The Bible Tells Me So?

Sitting here at Starbucks this morning – fresh smells of brewing coffee and machines whining in the background. The perfect environment to think about the plurality of the Bible.

Americans are Bible lovers. Well, at least we own a lot of Bibles. About 168,000 Bibles are sold every single day and 88% of Americans own 4.4 Bibles on average. Between 1815 and 1975, it was estimated that there could have been 5 billion Bibles printed (note 1). How many Bibles do you own? I have maybe 9.6 different Bibles in my house. My real question to you is: If you read the Bible, do you understand it or is it a source of confusion for you?

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

Abraham Lincoln was well-versed in the Bible and had a sense that it wasn’t clear at times.  Both sides of the Civil War assumed they knew God’s will was in their favor in their opposing causes.  Of course, one side lost. Here’s what Lincoln said:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered.” Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1865.

If the Bible is so easy to understand, why do we have so many Bible-illiterate Christians? According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60% of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Fewer than half the adults could not name the four gospels. The same poll says that 82% of us believe that, “God helps those who help themselves,” is an actual Bible verse (note 2).

I’m not here to bash Christians or Christianity. I’ve always had problems understanding the Bible. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a pastor, asked me once, “Why do you read so many books about the Bible when all you have to do is read the Bible?” I simply answered, “Because so many people have different answers as to what the Bible is really saying.”

“Both read the Bible day and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.”  William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

Is it the lack of knowledge or just plain confusion over what the Bible says? If the Bible was clearly written would there be more unity within Christianity? According to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary there are over 45,000 different Christian denominations in the world (note 3).

“All this diversity of belief and practice, and the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities.” Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities (note 4)

Why are there so many books on the market about what the Bible really says? In his book, the Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith has problems with the fact that there are so many books that begin their title with, “What the Bible Really Says About ________” or “Four (or Five) Views on ________ (Baptism, Sacraments, etc.).” If the Bible is so clear on its teachings, why do we need others to try and interpret it for us and why aren’t they all the same (note 5)?

Would there be a need for Christian Apologists if the Bible were clear? An apologists is one who defends and clarifies the objections of the Christian faith. In his book, How to Defend the Christian Faith, John Loftus, an ex-Evangelical Minister and Christian Apologist says that, “God failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe. Since he failed us, apologists have been given a tremendous work load (note 6).”

The more I research why the Bible is so confusing to me, I just get more confused. Oh well! I can see why only 33% of the world’s population believe in Christianity – it’s too confusing! And it appears that a good percentage of that 33% who do believe are having difficulties understanding its sacred book. No offense. After 40 years plus of reading the Bible, I’m still confused.

Here’s to another cup of that dark roast and to those who know the Bible. As for me – I’ll keep searching!

Notes:

1. 29 Good Bible Sales Statistics – BrandonGaille.com. (2017). BrandonGaille.com. Retrieved 12 July 2017, from http://brandongaille.com/27-good-bible-sales-statistics/

2. The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem – AlbertMohler.com. (2016). AlbertMohler.com. Retrieved 12 July 2017, from http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/

3. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pd

4. Ehrman, B. D. (2005). Lost christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

5. Smith, C. (2012). The Bible made impossible: why biblicism is not a truly evangelical reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

6. Loftus, J. W. (2015). How to defend the Christian faith: advice from an Atheist. Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing.

Doubt

I slept in a little this morning but I guess that’s a luxury of being retired. It’s quiet, I have my first cup of dark roast in hand, and God is already talking to me. The word “doubt” comes to mind for some odd reason.

Doubt is one of those words that Christians are uncomfortable with. As one Christian says, “In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises (note 1).” Jesus was constantly getting after his disciples for doubting:

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. You of little faith, he said, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The Doubting Thomas by Leendert van der Cooghe

But, we all doubt – don’t we? If I told you that your spouse was cheating on you, wouldn’t you have some doubt and require some kind of proof before you believed me? I certainly hope you would. In our litigious society people are accused of many things every day. We may or may not believe the alleged accusations until there’s sufficient proof. We have a system that requires proof. We must eliminate all doubt!

No one is immune to doubting at one time or another. In an article written by Jesse Carey in Relevant Magazine he writes about “7 Prominent Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt” including Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, and Pope Francis (note 2). You can read the article here.

Our third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a doubter. I get a kick out of those who believe America to be a Christian Nation and cite a quote or two from Thomas Jefferson. I’ll have to admit, he was a Christian – my kind of Christian anyway! Jefferson said, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus (note 3).” He went on to edit the Bible to his standards, cutting and pasting to create his own Bible, and wrote to a friend:

“I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.” See a pdf copy of Jefferson’s Bible here.

