“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
Today I was signed up to run the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Between the 10 mile and the marathon there were supposed to be about 20,000 runners. Earlier in the week there were warnings about heat and humidity. "Record Breaking" heat, but record breaking on Oct. 1 isn't the same as record breaking in July or August. It was supposed to get up to about 87 degrees, but not until 4 or 5 PM. For those that would run a five hour race (which is really slow) the temp would be about 82 by the time they finished. Warm? Yes, that's warm, especially when running a long race. In the name of "safety" the race was cancelled just a few hours before start. There certainly are conditions that warrant a cancelation, but NOT this. Why write a blog about it? Because this is about more than one race, it is about what has become a cultural norm.
The very first marathon, if you will, was run by Pheidippides who was delivering news of victory to Athens about the battle of marathon. He died after delivering the news. He didn't exactly train for that run and I have no idea what the weather was like. I am certain there were no aide stations, medical professionals, or nutrition along the way. Of course we don't run marathons to deliver news about battles either, we are doing it for other reasons that are not so weighty. Nevertheless, we have become so consumed with "safety" that we have become far too risk averse. Bad things happen! Some of those things might be injury or worse, but some of those things might be cultural or psychological.
Risk is part of life. Not all risk is worth taking and not all safety precautions are worth taking. As a dad, I never thought it was my primary responsibility to keep my kids safe by preventing them from taking risk. I thought it was my responsibility to teach them courage, moral strength, grit, toughness, and so on. Safety was also on the list, but it was far from the most important thing I wanted to teach my kids. What we teach our kids is what we are teaching our culture. We can teach them to take risk, all kinds of risk, and at the same time teach them to consider the importance of safety while they are taking that risk.
We should stop saying, "safety first!" Instead, we should teach our kids to take risks and consider safety as they do so . Some things are worth great risk and others aren't worth much risk at all.
The Bible's teaching on forgiveness is clear, we are to forgive one another (Eph. 4:32, Mt. 6:14, etc.). However, the irony and perhaps the arrogance of CT or Paul D. Miller on behalf of the evangelical elites to suggest it's time for "forgiveness" is rich, to say the least. I haven't said much about Covid and the response to it in a long time. In part, because it was so divisive and in part because I am working through my own bitterness regarding the evangelical elites who preached down to the rest of the Christians, the "rank and file" if you will, demanding that it was unloving to not wear a mask, to not get vaccinated (over and over), to not shut down, to not jump in line and follow their tyrannical demands. I can't count the times I was told that the church should lead the way be getting vaccines that were untested and experimental and to choose not to was to be unloving, unChristlike, etc. Criticizing the demands for business to shut down, to warn of the psychological problems we would face, to suggest that there would be unintended consequences to the actions being taken, to warn about the loss of education our kids would experience, to warn of livelihoods that would be lost, and so on was, according the evangelical elites, a bad Christian witness.
Well, it now turns out the elites were wrong...about almost everything. Masks didn't work, the vaccines didn't work (at least not as a vaccine, maybe a therapeutic), the lock downs didn't work, 2 weeks to stop the spread didn't work, 6 feet was made up, keeping kids home from school was unnecessary, and more. In fact, it is hard to think of one thing they got right. You were a nutcase if you thought it came from a lab in China (it looks like it actually did). You were a "science denier" if you questioned any of it or stood up for people's choice to make their own medical decisions.
Now, the magazine of the evangelical elites, CT, publishes and article demanding forgiveness. Okay, forgiven...I mean it. You are forgiven evangelical elites, at least I forgive you. However, if you think for a moment that I trust you, you are delusional. Maybe some trust could be earned back and I have a suggestion as to how you might do that.
If you have a platform, (Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, Rick Warren, et. al.) and you said anything remotely close to, "loving your neighbor means getting the vaccine and wearing a mask." If you said anything like, "pastors, you need to shut your church down." If you said anything like, "you are a conspiracy theorist if you think the vaccine came from a Chinese lab." If you maligned those who stood for medical freedom in regards to vaccines, questioned lockdowns, etc. You can start by publicly admitting you were wrong. Make it really public! Maybe you just listened to the wrong people (Ed Stetzer), that's fine. Whatever the reason, you were wrong and you made demands of pastors, their churches, and Christians in general that were completely out of line with reality. You contributed to the panic rather than calming it. Just say it, that would be a great start.
