Beware CNN Bearing Bible Verses

Beware CNN Bearing Bible Verses

Mom’s Grave Marker

When my mother passed away in April, my brother and sisters and I chose a text for her grave marker: “I will content with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children” (Isaiah 49:25, KJV). It was one of mother’s favorite texts, and her concept of “children” was broad. She was a nurse and a teacher and was involved in the lives of many.

There was, however, a period in her life when she was deprived of her favorite text. Someone with scholarly credentials told her that the text didn’t mean what she thought it meant, and that she could not claim this as a promise for herself that God would save her children.

She confided this to me in the car one day. She was deeply saddened not to have this text, but she didn’t want to use it if she was misusing it.

Now if one looks at the context of the passage, both literary and historical, it is not talking about spiritual salvation of the descendants of a modern American mother, or of keeping them safe from all danger. It’s talking about the exiles of Judah who are to be brought back to their homeland. In that sense, anyone outside of the time frame of 2nd Isaiah cannot claim the passage for themselves, as it isn’t talking about them. It’s addressed narrowly and specifically.

So are quite a large number of Bible verses.

So here’s how I responded. I told her that yes, indeed, the historical context was different, but that I saw in that passage something about the character of God, portrayed in this passage. God is a God of redemption and works to redeem. God is interested in the generations to come. (It might not surprise you in this context to learn that Psalm 78:1-8 is my theme text for my teaching ministry. God cares about the generations to follow.) I could certainly find many other texts to indicate this as well, but Isaiah 49:25 encapsulates it very well, while placing it in the context of God’s negative judgment as well. This suggests in turn that God’s judgment is intended to result eventually in redemption.

So while the text was not addressed to Myrtle Neufeld in the 20th century (which was when the conversation occurred), and did not specifically speak of her children and what would happen to them, it did express God’s nature and desire for those children. My mother was never naive enough to believe that, despite any choices made, God would make everything right. What she did believe was that God was working to save her children at all times and in all circumstances.

Mom decided that she could use the text after all. Mission accomplished.

So today I read this article from CNN. What struck me in this was not the debate about Romans 13. I have definite opinions on that, but at the moment I will only note that people I respect deeply, who are both sincere and well qualified, disagree with my definite opinions on Romans 13. Well, I should acknowledge that many agree as well! I’ll get to the matter of disagreeing on the meaning of texts in a moment.

The passage that struck me was Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Or let me quote a bit more in context:

10 It is a great joy to me in the Lord that after so long your care for me has now revived. I know you always cared; it was opportunity you lacked. 11 Not that I am speaking of want, for I have learned to be self-sufficient whatever my circumstances. 12 I know what it is to have nothing, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have been thoroughly initiated into fullness and hunger, plenty and poverty. 13 I am able to face anything through him who gives me strength. 14 All the same, it was kind of you to share the burden of my troubles.

The Revised English Bible. (1996). (Php 4:10–14). Cambridge; New York; Melbourne; Madrid; Cape Town; Singapore; São Paulo; Delhi; Dubai; Tokyo: Cambridge University Press.

You know something? Here’s the comment from the article:

When the Apostle Paul wrote that line, he was referring to a Christian’s ability to withstand suffering. It wasn’t about winning; it was about enduring loss. Paul wasn’t taking a victory lap; he was in prison contemplating his execution, says Van Voorst, a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan.

Um, true. Paul didn’t play basketball. But he wasn’t just talking about a Christian’s ability to withstand suffering. He was talking about being able to handle whatever life throws at you. If you’re a basketball player, what life throws at you might be a career-ending injury or it might be an opportunity to make a couple of free throws to end the game victoriously. Yes, it is quite possible to apply this verse in ways that are not appropriate. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to win, for example.

Neither does Romans 8:28ff. The passage goes on to say that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. It’s a powerful passage about spiritual things, about our ultimate salvation. But it’s also a powerful passage about God being with us at all times. It doesn’t mean things will happen the way I want them to. It does mean that, in the end, what God works out will be good. And yes, that good may come in the next life.

I have two major problems with what goes on in this article, though first I must note that many things noted there about abused texts are quite correct. It’s certainly possible to misuse a text. It’s also possible to disagree quite rationally about the meaning of a text or to rob that text of all applicability.

