personal commitment to God’s kingdom and righteousness that should scare them into attending to themselves. But just in case the hearers had been too obtuse to grasp that point, Matthew renders it explicit in 7:1-5.” (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 240).

Summary points

  • Jesus forbids hypocritical judgments by insisting that we get the sin out of our own lives first.
  • Jesus actually encouraged involvement in other people’s lives, but only after careful self-examination and self-correction.
  • Jesus is not telling us we cannot speak to others about sin in their lives. This would contradict Matthew 18:15-17.
  • He is telling us that we are not to be hypocrites. We are not to operate with a double standard.
  • Those who judge their own sin will approach others with a different spirit because they will know and cherish grace and forgiveness from God.
  • Those who don’t think they have any sin to deal with will approach others in a self-righteous judgmental way. Those who deal honestly with their sin first will approach others with love, mercy, grace, and patience – as God has been gracious to them.
  • Jesus’ words could be used to make some people feel that they are always inadequate to speak into the lives of others. But our Lord is not offering a reason to remain aloof in our concern for others but to simply deal with ourselves first so that we might see clearly to help our fellow believer.
  • In verse 6, Jesus is obviously teaching a need for judgments that will help us use discretion in ministry to others (see my post: Don’t waste your ministry on dogs and pigs).

Hear these words: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:4,10).

Jesus warned about a reciprocal principle in the way we make judgments – (measure for measure – v. 2) (see also: 6:14-15; 7:12; 18:21-35).

  • “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13).
  • “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1-2).
  • “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

When we honor the distinction between watching others and watching out for them, we’ll be far better postured to avoid wrongful judging. The first (watching others) is prideful and pharisaic; the second (watching out for) is humble care for the wellbeing of others. Let’s live and teach this distinction to ensure we obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” But remember that we cannot watch out for each other if we have plank eye disease.

Steve Cornell

When failure or fear become idols

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Don’t waste the gift of life on past regrets and future fears! There are far better uses of our time and energy than wasting them dwelling on failures and fears.  
 
Focus on past regrets leads us into the pit of guilt and depression. Focus on future fears can paralyze us with anxiety and distress. These are disabling emotions that cripple our effectiveness for God and others.
 
We must see these feelings as intruders and thieves intent on stealing joy from our lives.
 

I am not suggesting that we ignore the past or become cavalier about the…

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Three purposes for Marriage

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

We’re less likely to do well in marriage, if we don’t understand what God intended for the relationship.

A primary reason for many marital problems is a failure to understand, respect and live by God’s intended purposes for marriage.

Take a few moments and review some of what we know about God’s purpose for the marriage relationship. Consider three purposes for marriage

1. A gift from God

Marriage is God’s gift to humans. It was given to us to resolve the problem of human loneliness. God meant for marriage to be a complimentary companionship. “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

It’s possible that your marriage doesn’t feel like a gift because it’s a troubled relationship. But for marriages to flourish in their God-intended way, a husband and wife must see their marriage…

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New Identity – New Relationships

There’s a profound connection between personal identity and transformed relationships. How we see ourselves affects the way we relate to others.

Take a close look at three verses that could change your understanding of yourself and the nature of your relationships.

What did the apostle mean when he wrote,

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:11-13)?

The word – “Here” likely refers to the Church, the gathering of God’s people.

Here — among Christians, the distinctions that fiercely divide social and religious life (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free), have no place.

Among those who have been forgiven through Jesus Christ, a new identity has been formed that overcomes differences that separate people from each other. Our new identity also leads to a transformation of the ways we relate and respond to other people (“compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”). 

The apostle is saying that our race, religious background or social status no longer define us. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are distinguished by three powerful identity markers. You are:  

1. God’s chosen people: we are the “elect of God”

God’s choosing of his people reminds us of His gracious initiative in drawing us to Himself and making us His very own people (cf. Matthew 11:26-31;John 6:44, 66). It is a precious and inspiring truth that traces from Old Testament through New Testament. God’s choice of us to be His people is based on love and grace (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Scriptures on Election: Deuteronomy 7:6;John 15:16 “You have not chosen Me, but I chose you”; Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 1:3-7.

2. Holy – set apart for God by God

We will misunderstand this word if we do not first hear it as a relationship before it becomes a way of life. Holy is a word that refers to people who are set apart for God by God. Living a holy life must be based on what it means to be chosen by God — “to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

We become God’s people only because we were “bought at a price” and this is the basis for being called to “honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:14-19). 

3. Dearly loved – recipients of God’s sacrificial redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10,19; cf. Romans 8:35-39).

We must mediate deeply and often on what it really means to be loved by God. Being loved by God is what empowers us to love others with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

The three identity markers above (chosen, holy and dearly loved) are all received as gifts of God’s grace to underserving sinners who call on the Lord for forgiveness and salvation. We cannot earn or deserve these identities. They can only be received by a God who graciously places them on us. Interestingly, although each identity distinctively belonged to God’s people in the Old Testament, they now belong to believers of all backgrounds (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free).

Five qualities

What would our churches and relationships be like if they were described by the five qualities below? A taste of heaven on earth? Yes. 

Because of our distinction as God’s dearly loved people — those who have had God’s love “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5), five character qualities or responses should distinguish our ways of responding to others. Like clothing, these five qualities should be plainly evident among us. If a group of believers is characterized by these qualities, a powerful witness will be evident! 

  1. compassion
  2. kindness
  3. humility
  4. gentleness
  5. patience

Imagine a friendship or marriage where these were the dominant qualities! Too idealistic? Verse 13 takes it to real life! 

  1. compassion: actually “a heart of compassion” or “deep feelings of mercy” It’s a response of sympathy or empathy.
  • Ephesians 4:4–“Because of His great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
  • Luke 6:36—Be “merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3—“The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
  • Philippians 2:1 calls for tenderness and compassion to be part of their fellowship.
  • Psalmist (Psalm 103:8) “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
  • Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:17) “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow in anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2).
  • Moses (Exodus 34:6) “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

    2. kindness: compassion in action, a response of grace and generosity. What do we mean when we say, ““He’s so kind”? 

  • Ephesians 4:32—“Be kind and tenderhearted (compassionate) to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4—“Love is…kind.”
  • Galatians 5:22—fruit of the Spirit is ….kindness…
  • Ephesians 2:7— the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ.
  • Titus 3:4—“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…”
  • Romans 2:4-5; 11:22 
  1. humility: a lowliness of mind demonstrated in a refusal to demand one’s rights, a servant mindset.
  • Ephesians 4:2—“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
  • Titus 3:2 exhorts us to “show true humility to all people” because “…we too were disobedient, deceived and enslaved…”
  • Philippians 2:3-8—Jesus is the supreme example.
  • John 13; Romans 12:3; 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
  1. gentleness: meekness, considerate of others, willing to waive one’s rights out of consideration toward another.
  • Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
  • Galatians 5:23; 6:1— meekness is the fruit of the Spirit
  • James 3:13— meekness is part of the wisdom from above
  1. patience: (makrothumia) long-tempered, not short-fused; slow to anger; restraining retaliation in the face of provocation; capacity to absorb wrong without retaliation
  • Used of God (Romans 2:4)
  • Required of us (Romans 12:17-21)
  • 1 Peter 3:8-9 “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

This final quality of patience fits well with the closing two participles that are presented with as commands (with imperatival force) in the present active tense: “Bear with each other and forgive one another…”

Our new identity as God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved people overcomes differences that separate people and set people against each other. Our new identity also leads to a powerful transformation in the ways we relate and respond to other people. This is the life!

Steve Cornell