Ask for forgiveness. To be honest, you have mine, but the ask would still be nice. You don't have to do any more than that.
Be careful about how you judge people moving forward. Making claims that someone or an entire group of people is not loving their neighbor by not doing something like getting a shot, wearing a mask, etc. is not only judgmental, it is arrogant. When the Bible doesn't speak directly to something like a vaccine or wearing a mask, maybe treading a little more lightly would be appropriate. Speak with generalities, but make room for exceptions in cases like this.
Stop believing your own press. You might be smart, maybe even brilliant, but that doesn't make you wise. Wisdom, in part, is knowing your limits. We all wonder outside of our own limits from time to time, but sometimes, but you can do better.
Forgiveness, sure. Amnesty? No way! I'm not giving the evangelical elites a pass on this. I didn't trust them much before Covid, I certainly don't trust them now. I will not be listening until they work to regain trust and in the process show some humility. In fact, I'm not entirely sure we should have a category like "evangelical elites" but it is probably inevitable.
May 29, 1993 wasn't a magical day, but it was the day that I married the woman I love to this day. However, love is not the secret to a long, lasting, and good marriage. In fact, there is no secret. The ingredients are simple and yet, in many ways, difficult. I love my wife more today than ever, but it isn't a mystery as to why.
Later this month it will have been 30 years of imperfect, grace required, marriage for Chris and I. We both fully expected this day to come apart from some tragedy that took one of our lives. We both fully expected there to be hard times, days, weeks, even a month or two where we were not exactly enamored with one another. There have been a lot of great years and some years that were much more difficult. Expectation is the first ingredient to a good marriage. For us, divorce or even separation just weren't options, at least that is what we told ourselves. In reality, divorce and separation are always options, but they were not options we were going to consider apart from extreme circumstances. We married one another with full expectation that we would be married until one of us died, "until death do us part." We meant it when we said it and we still mean it.
False expectation isn't helpful. We expected there to be hard times that required work, perseverance, repentance, hurt, and forgiveness. We got that part right. There have been those moments. If I was honest, I have probably needed more on the forgiveness front than she has, but it has been both of us at times. The gospel is the model for marriage. We sacrifice for one another, forgive one another, and love one another. The second ingredient is expectation that recognizes that their will be great difficulty and even hurt that will require forgiveness from one another and the perseverance to move forward when it seems almost impossible.
Self-improvement is probably one of the most overlooked keys. I am not the man my wife married and she is not the woman I married. The truth is, both of us are better. Had we refused to change and grow our marriage would continue to be very difficult. The humility to recognize my own need for growth (along with my wife) and to follow through and grow as a person (including and perhaps especially my spiritual growth) is essential. I was not ready for 30 years of marriage 30 years ago, but I grew into it. I imagine I'm not ready for 60 years of marriage right now, but I'm going to grow into it.
I said earlier that love isn't enough for a successful marriage, that's true, but I was referring to the kind of immature love that the world refers to. The kind of love the world tells us about is the kind that a person falls in and out of. Biblical love is different. Biblical love requires sacrifice, forgiveness, kindness, putting the other person ahead of self, repentance, commitment, overcoming sin, and so much more. Biblical love in marriage is, in fact, enough.
All of that said, as the old saying goes, "it takes two to tango!" A successful marriage requires not one person who is committed to making it work, but two. One person can quit even if the other person doesn't.
Marriage isn't a burden, it's a blessing. Embrace it, pursue it, and enjoy it. In the most difficult moments in life, I'm never alone. When I'm depressed my wife encourages me, when I fail my wife picks me up, when I'm scared my wife tells me to man up, when I need grace my wife forgives me (like Jesus has), when I wanted to pursue degrees my wife supported me (in many ways), when my wife needed those same things from me I have done my best to provide them...marriage is a great blessing.
