“Bible-minded” “Christ-like”

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Mark Twain

The latest “facts” from the Barna organization were released January 23 under the title, “America’s Most and Least Bible-Minded Cities.” Coming in at #1 is Knoxville, Tennessee, the home of the Lady Vols, with 52% of the population being “Bible-minded.”  Coming in last is Providence, Rhode Island with 9% being “Bible-minded.”  How ironic that a town named “Providence” is last in this category.  Roger Williams can’t be happy with this.  The town where I live, Springfield, Missouri, is in the top ten at #6 with 49% being “Bible-minded.”

As always, I have questions:

How do they reach these rankings?  What are the criteria? What does “Bible-minded” really mean?  Why didn’t they ask me?  For the past seven years the Barna people surveyed through phone and online interviews 42,855 adults.  The organization defines “Bible-minded” as having read the Bible within the last seven days and strongly believe that the Bible is accurate in all it teaches.  Apparently they just asked people how often they read their Bibles.  That’s like asking people how often they exercise. Do our answers reflect what we actually do or what we should do?  How honest are the answers?

And what about the “accurate in all it teaches” line? What if a survey taker loves the Bible, values it as God-breathed, not only reads it but works hard at understanding it and applying it to life, yet sees Genesis 1 not as “accurate” history but as “accurate” poetry Tim Keller or who sees Jonah as “accurate” story but not “accurate” history C.S. Lewis?  Would they be considered “Bible-minded” or not?

Here are some take-aways for me:

* Thinking biblically is more than reading or even memorizing a lot of Scripture.  It is learning to think critically and practically about the Bible.  It’s about trying to understand the Bible in its original intent, its contexts, and its relevance to us today.  It’s about combining all of these things in both personal application and community encouragement.

* The Barna people say that the rankings “reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible.”  That means that in my home town of Springfield, 51% of the residents are closed or resistant to the Bible.  Hmmm.  Being that Springfield is in the “Bible belt” maybe Christ-followers here need a little fashion advice on how to wear the “belt.” I know I’m “fashion challenged.”

* While I want to be “bible-minded” I want to be “Christ-like” even more. 1 John 2:6  Maybe the better question is, “Do I look like Jesus?”

* “I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me – they’re cramming for their final exam.” George Carlin

That hits home.  It’s good for all of us to read the Bible a lot more.  The Bible tells the truth about the Truth and leads us to Him.

Good God, Bad God part 3

In answering the question, “Is the God of the New Testament different than the God of the Old Testament?”, let’s ask this, “Is the Old Testament different than the New Testament?”; “Are there changes from the Old to the New?”

Well, duh.  The first clue in answering the question is the name given to each part of the Bible – “Old” and “New.” The “old” has changed so it is called “new.” Old way, new way.  Old contract, new contract.

Look at some changes between the Old and the New:

A change in the priesthood: Hebrews 7:12 – “For when there is a change of the priesthood there must also be a change of the law.”  According to God’s law, priests had to come from the tribe of Levi: Deuteronomy 18:1.  Uh oh, We’ve got a problem.  Jesus came from the tribe of the Judah, not Levi: Hebrews 7:14.  How did he get to be priest?  God obviously did something different. Something changed.

A change in the agreement:  2 Corinthians 3:6, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  See also, Hebrews 7:18-19; Hebrews 8:13 where the writer says the “old is obsolete.”

A change in sacrifice: Hebrews 10:9, “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.”

A change in ethics: Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:20 give us the “law of retaliation” – “eye for an eye.”  Jesus radically changed this law in Matthew 5:38-42 with His “turn the other cheek” ethic.

Peter experienced some of this “change” himself.  Before Acts 10, Peter could not eat Mac’s Sausage Biscuit. Nor could he eat “endless shrimp” at Red Lobster.    Why do we not lobby for capital punishment when church members run around on their mates Deuteronomy 22:22? Why does no one think twice of me preaching with glasses Leviticus 21:17-21?

Something has changed.  Who? What?

The reason Peter could eat a ham sandwich or toss around the pig skin is because God changed His law Acts 10:15.

In Sunday School I was introduced to a Bible interpretation principle called “progressive revelation.” Progressive revelation means that God progressively revealed more truths about various subjects. The Bible wasn’t dropped out of heaven in bonded leather with a red book mark.  God delivered what we were ready for a bit at a time when we were ready for it.  God revealed only what people were able to grasp. John “Paradise Lost” Milton said, “For such is the order of God’s enlightenment of His Church, to dispense and deal out by degrees His beam, so as our earthly eyes may best sustain it.”   J.R. Sampey, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1928-1942 expressed his understanding in this way, “The Bible slopes upward.”

How about this take on it:

“To be able to interpret plainly consistently, it is imperative to recognize that revelation was given progressively.  This means that in the process of revealing His message to man, God may add or even change in one era what He had given in another. To fail to recognize this progressiveness in revelation will raise unresolvable contradictions between passages if taken literally. 

That must have been a quote from some crazy liberal, right? Not so fast.  Those words are from none other than Charles C. Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary, in his book Basic Theology.   He actually said, “God may add or even change in one era what He had given in another.”
Kind of blows up our theological boundaries doesn’t it?

Does “progressive revelation” help you to better understand – notice I didn’t say “completely understand” – some of the difficult Old Testament passages?  Maybe a bit? Maybe not?

How does God “changing” His revelation help us to answer the question, “Is the God of the New Testament different than the God of the Old?”  Well, let’s keep practicing a “faith seeking  understanding.”

“Spitting Image”

“Like father, like son.”
“Spitting image.”
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

We’ve heard these phrases and used them ourselves (although I don’t get the “spitting image” one) to describe someone who looks like or acts like someone else – usually a relative.   “Denise (my wife) is the spitting image of her mom.”