I may be like Jefferson in his thinking but I’m more like one of the twelve apostles who doubted. He even earned the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” He had followed Jesus through his ministry and was an eyewitness to all of the miracles that Jesus performed. He was there when they fed 5,000 men (more than that if you include the women and children) from scraps of bread and a couple of fish (Matthew 14:13-21). Yet, after Jesus died, he said:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe (John 20:25).”

And Jesus gave Thomas the proof he needed. He allowed him to feel the hole marks in his hands and where the soldier speared him in the side of his chest. Thomas believed.

Being the agnostic that I am, that’s where I stand. I’m leaving room for belief, but there’s gotta be some proof to make me a believer. As Leslie Hazleton says in her newest book, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (note 4), “Belief insists while faith hopes and trusts.” She goes on to say, “You need belief only when you are not sure. Belief is the product not of knowledge, but of uncertainty. It contains within itself the possibility of disbelief.”

I’ll end my thoughts by saying that I doubt like the apostle, Thomas. He was given immediate proof. I am still waiting. But right now, I have little doubt that a second cup of dark roast awaits me. Peace!

Notes:

1. Altrogge, M. (2017). Doubt Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/doubt/

2. 7 Prominent Christian Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt. (2014). RELEVANT Magazine. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from https://relevantmagazine.com/god/7-prominent-christian-thinkers-who-wrestled-doubt

3. The Bible According to Thomas Jefferson – TheHumanist.com. (2012). TheHumanist.com. Retrieved 11 July 2017, from https://thehumanist.com/magazine/march-april-2012/features/the-bible-according-to-thomas-jefferson

4. Hazleton, L. (2017). Agnostic: a spirited manifesto. New York: Riverhead Books.

Narrow Gates

I’m at Starbucks this morning with a great cup of the bold blend. Ahhh! Got me to thinking about what life is like after death – or what Christians call Eternal Life.

The Hell by Coppo di Marcovaldo circa 1301

When Jesus started his ministry, he took his chosen twelve and a bunch of other people up on the side of a mountain and gave what we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:5 NRSV). “If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God…” (note 1). Jesus talked about adultery, divorce, loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you (Matthew 4-7). Then he states the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

As a Christian I took this lesson very seriously. These were clear instructions that we should be following every day – if we are to be a Jesus follower. To me, these instructions were very frightening because I was almost certain that I could not meet all the criteria from his great sermon. But what really scares me is the Narrow Gate passage (Matthew 7:13-14):

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Holy crap! Can you see what Jesus is saying? To paraphrase, he’s basically saying that most of us will enter through the wide gates leading to hell (to destruction) and very few of us will get to walk through the narrow gates leading to heaven (that leads to life). That’s a lot for me to digest. Let’s see…

I looked at the statistics (note 2) – only one third of the world’s population practice Christianity, which means two thirds or 66% of the world are going through the gates that lead to destruction automatically. And Jesus told the crowd on that mountainside that only a few of those that heard his words will enter the “narrow gates.” That makes me think again. The statistics also say that there are over 43,000 different denominations in the world. I’m almost certain that each denomination might have a slightly different formula for being saved (salvation). I’m hoping that I am lucky enough to have chosen the correct denomination.

And then I got to thinking – what if I was absolutely sure of my salvation? I have that ticket to paradise in my back pocket. Now what? What is heaven like? The Bible is not clear as to what I could expect. Is it all-inclusive? Is there free tv and internet? Would I have a roommate? Vegan food? Eternal is a long time! It’s forever plus one! What would I do for the first 1,000 years? The next million years? If I didn’t like it, could I change my mind? What if God changed his mind, like he did with Noah?

A lot to think about. Time for a second cup. I wonder if Mahatma Ghandi or Buddha drink coffee. Have a wonderful day!

Notes: ============================================================

1. What is the Sermon on the Mount?. (2017). GotQuestions.org. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.gotquestions.org/sermon-on-the-mount.html

2. (2017). Gordonconwell.edu. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pdf

3. Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 7 – New Revised Standard Version. (2017). Bible Gateway. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7&version=NRSV

Is America A Christian Nation?

Russell D. Moore is an American evangelical theologian, ethicist, and preacher. He is currently president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Listen to what he has to say about whether America is a Christian Nation or not:

 

A little history lesson about our Founding Fathers:

No Master Copy

Coffee! Coffee! The sun has finally risen. After my first cup of dark roast I got to thinking about the master copy of the Bible. Wouldn’t it be great if the original manuscript of the Bible existed? Wait! You didn’t realize that the original, the master copy of the Christian Bible does not exist? It has disintegrated! Poof! I am not making this stuff up!