No one likes taxes. Some believe it is the governments way of steeling from you. I empathize with that. I have had some years where I wrote some pretty big checks to the government (at least they were big for me). I have also had at least one year where I got way more back from the government than I expected...redistribution of wealth is a real thing. But what does the Bible say about taxes? In short, it says you should pay them, but that isn't all it says.
When Israel was a fledgling nation without a king. It had leaders, Samuel was its leader for a while and the he appointed his sons, but they were corrupt and the people cried out for a king. When Samuel appealed to God his response was two fold. First God said the people were rejecting God as their king. We do the same thing when we ask government to do things outside of its lane. When we ask government to do what is in the domain of the family, when we ask government to provide for us, when we ask government to be our moral compass and so on. When we ask government to do what only God can do we err in the same way Israel erred.
God gave a second warning to Israel. A King would claim certain rights and included in those rights would be taking their daughter, sons, animals, crops, etc. for various purposes. Indeed, this is still true. Governments demand service from our sons and daughters in various ways. And our money is confiscated for the purpose of supporting government which claims to provide all kinds of services (some legitimate and some not) for the people. God gave Israel a king and all of God's warnings came true.
In other words, in may ways government provides certain services and infra structure to the people, but government can (and often is) a burden to the people. Quite often government becomes an overwhelming burden.
But there is more in the Bible about taxes.
When Jesus was challenged with the question of whether it was right to pay taxes or not it was a trick question. A denarius was a coin used to pay taxes and on it were two things. First, there was an inscription that read, "Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Agustus." This was a problem for the Jews, there is only one God, Yahweh, it was not Caesar. If Jesus said to pay taxes, in their minds, He would be but committing a form of idolatry. Of course if he said no then he would be in trouble with Rome. The second thing on the coin was a depiction of Caesar. So he pointed this depiction out and said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is His." Of course God is sovereign over all the universe, but when we pay our taxes we are rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Our money is marked with all kinds of things that show it belongs, in some sense, to Caesar. Further, the apostle Paul points out that the government is an instrument of God and he exhorts us to not only be obedient to government, but specifically to pay our taxes.
Are there abuses and misuses? Of course! Are taxes too high? For some, for sure! Does the government use tax dollars for immoral things? Absolutely. So did Rome. You don't have to be happy about, but the Biblical thing to do is pay your taxes.
This past week we once again were subjected to a killer who decided to march into a school in Nashville Tennessee and kill people. Three kids and three adults were murdered before good guys with guns could get there and put the killer down. This time there was a significant difference from previous mass school killings. The killer was a woman who identified as a man. Furthermore, the school was a private Christian school. In many ways this is unusual, but I can't help but thinking about what might be common among many of these school shooters. It might be the case that this murderous event reveals something that was present but less obvious in previous school murderers. I believe this is the case.
We can rightly point to mental health as an important part of the equation, but there is something even deeper than this. This something is foundational to how a person understands reality. The fundamental question is this, is reality something we can mold and manipulate or is reality solid, objective, and concrete? The answer is a little more involved than we might like, but it is important to understand.
Reality does not only contain that which is material, but that which is immaterial. Reality is not limited to the material, it also includes the immaterial. In recent years it is not only the immaterial that has been viewed as mutable, but also the material.
We now live in a world where where people are told that we can alter even material reality. Think about this for a moment. The most obvious illustration, as absurd as it is, is the transgender ideology. Extremists liberals, often found in politics, news networks, education, and mental health, tell us that a person who has male DNA and male body parts can simply take some hormones, slice off some parts, and add other parts that don't function in any kind of complete way and they have transcended their physical maleness and become female. Of course that is a fantasy! And anyone who says that gender is not a physical feature must explain why a persons is attempting to change their physical features to become the other gender...quite a quandary isn't it? While it may be the case that some gender expressions are culturally conditioned, others are a function of genetics and physical features, not to mention psychological features.
If it is the case that we are teaching people that they can change physical realities like gender, is it really that hard to figure out why people don't believe in any kind of moral (immaterial) reality?