Hello fellow “seekers and questioners.”  We’re tackling a tough topic:  “What’s up with the apparent difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament?”  In the O.T., for example, we see God commanding the annhilation of the Canaanites – even the women and children (Joshua 6:21; Joshua 10:40-41).  We see God authorizing a disturbing treatment of women (Leviticus 12:2-5; Deuteronomy 20:11-14; Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

A foundational principle which must be understood and grasped with our heart and head is that the New Testament presents Jesus as the final, definitive, complete, revelation of God.  I get so pumped up over the following verses:

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

John 1:14 “The word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

As the “word” Jesus is the expression of God, just like our “words” are expressions of our thoughts.  People know what I’m thinking when I’m speaking.

“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.” Steve Martin

God has a way with words – In Jesus, God spoke clearly and distinctly – unlike me and my words.  When God speaks or thinks, it looks like Jesus.

Colossians 1:15 “The Son is the image of the invisible God..”  “Image” was often used to describe a “picture” of someone. Jesus is a picture of God.  How does the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” help us understand this principle?

Hebrews 1:1-3 Grab your coffee, sit back, and let this passage soak in.  “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and though whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”

The highlighted words above, exact representation, meant the imprint on a coin that had been stamped with a picture.  If we look at a quarter we see George Washington’s face.  First century folks would see Caesar’s face.   If God made a coin bearing his own image, it would show Jesus’ face. While God revealed himself in a variety of ways in the past, God has superseded all these by revealing himself through Jesus.  Unlike all the past written and spoken revelations, Jesus is the exact, clear, precise, imprint of God. The other revelations were about God.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is not a part of God’s revelation to add alongside the Old Testament revelation. Jesus is the revelation.

It’s like the author of Hebrews is channeling M.C. Hammer: “Can’t touch this.”  No other revelation of God can touch Jesus – No other is as good as Jesus.

Jesus “made God known” John 1:18.  This is why Jesus responded to Philip’s request to see the Father by saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” John 14:9

So think about this: If Jesus is the exact, precise, complete picture of God, and if when we see Jesus we see God, why doesn’t God look like Jesus in those tough passages in the Old Testament?  Honestly, i don’t know if we’ll ever satisfactorily answer that questions. Tons of books have been and will be written in such an attempt.  The point is if we can’t answer the question, if we can’t resolve the issue, the truth of the Bible is that there is only one “exact representation” of God and it’s Jesus.

Dr. Bill Tolar, one of my great professors at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary back in the day, told Denise, and me in responding to our question about this topic, “No matter what the Old Testament writers thought they heard God say, the question for us is, ‘What does Jesus say to us?'”

Yep, Jesus is the “spitting image” of God.


This I Believe…Continued: Good God, Bad God?

Ok.  Strap in. Hold on.  Here we go.  We’re starting a conversation about a complex issue.

It was said that I believe that “the God of the New Testament is different than the God of the Old Testament.”

I believe this: The God of the Old Testament seems different than the God of the New Testament.

I remember one sermon in which I observed, “What’s the deal? When you look at some of the things in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament, it’s like between Malachi and Matthew, God became a Christian.”  Now, come on.  Be honest.  Haven’t you thought that?  It’s OK. Admit it.  This is a safe place 🙂

If you haven’t thought it, maybe you haven’t read the following verses. Anyone who has taught the Bible has had that “Please God, don’t let them ask about that verse” moment. These verses fit into that category.

That Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady – Exodus 21:7; Judges 5:30
Have to work on the Sabbath? Have your boss read this – Exodus 35:2
I’m sure glad my parents didn’t obey this one – Deuteronomy 21:18-21

And then there’s the big one:  What’s up with God giving the command to wipe out the Canaanite residents (including women and children) of the Promised Land?

Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Joshua 6:21; Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:10-15

How does the picture of God in these passages fit the picture of God we have in Jesus?

It’s not just atheists, agnostics or the unchurched who are asking these questions.  Bible reading Christ-followers like me – and maybe you – are asking these questions. I know these Christ-following authors are asking:

Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?
David Lamb, God Behaving Badly
Check ‘em out.

Keep asking questions.

Let’s all quit judging people who are asking questions.
Question-askers are in good company – Moses in Exodus 32:11, and, of course, Jesus in Matthew 27:46.

Have you heard the phrase “Faith seeking understanding”?  I like that.  With a strong faith (dependence) in Jesus, I am seeking to understand.  What a journey.  We’ll take another step next time.

This I Believe….Continued

“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.” These words from the  confusing Yogi Berra made me laugh.

I began this blog to correct some misstatements made about my theological beliefs.  The misstatements were made in public – at a Sunday morning gathering of people whom I love and have led for several years.  I truly believe that those who know me know the truth about me.  So, maybe these posts are unnecessary.  I don’t know.  We see what we want to see. We believe what we want to believe.

Maybe these posts are my attempts to restore a reputation that I feel has been marred. Honestly, there’s a bit of that in here – maybe a lot.  I have more than once prayed David’s prayer recorded in Psalm 43:1, “Declare me innocent, O God! Defend me against these ungodly people.  Rescue me from these unjust liars.”  Sounds harsh.  David was pretty honest.  I don’t believe the “misstatements” came out of “ungodly” hearts – I can’t judge someone’s heart.  I just know that the statements are gross (Look it up in a thesaurus – not just “yucky” but “glaring”) misrepresentations of my beliefs.

Maybe these posts are opportunities for dialogue.  But let’s not limit the questions, the doubts, the discussion to a web page.  Why can’t the gathering of people that is often called a church be a place for this dialogue?  Let’s talk here.  But let’s create “church” to be a safe place for dialogue.

Have you ever been “misrepresented”?  How did you handle it?
What would you like to discuss but have never felt “safe” to bring up?