  1. My first problem is this: Biblical scholars can suck the lifeblood from Scripture. With enough historical study, one can assure that nothing in Scripture applies to anything in anyone’s life. Scripture is understood in community, and how it applies to the present grows out of the community and its understanding. It is important to use historical scholarship as an anchor. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the history. But for those who believe that God is still God, it’s quite possible to think that God might act again in ways God has acted before. If you don’t believe God is still God, your argument is on that point, not in the understanding of Scripture.I would hope that scholars would encourage, inform, and edify the members of the community, not nit-pick them into abandoning a personal reading and application of Scripture.
  2. My second problem is simply this: If we understand that there are multiple possibilities for ways to understand and apply Scripture, we should also expect that a news article from CNN that quotes a couple of scholars cannot settle the issue of meaning for multiple Scriptures. This is why I prefer “I disagree with that view” to “That view is wrong.” There are some really bad interpretations out there, but some of those are held by highly qualified people, and a response should include careful argumentation. “There’s another way to view this” will accomplish more, I think, than “Your view of this is stupid.”

Most obviously, I might suggest that a short article is hardly going to set the record straight on multiple Scripture passages. I found places I agreed and places I didn’t. I know of serious commentators who would agree and some who wouldn’t.

As a life-giving, spiritually invigorating support, a text can be wonderful. As a club to beat up your neighbor? Not so much.

The Critical Need for Transformative Bible Study

The Critical Need for Transformative Bible Study

I know relatively few people who will not complain from time to time about proof-texting. At the same time, I know equally few people who don’t prefer to be able to pull out a single line from scripture that makes their point. If you just have chapter and verse, then you can be scriptural. A number of current debates rely on trying to wave the banner of a particular scripture at opponents.

We tend—and I include myself in this—to search the scriptures for the answers to doctrinal, social, or political questions, and hope to have as an outcome a simple text or set of texts that will leave our opponents reeling. Most of us a realistic enough to realize that we won’t convince them that easily. They’ll reel off to some place where they can find more congenial company. There are those who seem to think that if you don’t join the chorus, it’s because you don’t really care about the issue or the people involved. The volume and persistence of your contribution is seen as a measure of your commitment.

While I’m as tempted by all this as the next person, I am unconvinced that any of this type of exchange (I cannot call it discussion) actually accomplishes anything useful. What we need, instead, is transformative Bible study.

Transformative Bible study occurs when we (or I) study the Bible in order to behold and be changed (2 Corinthians 3:18).

I do not mean that we do not study Bible in community. The church, from small groups to congregations to denominations, and to the Body of Christ universal, needs to study to be changed.

I do not mean that others do not need to change. There are many people who, I’m quite convinced, are behaving in ways they ought not to behave.

I do not mean that the formulation of doctrine is not important. I am a member of a congregation in a denomination that I believe has great difficulty defining doctrinal boundaries that are sufficient to maintain a cohesive community.

I do not even mean that we don’t need to do some doctrinal enforcement. Saying that one is a member of a group has to mean something. There is a need for some identity.

I also don’t mean that we can’t suggest ideas or even correct others, though we should be equally willing to hear. Such exchanges require some level of relationship, however.

But I think the best way to lead in a better direction is to always read the Bible with a focus first on its changing me. In community, that should be with a view to changing us.

We want to change others because we are certain they are wrong. It is frightening simply to trust that if we can help give people a glimpse of Jesus, and then trust God and the Holy Spirit to implement change. We’re no longer in control. I would point out that we are not in control in any case. All the loud yelling is not actually changing people’s minds.

I’m suggesting a meditative study, open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and carried out with a willingness to make changes. It’s a matter of example.

I hope you’ll think about it. I plan to!

No! Just No! (to personal DNA test)

No! Just No! (to personal DNA test)

Kristen V. Brown reports on Bloomberg that it’s “brutally difficult” to delete your DNA records online. She also reports that:

The direct-to-consumer genetic-testing industry has grown from some $15 million in sales in 2010 to more than $99 million in 2017, and is projected to reach $310 million by 2022, according to one industry estimate.

(My “check your facts and nag others to do so” impulse requires me to suggest you note that this is an industry estimate, and they may have an urge to make their industry look better.)

I totally fail to understand the interest in personal DNA testing. I wouldn’t discover I’m a different person, even if the DNA suggested I was. I’d still be me. Of course, this won’t occur, as I wouldn’t take one of these tests if it was given to me as a gift. (I yelled at the TV when one of the testing companies advertised it as a good father’s day gift.) Come to think of it, I wouldn’t even take it if you offered me financial incentive.

