Is Scripture Wholly Trustworthy?

March 15th, 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the baggage that we bring with us when we approach Scripture. Anytime we open the Bible, a host of competing voices from our past and present jockey to offer an interpretation of what we’re reading. I often find it hard to silence those voices and just listen to what God has for me.

What kicked off this thought process was a convicting question at Near Emmaus: “If Scripture is not trustworthy where it bothers you, then why assume it is trustworthy where it does not?

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

If YHWH God seems angry and vindictive, they assume that Scripture is wrong. If there are passages that use language that makes us feel a bit of uneasy in our modern, scientific world-view, they assume Scripture is wrong. If there are passages that present eschatological statements that seem confusing and/or cryptic, they assume Scripture is wrong. If we read passages where Jesus is seen as cosmic judge, they assume Scripture is wrong.

If Jesus says love your neighbor, Scripture is obviously right then. If it condemns those who do not take care of the orphan and the widow, then the ethics of Scripture make sense as do threats of judgment. If it says God is love, well, we like that so it must be right.

Read the rest of the post and the comments at nearemmaus.wordpress.com.

I’ve tried to keep this in mind as I’ve done my personal Bible study over the past week. It’s been difficult, but worthwhile.

Are there specific passages or books that you find difficult to approach from the standpoint of “This is trustworthy?”

Twitter and Lent

March 11th, 2011

OpenBible.info just published its annual list of what twitterers are giving up for Lent. The top ten are listed below:

Rank Word Count Change from last year’s rank
1. Twitter 4297 0
2. Facebook 4060 0
3. Chocolate 3185 0
4. Swearing 2527 +1
5. Alcohol 2347 -1
6. Sex 2093 +3
7. Soda 1959 -1
8. Lent 1493 -1
9. Meat 1352 -1
10. Fast food 1303 0

It’s interesting to compare the lists from 2010 and 2009. Does anything on the list surprise you?

Are You Doing Anything for Lent?

March 10th, 2011

Not every Christian tradition celebrates Lent, but many do. While my denomination doesn’t require its members to participate in Lent, it does encourage us to use the time to “invest in practices that heighten our awareness of God.” In keeping with that, I’ve decided to set aside an hour of every day during Lent for private devotions. I’ve done this off and on before, but never consistently or for an extended season. After all, who has an hour every single day to spend doing “nothing”?

Some of you are thinking to yourselves: “One hour? I don’t have time for that!” Me neither—it’s going to be difficult for me to make the time, but that’s the point. And my hat is off to those of you who are thinking, “One hour? That seems so short!”

What about you? Are you fasting from anything, or doing anything special for Lent this year?

New Lent email devotionals available at Bible Gateway

March 4th, 2011

Looking for some Lent devotional reading as Easter approaches? Our sister site Bible Gateway has just launched two new email devotionals centered around Easter: a read-through-the-Gospels Bible reading plan and a Lent devotional email. Both begin on Ash Wednesday (March 9) and run through Easter, and both are aimed at helping you focus on Jesus during the Easter season.

Take a look—and if you have a favorite Lent/Easter devotional to recommend, let us know in the comments below!

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A secular case for tithing?

March 2nd, 2011

The “The New Tithe” (below) was the winner of this year’s Project Reason video contest. Project Reason is “nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.”

The video light on hard facts and gets some fundamental things wrong about what most churches do with their money (ie it’s not all going to huge salaries and fancy buildings). For every church that misuses its money, there are thousands—if not more—who are transparent and responsible with their expenditures. All that said, I do think it’s interesting that someone would make a secular case for “tithing”:

I’d doubt this video will convince many Christians to stop giving to their church. Plus, as the blogger over at unreasonable faith points out in his thoughts on the New Tithe video, most tithing Christians find their local churches to be worthwhile endeavors.

However, it does make me wonder how people outside of my church perceive our churches. Should that change how we use our money? And thinking along those lines, are there guidelines for how a church should use its member’s tithes? Should 10% of everyone’s 10% go to missions for example?

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Does “Christian outrage” work?

March 1st, 2011

Several years ago, when The Da Vinci Code first graced bookstore shelves, I remember becoming aware of it not through its publisher’s marketing campaign or by favorable word-of-mouth recommendations from its readers, but through articles written by Christians (including several well-known apologists) denouncing it. The message of those many Christian articles—some angry, others calm, but all concerned—was that The Da Vinci Code was a Serious Threat that Christians ought to pay attention to.

Did all that talking help readers understand the flaws in The Da Vinci Code? Or did it just inadvertently promote the book, providing fodder for endless “Da Vinci Code controversy” news reports and turning a mediocre thriller novel into a subject of discussion in countless Christian households?

That’s the question raised by Christopher Hays in “The Folly of Answering Fools” at at Christianity Today. It argues that Christians, when we jump on offensive or controversial books, films, and games, inadvertently just end up playing into their promoters’ hands. Call it the “Christian Streisand effect“: the louder you object to something, the more you call attention to its existence. Here’s how Hays puts it:

[I do not] aim to silence genuine criticisms of the church or preclude taking seriously how non-Christians perceive the world. But not every insult is serious.

What I am saying is much simpler: Let’s be more circumspect about what we pluck from the roiling waters of culture and bring to the world’s attention.

I think it’s safe to say that when promoters manufacture fake Christian outrage to draw attention to their product, it’s time to re-evaluate the value of “Christian outrage.”

But here’s the challenge: it’s really, really hard to not speak up when you see a book or movie spreading misinformation about Christianity. Is keeping silent when a book or pundit attacks the church prudent, or will it be seen as an admission of defeat? How do you tell when a book or product is serious enough to merit a public Christian response?

Do Christians have a lower rate of divorce than non-Christians?

February 24th, 2011

It’s common, in discussions about marriage, divorce, and family matters, to hear the claim that Christian marriages have the same divorce rate as non-Christian ones—the point being that Christians don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to critiquing social policies related to marriage and family. But is that true, or just a myth that’s been repeated so many times we’ve accepted it?

Glenn Stanton has attracted attention over the last week with an essay claiming that Christians do, in fact, average a significantly lower divorce rate than non-Christians:

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a significant marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.

Stanton makes it clear that it’s “serious Christianity” (church attendance and involvement, among other things) and not just “nominal Christianity” (saying you’re a Christian, but not doing anything to demonstrate it) that makes the difference.

That’s welcome news, if true. I don’t have any evidence to suggest this is or isn’t true, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that an oft-quoted “known fact” like this, almost always stated without citing any evidence, turns out to be untrue. But don’t use this in your social-policy discussions quite yet; at least one blogger finds Stanton’s essay unconvincing. The Confessing Evangelical blog thinks the lower divorce rates might just as easily be explained by other factors, not just “serious religious behavior:”

Most of the behaviours that Stanton attributes to “serious disciples” are likely to be associated with other behaviours or circumstances that may be shared by non-Christians. “Attending church nearly every week” and “praying privately and together” suggest a settled, stable family life, and a regular working pattern (no having to work shifts on Sunday, for example). “Reading their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly” suggests a certain level of literacy and of regularity of routine.

In short, what Stanton is describing is a happy, bourgeois family lifestyle in which people work regular hours, married couples spend significant quality time together (whether that’s praying together or just talking to one another), weekends are devoted to family activities (whether that’s going to church or to the park) and individuals have the time and mental energy to read books and think about their lives.

Without having read the sources from which Stanton’s argument is derived, I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and be skeptical of his claims. But to be honest, I was struck less by the question of who has the lower divorce rates than by the most optimistic Christian divorce rate cited: 38%. That number might be 5% or 25% lower than the non-Christian divorce rate, but it’s still a horrifyingly high percentage. When it comes to promoting healthy families and marriages, we’ve got our work cut out for us no matter who’s right.

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The Semantic Game of Women in Ministry

February 23rd, 2011

Out of Ur has begun posting a series of videos about the different viewpoints on women in ministry. The first video from Rose Madrid-Swetman is posted below:

The thing that stuck out to me most from this video was Madrid-Swetman’s point about how many churches sidestep the heart of the issue by wrapping it up in semantics. As she says, women can hold the title of “Coordinator,” but if a man were to have the same position and responsibility they’d be called the “Pastor.” Worship Coordinators are functionally the same as Worship Pastors; same for Children’s Coordinators and Pastors.

It’s inconsistent for churches to hide behind word games in order to appear as if they’re upholding their theological views on gender roles in the church. If you’re going to be a complementation church, I think you have to be consistent in the way you describe those roles.

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Do you make a point of patronizing Christian brands and businesses?

February 22nd, 2011

Have you ever seen local businesses with Christian symbols or other markers on display? Maybe it’s a fish sticker on the front door, or a stack of gospel tracts near the counter. Growing up in southern California, I always had fun looking for Bible verses hidden on the bottom of In-N-Out Burger soda cups.

I like seeing these little signs and symbols around town and knowing that I’m (probably) doing business with a fellow believer—even though there’s no guarantee that a self-identified Christian company is actually doing business in accordance with Christian values, I at least like to imagine that the person I’m doing business with is motivated by Christian values, not just the pursuit of profit.

Do you care whether whether a business identifies itself as Christian? Does it make a difference to you if a company runs itself in accordance with Christian principles? A recent Barna poll asked that question; while the full report is worth reading, this chart sums it up nicely:

barna

The trends are pretty clear. The older you are, the more likely you are to go out of your way to support Christian businesses and brands. Southerners and Midwesterners are more likely to do so than their east- and west-coast counterparts. But ultimately, most Americans say that it doesn’t make a difference to them whether a business looks or acts Christian.

Where do you fit? All other things being equal, when it’s time for an oil change, do you bring your car to the business with a Christian fish on the window? Or does it really not matter to you?

Posture, location and prayer

February 18th, 2011

While there’s no perfectly “holy” posture and location for prayer, I think it’s obvious that both effect the experience of prayer. A prayer said out loud with your family while driving down the road is going to be much different than one said while laying facedown by yourself in a private space.

How has your physical posture and location affected your spiritual posture towards prayer, if at all?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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