Over the many, many years that I attended church, none of my pastors ever told me that the original Bible is nowhere to be found. You gotta ask, though! If God can give man error-free instructions on how to live, why would he not provide the materials on which to write that would last forever and ever? Sorry. That was just a passing thought that zipped right through my brain.

So, no original copy of the Bible. But, luckily, man has managed to make copies of copies of copies of copies of this Great Book over the centuries. When the printing press came along centuries later, copying got a lot easier. Up until then, man had to do everything by hand. The original apostles were illiterate so they weren’t able to dictate what Jesus had to say so they went about telling stories. These stories were passed on orally for decades until, poof, some Greek-speaking-writing guy comes along and decides to write them down. Four of them to be exact.

I don’t know about you but that makes me think again. These stories of Jesus, or what we know as the Gospels, were passed on orally for decades. Do you think that these stories might have changed just a bit, maybe exaggerated a little here and there? Oh, come on! There’s proof that the stories must have changed because this guy, Luke, wrote at the beginning of his Gospel that there were many writers out there that were telling their stories and that he wanted to write his own version. Maybe Luke thought that these other guys really weren’t inspired by God. So, if Luke’s is the correct story, then what about the other three guys?

As it turns out, the other three guys (Matthew, Mark, and John) didn’t get it right, either. Well, not if you compare them to Luke’s version. For instance, Mark and John didn’t write about Jesus’ incredible birth from a virgin. Did they not think that was important or did they not hear about it? John thought that Jesus had been around since the beginning. Luke talks about how Shepherds came to visit at Jesus’ birth and Matthew thought they were Wise Men from the East. Matthew also has this strange story about King Herod massacring a bunch of infants sometime after Jesus was born.

Oh well! It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there are any original manuscripts around or not. I’m not sure that not too many of us pay much attention to actually reading the Bible. Who knows which version of the Bible is correct. We don’t have the master copy to compare them to. But, we do things like cherry-pick certain verses that we think meet our needs. We combine the two birth stories of Jesus to make one story without thinking that these two writers heard two entirely different ones. We wouldn’t have any idea where to find doctrines of Christianity – like the Trinity, or Salvation, or the Sacraments. We condemn gay people but not sure where in scripture it says to do it. We certainly don’t greet each other with a “holy kiss” as prescribed by the Bible, either.

It’s time for another cup. Have a great day!

Forbidden Fruit

Enjoying my first cup of coffee on a beautiful Saturday morning. I got to thinking… did Adam and Eve have coffee in the Garden of Eden?

There are two creation accounts in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Chapter one of Genesis describes the first creation story and isn’t at all about Adam and Eve. Instead, God creates man and woman. He did not give these two creatures a name at this time.  If you read the entire first chapter you’ll also notice that God creates everything else before creating man and woman.

In chapter two of Genesis, God creates man (Adam) first and then decides that it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He then puts Adam into a deep sleep, pulls out one of his ribs, and creates Eve. It was much simpler in chapter one because God had created man and woman at the same time.

To continue with the chapter two story, God told Adam that there are many trees in the garden and has allowed him to eat from any tree except for one – the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I find it odd that God would create a tree that couldn’t be eaten from, but that’s how the story goes. I also thought it odd that God would pre-program Adam and Eve with language and the knowledge to understand language but decided to embed the knowledge of good and evil into a piece of fruit. But, that’s just me!

Along comes the serpent and slithers up to Eve. The serpent tells Eve not to worry about that fruit in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Go ahead and eat it! Since Eve had no knowledge of good or of evil, she didn’t know that the serpent might be trying to trick her. How could she know that the serpent is good or evil? She doesn’t have the ability to make a value judgement because God chose not to program her that way. Eve tells Adam not to worry about eating that special fruit because the serpent said it was okay to do so. And they both ate from the forbidden tree.

And you know the rest of the story. God punishes both Adam and Eve (oh, and the serpent!) because they didn’t follow God’s command. But think about that! Adam and Eve were behaving the way that God had created and programmed them to behave. Doesn’t an omniscient being know what the outcome is going to be? Yet he punishes them anyway for behaving in a way that they were programmed to behave. I guess you can’t apply logic to this story. It’s another one of those mysterious things that God does.

My knowledge of coffee is good – sometimes evil. Come join me!