Being a data driven person, I would also like to note that I found this information via Numlock News, Walt Hickey previously wrote Significant Digits, which is on FiveThirtyEight.com, another of my favorites. I can’t commend Walt Hickey’s newsletter too highly. It’s great. I still enjoy that one, even while I get used to a new writer. These sites/newsletters are about data and they provide sources so you can check the sources and weigh the quality of the information yourself.

How to Lose Credibility

How to Lose Credibility

Here’s the headline: Democrats flip 43rd state legislative seat since Trump took office

Now read carefully down to the 3rd from the last paragraph: “The 43 wins for Democrats have not been a net gain, however.”

What exactly is going on? Have democrats gained or lost legislative seats? How many?

I went to Ballotpedia for a count. I combine numbers from 2017 and 2018 to date.

Under the heading “Flipped Seats,” we find that 17 seats flipped in 2017, 14 from Republican to Democrat and 3 from Democrat to Republican, for a net Democratic gain of 11 seats.

For 2018, under the same heading we find that 10 seats have flipped in special elections, 9 in favor of Democrats and 1 in favor of Republicans, for a net gain of 8 seats.

Between the two sets of numbers we have a net gain of 19 in special elections. In addition, I found a net gain of 3 for the Democrats in New Jersey, and a net gain of 15 in Virginia (all in the House of Delegates). The net total would be 37.

My point is not where the other seats might be, but that the two statements are inconsistent. Is 43 flipped seats to the Democratic party net? Apparently not, and if I didn’t count net seats, I would be close to 43. But 37 net gain is still a net gain, even if not of 43 seats. Perhaps they mean that 43 is not the net number. So why not give us the net number? I’m not paid for this, so I’m not going to try to track down the rest of the numbers. Politifact is paid, and you can read what they found earlier in the year. Their text and then their rating illustrates why I tend to read them to raid their sources, but pay little attention to their final rating.

37 seats is interesting in itself, though the meaning can be debated. But this kind of loose reporting, with a headline that would suggest something different than the text and numbers that might (or might not) reflect something different than the text shows why the media is having a hard time getting accepted as fact checkers.

I think it is unfortunate that many Americans have gone from a biased source to sources without any moorings at all. But having your expectations trampled upon repeatedly does not make for confidence. Getting basic data right would be helpful.

Tonight in Romans

Tonight in Romans

This evening, at 6 pm at Chumuckla Community Church, we continue the study of Romans, just starting chapter 2. Here’s a quote from some of my reading today:

The Gospel is not just a matter for the mind, a message that must be understood. It is a way of being in the world that must be lived. The Gospel may reach the individual through the mind, and the mind has a task to do with it, considering its premises, judging its arguments, evaluating its goals. But the Gospel must find its home in the heart, the seat of being. It cannot get to the heart without passing through the mind, but it is not effective unless it settles in the heart, changing it in the process. As Paul puts it, the heart must be circumcised (Rom. 2:29). The power of sin in it must be expurgated. The Christian has a mind renewed from above and a circumcised heart. Paul’s promise to his converts is that “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). To keep the mind and the heart together is to live by faith and reason. The love of God that the Spirit pours into the heart does not dislodge the unity of the mind and the heart. It strengthens it. In the Christian, faith and reason abide as one. (Herold Weiss, Meditations on the Letters of Paul, pp. 59-60)

There are those who think we’re moving slowly. I think we’re moving at lightning speed! If you live in the area, come and join us for an exciting discussion.

My Problem with Church Buildings

My Problem with Church Buildings

Some time ago, in fact, on the trip Jody and I took when she met my parents, I had a half-awake dream/vision. I saw a little church building in a mountain valley. I woke up and told Jody about it and that I thought we’d see it on the trip and we would stop and pray for the people there. As we were driving through Kentucky, we came around a corner in the mountains and there it was.

I’m not presenting this as a miraculous occurrence, because it has coincidence and selective memory written all over it. What it does show is my own attitude. I really loved that scene. The sun was shining through partial cloud cover, and the valley itself could have served as a painting or photograph. We did, in fact, stop and pray. I still remember the scene, though I can’t remember the name of the town.