So when a woman who believes she is a man enters a school and starts shooting kids and adults, what objective morals are we to use in order to condemn such an action. If physical reality itself can be altered, why not moral realities? Yet, I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who does not think that school shootings are objectively bad, even if they wouldn't use those words. Maybe you could find one or two people, but good luck.
It should be pointed out that moral relativism preceded the physical relativism that has begun to grip our culture. It was moral relativism that paved the way for doctors, nurses, and other medical professions to begin chopping off body parts that were properly functioning in spite of the hypocratic oath they took which one might summarize by saying "do no harm." Don't over treat or under treat is another way to summarize certain aspects of the oath...it seems on obvious case of over treatment or simply wrong treatment to pump hormones though a body that is already producing the right kind of hormones for that body or to cut off properly functioning body parts. Bud if morality and physical reality are relative and can be manipulated, then what is "harm" and what is "over treatment"?
I am not suggesting that being transgender leads to shooting up schools. I am suggesting that there is a deeper issue that is at least partly at fault. That deeper issue is a form of relativism that has taken root in our cultural psyche to the point where we now think that almost everything is relative and can be manipulated, material and immaterial. The result isn't just school shootings, but a whole host of practices that are destroying our culture. Mass shootings is just one of them.
This country music video has had 30 million views at the time I am writing this. In addition the Grammy performance of the same song has had 2.2 million views. It tells the story of an abused woman who was protected by a stranger. I have watched this video and listened to the song several times and was brought to tears every time. If you haven't seen the video, watch now, but have some tissues available.
Did you cry? This video tells a story and pulls on heart strings whether you more closely identify with the man or the woman. In some way, I identify with both. When I was young I witnessed my mom being physically abused on multiple occasions. At one point I witnessed a loaded 12 gauge shotgun being pointed at her head. I certainly know what it was like to live in a home where abuse was common.
I also have this protector drive built into me. Part of this is because I am a man. Yes, I believe that is part of God's created order. I am charged with the responsibility of protecting my family and others who are not able to protect themselves. Obviously my ability to protect has limits, but this is a strong motivation that through nature and nurture motivates me. It is probably the reason I practice martial arts and am competent with using firearms. It is probably the reason I love apologetics and defending the faith and protecting those who have put their faith in Jesus from wrong ideas that might threaten their faith. I want to protect them from fallacious attacks against their faith. The urge and compulsion to protect others is strong. Pastors are protectors of the sheep and I cherish that. This video and song taps deep into that protector instinct that exists within me and so many others. It also taps into the reality that we all know exists, that reality is that predatory men will abuse women and as a society we righteously find that repulsive.
This song and video are brilliant for several reasons and I'm not sure the writer of the song even realizes the brilliance. It taps into several realities, moral dilemmas, and innate human desires. Perhaps the most basic reality that is seen but not explicitly stated is the difference between men and women. First Peter 3:7 says, "Husbands, in the sam way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." Are women weaker? Yes, they are. This is objectively and scientifically true, not to mention the reality that God's word says so. Strength and weakness are not characteristics of value and I'm not suggesting weakness of mind or will. I will not argue this point at this point, it is simply true. Men and husbands are therefore told to respect the weaker partner. Abuse is the opposite of respect! Men are to be protectors for this very reason. The strong are to protect and when that turns to abuse rather than protection, that is a reversal of God's design and an offense to God.
There is more, much more that this video taps into. Abuse is the opposite of Justice and their exists a deep desire in the human heart for justice. This is because we are created in the image of God and God is just. The song and video doesn't give all the details of the back story. Were the police ever called? Did they not do their job? Maybe they were called and there was some kind of manipulation or deception. Maybe they were never called. Government and police are part of God's design (Rom. 13). Was there a miscarriage of justice on the part of the authorities instituted by God? We don't know, but what we do know is that there is a deep desire for justice built into the heart. When we see a miscarriage of justice, our desire is to fix it.
This man fixes it, sort of. He takes justice into his own hands. Perhaps this could be justified if those who were supposed to carry out justice (again see Romans 13) had failed and refused to do their job, but we don't know if that is the case. The problem is he "fixes" it by murdering a man. My flesh wants to say, "he deserved it!" He did, but that isn't my place. "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord." I am not the Lord. What makes this morally difficult is the man's willingness to wait for the police and face the consequences. He trades his freedom for the freedom of the abuse woman. She walks free from abuse and he is put in prison. WOW! No, it isn't the same as the gospel, but it gets close. Jesus set us free by paying the price for our sin and satisfying the law on our behalf (read Galatians). I might be willing to make the same trade off he made in certain circumstances. If my daughter was being abused my a man (she isn't) I might be tempted to simply make the problem disappear. Who among us wouldn't face that temptation?
They don't run off into the sunset, he goes to prison and she gets the truck. Sure, she visits him, but his sin is murder and the one whom he murdered was guilty of abuse. Where is the hero? Is it the one who commits murder? Yet, that is the one we all want to say is the hero precisely because he murdered someone. But for the grace of God, there go I. Our desire to revere a murderer because he killed an abuser should reveal to us how throughly messed up the world is. I won't be the abuser, but somehow it is easier for me to see myself as the murderer. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God...there is no one righteous, no not one." God help us!
He has helped us. Jesus sets us free from the slavery of sin by paying the price for that sin on our behalf. Oh how beautiful that message is. "God so loved the world [you] that He gave his only son that whoever believes in Him [the divine, eternal, Son of God who took on human flesh and died and rose again for our sins and will one day return and make all things right] will not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
I recently watched an interview NBC didwith pastor and author Doug Wilson in which NBC seems to condemn (implicitly, but strongly) the goal of Doug Wilson to "Christianize" Moscow, Idaho. You can watch the interview here. Unfortunately a disclaimer is appropriate here. Wilson has said and done many things with which I have significant issues and this post is not an endorsement. I will give credit where credit is due, Wilson is forthright and honest about his intentions to "Christianize" Moscow, Idaho. The question we must ask is whether or not Wilson's goals are appropriate. Should Christians seek to Christianize the cities, states, and country in which they live?
It is tempting to point out the tone and slant of the interview but perhaps I will, just for a moment. NBC was far from fair in what they aired (not that I expected them to be fair). The interviews were slanted and the interviewers they aired were chosen to display Wilson and his ideas as radical, fringe, and unacceptable. For the purposes of this post the details are unimportant. But some observations about Wilson's goals, as stated in the interview, are appropriate.
Wilson never argues for a theocracy in the interview. He never says that religious freedom should be set aside for a city/state imposed religion by which everyone must abide. In fact, when asked he says the opposite. In a Christianized Moscow there is room for religious freedom, emphatically so. Of course the same sex marriage issue is brought up and Wilson makes clear the teachings of Scripture and how there would be no state endorsed same sex marriage in his vision. That topic alone deserves much more attention for the sake of clarity. Wilson is not saying that gay people would be punished, at least not in this interview.
This interview misses the point of what it means to "Christianize" a city, state, or nation. At one point Wilson was asked if he sought to do this through persuasion or by drawing others to Moscow. His answer was, "both." Wilson is not, as far as I can tell based on this interview, arguing for tyranny and imposing the Christian faith at the end of a proverbial gun (or a literal gun). Wilson's eschatology (postmillennialism) supports his approach to these things. I believe he is mistaken in his eschatology, but that view alone is not heretical. In fact, prior to the 1860's it was quite common in Christian circles. Regardless of one's eschatology we are given the great commission to go into the world and make disciples and that fits in with Wilson's desire to change hearts and minds. If "Christianizing" our cities, state, and country means changing hearts and minds with the gospel and the teachings of Jesus (and the Bible in general) then it would be sinful to not desire to Christianize the places where we live!
The reality is that this has cultural and political implications. If God designed this world to work in a particular way and for humans to flourish according to certain rules and standards, then shouldn't we want exactly that? I have not read Wilson extensively nor do I pay much attention to his blog. I often have issues with his approach and with some of his theology. However, this interview reveals how the media and large portions of our culture misunderstand what Christians seek to accomplish. This is another attempt to push religious belief (at least Christian belief) into the closet and lock the door. The way this is done is by taking a guy like Wilson, portraying hims as extreme (throw in bigoted, misogynistic, etc.), and then pretend that this picture of Wilson is how all of Christianity operates. The Christian faith is to be lived out in politics, in culture, and in every other area of life.
I pray for a Christianized nation because I believe Jesus is the only salvation from sin, because I believe we were designed to operate in a particular way and that when we go outside of the boundaries given by God it does not go well, and because we are commanded to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Pray with me, and don't willingly go into a closet and allow the broader culture to lock the door.
What? You might be asking what Christianity or the Bible has to say about Monkeypox. Actually, Christianity and the Bible explains all that we see and do. When Christianity (both natural and particular revelation included) is understood properly it explains everything, including Monkeypox. That said, there are some specific issues related to Monkeypox that bring it to the top of the list. Some things, like cancer or heart disease, can be quickly attributed to living in a fallen world marred by sin and that is pretty sufficient. Monkeypox is different because because of the manner in which it is spread. Progressives (Christian and non-Christian alike) will be quick to decry anyone who deals with this issue honestly, scientifically, and Biblically. Why? Because 95% of cases are among gay people, mostly men. It is culturally taboo to point out this reality; it is considered homophobic to point this out. What should Christians make of this reality?
First, ethics is intimately connected to the physical reality in which we live. Our culture seems to dismiss any form of ethical responsibility at all. School shooters aren't the problem, it is the guns. Illegal aliens (undocumented immigrants) aren't the problem, the border or the wall is the problem. Criminals aren't the problem, it's the system. All of those are a rejection of the idea that evil and wickedness can exist within the person. They reject any sense of moral responsibility in order not to "stigmatize" or "shame" someone. Christians must reject this often subtle lie. The gospel itself is based on the premise that that people are morally responsible for the evil they perpetrate no matter how small the evil act is. There is guilt, shame, and even stigma associated with evil and wicked actions...there should be (Romans 3).
Monkey pox appears to be spread primarily through sex between a man and a man. Christians believe there are two kinds of revelation from God. One is the natural universe. This includes the hard sciences like physics, biology, chemistry, and o on. If God created the world (He did) then it makes sense that we might learn some things about God by studying the world. We can come to theological and moral conclusions by studying the world we live in. Yes, even moral principles can be understood in this way. Could it be that something like Monkeypox, AIDs, and STDs tell us something about the ethics of sexual behavior? Licentious sexual practices very often have detrimental physical effects. This includes homosexual behavior, but is not limited to homosexual behavior. Having multiple sexual partners, sex outside of a monogamous sexual relationship, and other sexual acts can have physical consequences like the transmission of diseases.
Second, the broader culture often assumes there isn't really a connection between the world of ethics and the physical world. Ethics is relegated to beliefs about what is good and bad, but those things are subjective. That is to say they exist inside of each individual subject and not outside of the subject. This is often referred to as relativism and stems from a postmodern perspective of the world. The late Francis Schaeffer talked about this as the upper and lower story of a two story building in his book How Should We Then Live. The lower story is the dwelling place of reason, logic, the hard sciences, etc. The upper story is the loci of emotion, ethics, artistry, etc. These two kinds of things are separated. This separation is a false separation, an inappropriate bifurcation that must be necessarily avoided. Ethical realities/moral absolutes have physical implications. As it relates to Monkeypox, the moral reality that same sex sexual acts are morally wrong has physical implications. The fact that 95% of Monkeypox cases are among the gay population screams that there is a moral reality behind the spread of this disease. While the previous statement is bound to be wildly unpopular and considered to be homophobic, bigoted, and hateful, none of those false accusations have any bearing on the truth.
Nature gives us a minimum of a hint that homosexual behavior is morally wrong. The basic biological realities relates to sexual organs and having babies tells us that there is a proper use of those sexual organs. The reality of STDs and other diseases like AIDS suggests that there are improper uses for our sexual organs. Some say the answer is "safe sex" but to quote the great philosopher D.C. Talk:
Safe is the way they say to play
Then again safe ain't safe at all today
So just wait for the mate that's straight from God
Don't have sex till ya tie the knot
When the Biblical sexual ethic is followed a host of real, physical, and social evils are avoided. Homosexual activity (Lev. 18, 29; Rom. 1; 1 Cor. 6, et al.) is expressly prohibited along with a host of other kinds of sexual activities listed in the same texts. Another example is incest which can have detrimental effects on the children produced in such a case. Monkeypox is an epidemic among a particular population and to shame those who point this out dismisses the the reality that morality has physical, real-world implications on a personal and societal level. The apostle Paul's words in Romans 1 seems appropriate here, "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another."
Leading a Bible study can be harder than it sounds and sometimes pretty intimidating. The goal here is to give a basic approach to leading others through a passage of Scripture in a way that is fruitful for all involved. It isn’t a guide on how to write a sermon, prepare a lecture, or even teach a class. All of those things are a little different from this. Here are some principles and steps you can take as you prepare a Bible Study.
Know the Text
In order to be effective you need to know the text as well as possible given the tools and skills you have access to. You don’t have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar, have many commentaries, or be an expert on the Bible. You also don’t have to have the answer to every question. I have been a pastor for 25+ years (I started at 10 years old) and I still get asked questions I don’t have answers to…it’s okay not to know. Nevertheless, as the leader you should know the text as well as you can given your resources. Here are the basics:
Try to derive the main principle found in the passage
This is probably the most difficult part of the process, but these questions might help figure it out.
These are great questions to ask in a Bible study or small group context.
Do not skip to application before going through the previous two steps. Only once a principle is discovered can we ask the question of application. Once a principle is revealed determine how that principle can be applied in various context. This isn’t something the leader has to have figured out, this is a great time to invite interaction. Stat the principle discovered and ask how it might be applied in different circumstances. Think about how it might apply to you ahead of time.
Sometimes you will learn as you lead the group through this process. You may arrive at a principle you missed. As long as the group stays focused on the text, roll with it. Flexibility doesn’t mean letting the study leave the text all together, but there may be insights and observations that appear during the discussion that provide a principle or application that you didn’t see…that’s okay.
This is just a basic start, but if you are just beginning or if you want a basic outline to approach a Bible study, this will suffice for those purposes. Everyone should learn to lead a Bible study, and, in fact, they should do it as often as they have opportunity.
2 Tim. 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Bibliolatry usually comes in the form of an accusation, that is to say the word itself is derogatory. The word is usually used by progressive Christians or, dare I say, progressives feigning to be conservative to describe Christians who they might label as "fundamentalists" or "extremist" who hold the Bible as authoritative. The term itself is used to suggest that a person or group of people have committed the sin of worshiping the Bible rather than God. This would be the sin of Romans 1; the sin of confusing the creation and worshiping it, with the creator who we are supposed to worship. In short, it is the accusation that someone lost the distinction between the Bible and the God who inspired the Bible. But what does Bibliolatry really look like? Is it a real problem? If so, what would that look like?
I've been told on multiple occasions that "Bibliolatry" is a problem in evangelicalism. Some might even suggest that I am a Bibliolater (if that is actually a word). Angela Parker, a progressive Christian and professor of New Testament and Greek at McAfee suggests that this is a real problem. It hinders any real growth and maturity in the Christian faith. In her book If God Still Breathes, Why Can't I? She says, "Think of the phrase “the Bible says” and how it is often considered the be-all and end-all in an argument. The biblical text becomes a bludgeoning tool used to exert supremacist authoritarianism; what the Bible says (or rather, how the wielder interprets what the Bible says) goes" (p. 45). Parker makes the same mistake many make; she commits a category error. The way one interprets or uses the Bible is different and distinct from the authority of the Bible itself. Nevertheless, this deserves a little more examination. What exactly is the Bible?
Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the word of God, not God Himself, but His word. It is not expected that non-Christians agree with this sentiment, but within Christianity this is a fundamental belief. The question of how we got the Bible requires a lengthy discussion that cannot be had here. For a full treatment see, From God to Us. Here is a short description of how this belief is derived. Paul instructs his young protégé, Timothy, that he should trust what he has been taught and that "πᾶσα γραφὴ" (all writings or Scripture) is "θεόπνευστος" (breathed by God). Timothy is to remember what he has been taught and the Scriptures are an integral part of that. The reason Paul admonishes Timothy in this way is so that Timothy can avoid being deceived (2 Tim. 3). In other words, the word of God, the Bible is to be the ultimate authority precisely because it is the word of God! That isn't the only relevant passage, there are many. Jesus reliance on the Old Testament for his own teaching, most prevalent in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks volumes. If the God-Man relies on Scripture as authoritative, shouldn't we? The author of Hebrews reminds his readers that God spoke through the prophets, but most recently through Jesus. The New Testament is a witness to the person of Jesus. Acts 1:8 is instruction to the apostles to be witnesses of Jesus, that includes their writings and the writings that record their witness. Paul not only was commissioned by Jesus himself, but the apostles confirmed His teachings (Gal. 2; Acts 13). There is much more Biblical evidence. While this may not be convincing to the non-Christian, for the Christian this speaks to the authority of the Bible. If it is God's word, then it has ultimate authority.
The Bible doesn't have ultimate authority because it is God, it has ultimate authority because it is the word of God.
What would Bibliolatry look like? To my knowledge, no one is putting the Bible on an altar and singing worship songs to the Bible. No one is praying, "dear Bible..." No one, to my knowledge, is making sacrifices to the Bible. While I do not know for sure, I can't imagine that those who make the accusation of Bibliolatry mean any of those things. So, what do they mean? Angela Parker uses the example of the phrase, "The Bible says..." being wielded as authoritative. Parker is right about one thing, there are people who hold their own interpretation of the Bible with the same authority as the text itself. That is wrong. However, let's look at the clear teachings of Scripture. Let's use the example of Exodus 20:14 "You shall not commit adultery." Is there anything unclear about this teaching? We all know what adultery is and we know it is prohibited. There aren't any exceptions to the commandment. If a person comes along and attempts to justify adultery with some kind of sophistry and faulty interpretation, it is the interpretation that is at fault, not the text of Scripture. The command against adultery stands regardless of whether there is faulty interpretation and regardless of whether or not the faulty interpreter erroneously claims his interpretation to be authoritative.
If the Bible actually says adultery is wrong and the interpretation of that command is correct, then, and only then, it is authoritative. Is that Bibliolatry? If so, count me guilty.
More often than not, that is not the issue. The accusation of Bibliolatry is actually an attack on the authority of Scripture. Parker and others would say they hold the Bible to be authoritative, just not ultimately authoritative. In fact, Parker says, "I also love the biblical text, and it is an authority in my life but not the authority in my life" (p. 45). Parker reduces the Bible to an authority that is on equal grounds with other authorities in her life. This enables her to pick and choose where the Bible is authoritative and where it is not. I can't help but ask, who is the ultimate authority for Parker and others like her? It is hard to imagine that the authority in Parker's life is anyone or anything except her. Isn't that the same sin Adam and Eve committed when they thought they could defy God and eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil and become like God?
If the Bible is the word of God, then it is hard to imagine giving it too much authority in the life of the Christian. In the end, accusations of Bibliolatry are based on the straw man fallacy. No one is worshiping the Bible. Some may inappropriately elevate their own interpretation of Scriptures that are less clear to the level of authoritative, but that is another question. No doubt some will claim clear Scriptures are unclear or that unclear Scriptures are clear. Those wrongs need to be challenged. But accusations of Bibliolatry serve no good purpose. They only undermine the rightful authority of Scripture.
Those making the "Bibliolatry" accusation should look in the mirror. Who is the authority in your life? Is it God? If so, then the word of God should be authoritative as well. Worship God by being obedient to His word, not by undermining its authority.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.