I love beautiful church architecture. I like to look at good stained glass windows. There is some stained glass that falls somewhat short of “good.” I love to see and listen to a good pipe organ. I recall a hand carved pulpit I saw once with four historical figures in the church. It was beautiful. I enjoyed it.

Still, I have a problem with all this, and the longer I live, and the more I think about serving Jesus, the more concerned I become.

You see, I believe that our churches, by which I mean the people, should be there to create community, and that community should witness to the love of Jesus. I believe that every member should be a minister, that every member is called to priesthood, and that, indeed, the church as the body of Christ is called to a priestly ministry of connection between the divine and the human. (I’m not going to present arguments for this view here. You can read my post Seven Marks: Genuine Relationships for some quotes and comments from multiple writers.)

I don’t, however, think that our church architecture or our worship practice reflects this reality, or perhaps I should call it a hope. I recall once tweeting during a sermon in which the speaker was lecturing with vigor on the importance of participation, of everyone being involved. I asked the question, “Am I the only one who finds it strange to be lectured on participation in a monologue?” Well, am I?

To me, church architecture speaks separation. We have the raised platform, the decorated pulpit (yes, even the ones I really like), the table that’s sort of like the table of the presence. Worship is guided from the front and the single presenter gives a lecture. When invited to preach I personally like to avoid standing behind the pulpit or lectern, though often this is not possible due to the sound system. Hmmm. Don’t get me started on sound systems!

The sanctuaries of our churches reflect a structure that goes back to ancient temples, in which it very much reflected the separation between the actual divinity, often thought to dwell in a special way in the inner sanctum, and the worshipers outside. The priests, then connected the people to the god(s), though never permanently. The channel was always through the priests.

Now don’t think what follows is “New Testament.” But looking back, we see in Exodus 19:6, that God was inviting all the people to hear. Then in Exodus 20:19, the people indicate they’d rather hear from Moses. Now don’t go into the “those stupid, stubborn Israelites” mode. It’s always entertaining when studying these passages to hear people’s claims of how much more faithful they would have been. So, all ye faithful people, tell me this: What happened to the church? It surely must be a shining light at all times, considering what faultless people we are! Well, perhaps, not so much.

But the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus opened up a new and living way and invites us to follow it, to each approach the throne of grace boldly. So the separation should go. Yet we put that into practice on a regular basis. We treat the pastor as priest. We have an “active” and “inactive” portion.

I think the fellowship hall is a much better representation of what the church should be. Perhaps we could quit building church sanctuaries and just build fellowship halls with some educational/small group rooms attached. Perhaps we could have each Sunday service sitting around tables while we share a meal and all share with one another. Hey, we could even bless this meal and call it communion!

Then we can move the tables and the chairs and share food, clothing, and love with those in need during the week as well. (We did invite them to share our common meal on Sunday, didn’t we?) We could bring them in for social and educational events. We could get everyone involved.

Of course, this is all very frightening. If you get people in touch with the divine on their own, then they may not always follow the directions and ideas of the people in charge. If everyone can participate, someone might say something wrong! What would we do then?

Featured Image Credit: Openclipart.org

I have shocking news for you. Wrong things are said from pulpits around the world every week, and yet here we are. Yes, there are ideas for order, correction, and accountability, ideas that are often not applied to our pastors when they should be. Read 1 Corinthians 12-14 in sequence. What do you think the “edifying” church service in Corinth would have looked like? If Paul introduces ways to correct, is there not a possibility that wrong things got said in this service? That’s where mutual accountability comes in. I’ve seen churches where there were designated people to do correction or to choose who could speak. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about mutual accountability, where everyone and everything can be questioned and discussed.

A couple of weeks ago I posted this quote from author Herold Weiss, from his book Meditations on According to John:

The sacraments were established toward the end of the first century when Christianity was becoming institutionalized and starting to create official channels through which the Holy Spirit could flow under ecclesiastical control. — Herold Weiss, Meditations on According to John, p. 152.

I think a great deal of what we do is designed to help the Holy Spirit blow where we desire, not where he desires (John 3:8). Or rather, our problem is that people may mistake the leading of the Holy Spirit if they don’t have our help. We want the Spirit flowing under ecclesiastical control, along with the worship service, the presentation of the Word, and all activities of the church.

And right there in our church architecture we embalm and entomb this attitude that suggests that people in general are incapable of knowing God’s will, and need the leaders of the church to keep them straight. Is there value in expert teachers? Of course! But when those expert teachers become expert controllers, then community suffers. They can make points that are quite accurate, while destroying the practical impact of what they teach. They can become, like that speaker I mentioned advocating participation, advocates of something they will not do.

Do we trust in God? That’s always a good question. Generally, I think, we’re afraid that God can’t lead people where God wants them to go. We’d like a mighty wind of the Holy Spirit, but only if that wind blows in a wind tunnel of our choosing, preferably without mussing up our hair.


Tuesday Night Study: Genuine Relationships

Tuesday Night Study: Genuine Relationships

Our study continues tomorrow evening with a look at chapter 4 of Dave Black’s book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, “Genuine Relationships.” In this chapter, Dave discusses the church as community. I wrote an extended post on it when I was blogging through the book some time ago. I recommend reading that, and paying particular attention to the definitions provided by Ruth Fletcher. I’ve quoted a key line in the featured image, but in that earlier post I quote more and discuss at greater length.

Check the Data: Vitamin Supplements

Check the Data: Vitamin Supplements

This study highlights a number of things I like to emphasize. One, of course, is something I’ve thought since I managed the Staff O’ Life Nutrition Center in Columbus, Georgia when I was in my late teens. Eating a good diet is a better plan than using cabinet’s full of supplements. Fortunately for me, the store was operated by people who took the same view.

Featured image credit: © Lindamstyle
ID 12998694 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

But you also need to read each study carefully. News articles—and this is a news story, not the text of the study—tend to put the most exciting material up front. Since people often don’t read to the end of an article, often stopping at the headline, they can get very slanted ideas.

At the end of the article, you get this quote:

A minor limitation in the study could be seen to be its broad focus. John Funder, from Monash University, points out that the study does not suggest vitamin or mineral supplements are useless in clinical cases where a patient actively needs those supplements.

This is why people think studies are inaccurate or that they should ignore science as contradictory. What this study suggests is not that nobody needs vitamin supplements. It is that supplements taken by a broad population without a specific need identified, do not increase longevity. So if your doctor finds you need a supplement, this study should not be used to resist taking that supplement. As an example, my dad (an MD) told me that Vegans can have a B12 deficiency, so if I was to stay away from all dairy products, I should consider taking a supplement. This study isn’t a refutation of his statement. He’d agree with the study in general.

Further, study study notes a potential negative impact of taking Niacin. Again, this is a general finding over a large population, not screened for a need for Niacin. If you are deficient, I suspect your doctor would urge you to take the supplement.

So I see it as a valuable lesson in both eating, maintaining your personal health, and how to read news stories.

Oh, and yes, most important: This isn’t the study. It’s a news story about the study. Note the link to the abstract of the actual study at the end. That link is both valuable in itself and also as an indicator of the diligence of the story writers. Beware unsourced information!

Thinking about a Crucified God

Thinking about a Crucified God

My company, Energion Publications, recently released a book What’s God Really Like?. It’s endorsed by Brian Zahnd;

In What’s God Really Like?, S. J. Hill invites us to become fascinated by God and, in that fascination, to move beyond the fear-based themes that have so often distorted our image of God. With a focus on Jesus and Scripture, Hill paints a portrait of a God who is “holy wild” and overflowing with generous love and contagious joy. This book is a welcome and timely remedy to the unworthy portraits of God that have too often haunted our imaginations.

Brian Zahnd
Lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO
and author of

Another Energion author, Allan R. Bevere, posted the following video, a sermon by Brian Zahnd. I think all of these go well together!


 

Can We Have a Commitment to Biblical Truth?

Can We Have a Commitment to Biblical Truth?

We now come to the third mark of a New Testament church, and that is its commitment to biblical truth. One of the weakest aspects of Western Christianity is our failure to give proper teaching to new converts. As a result, biblical illiteracy plagues the church in America. This is a weakness in some mainline churches, and often in evangelical churches too. (Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, p. 17)

I discussed this to some extent when I worked through this book, but now I want to place the question before my readers for some discussion. With the wide variety of beliefs that we claim are biblical, one wonders just what biblical truth is and how we discern it. Are all those who disagree not listening to the Holy Spirit? Are they ignorant?

Read my previous post, which also quotes from Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel and Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations.