Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Principles for dealing with "Bible Contradictions"

Below are just a few of the principles I keep in mind when people bring up alleged contradictions in the Bible. It may be one of the most common excuses people use against the Bible. If you have not encountered this argument yet, you certainly will soon (that is, if you are Jesus-like and evangelistic and actually talk to and befriend non-Christians!). The below are NOT ways to solve every contradiction; rather, these are just a few things that I keep in mind. If you have any other notes of interest, please feel free to comment!

1. Contradictions should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. There is not one simple cut and dry answer that will refute any "contradiction." Every tough issue in the Bible may be affected by several other topics: ancient manuscripts, linguistics, translations, historical context, cultural context, etc.

2. There is always a good answer- IF you study and think about it! I have been faced with some very tough issues in the Bible, both in my Bible classes and "out on the street." I have always been able to read, think, and study, and find a very sufficient answer or explanation. Ask pastors or teachers, ask Bible professors, read some books or good websites, or actually read the Bible in its context!

3. Alleged 'Contradictions' actually give more reason to believe the authenticity of the Bible. Imagine that you are answering an essay question for an exam at school. If your essay was exactly the same, thought for thought, as your friends, the teacher can reasonably assume that you cheated, copied off each other, or at least studied the exact same notes together. However, if you both give good, solid answers that  give the same "jist" of facts and ideas, but you write with different words, phrases, order, and structure, you teacher can assume that you both are reporting the same true answer of the same true fact in a different way. She (or he!) would have no reason to assume foul play.

Likewise, when people bring up 'contradictions in the Bible,' often times it is a merely that one gospel author recorded the events in a different order, or a slightly different way, or with a few extra tidbits either included or left out. These variations in the stories give us great reason to believe that the authors of the New Testament were simply recording the facts of history that they witnessed and were impacted by!

4. Contradiction or different point of view? As I mentioned above, alleged contradictions are often just different points of view of the same event. Kind of like one person describing your face from the left side, while another describes from the right side.

5. It's OK to say, "I don't know." Sometimes, I have seen my professors or teachers faced with very tough questions, and they say, "I don't know, but I will find out for you." I have answered the same way at times. If you honestly don't know the answer to a tough Bible question, the best thing to do is to (drum roll please...) say that you don't know! But use that opportunity to go and learn about the issue.

6. How does this issue affect the story of the gospel? Many times, you can sense that people are bringing up alleged contradictions and questions, but they do not really want answers or real, unbiased discussion. So, I think it may be wise to ask, "Even if this issue is a contradiction, how does that affect the historical event of Jesus' resurrection?" Get to the point. I don't want to spend our time debating about very minor issues if someone is only using those issues to dodge the real question, "Who do you say that Jesus is?"

Friday, September 25, 2009

Preaching and Monkey Bars

This one may insult your intelligence. Or compel you to insult mine.

Why do we focus so highly on preaching in our churches? Pastors spend hours a week preparing and studying and praying, and our churches spend nearly half of their Sunday mornings listening to God's Word being (I hope) accurately taught.

It is clear that preaching is a primary focus of the church. I won't document it here, but from Acts 2:42-47 to the Pastoral Epistles, it is clear that churches should preach God's word, and Christians should listen and feast on God's truth. My first thought is, "Isn't it strange that God set things up this way for his church? Sitting and listening on a Sunday?" A second thought is, "What is the purpose and effect of regular preaching for our churches?"

Paul said to Timothy, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16). Now it is clear from the context that much of Timothy's congregation ("hearers") were believers. Certainly, some weren't, but many were. Yet Paul's encouragement is that Timothy persist in his teaching so that he "will save" himself and those who listen! While I won't get into the "Can I lose my salvation issue here" (You can research that for yourself here), it is notable that Timothy is encouraged to preach so that all his hearers (and himself) would be saved!

We need God's grace everyday- without it, we would each certainly "make a shipwreck of our faith" and turn away from Christ. It is only the beauty of his grace that keeps us. And a hose that he sprays his grace out of is faithful, inspiring, passionate preaching of His word.

This thought literally enters my mind at least weekly. I envision my life as a trek through a long line of monkey bars (you don't need me to tell you how these work do you?) I grab daily onto God's grace, cling for dear life, and swing to the next promise, truth, revelation, conviction that God uses to hold me up day in and day out. Preaching is God placing a 'monkey bar' in front of us on a regular basis. We need grace, we need truth to sustain, we are losing momentum and ready to fail, and we need truth to hold onto. So God, through pastors like Timothy (and your pastor!), presents truth to you on a regular basis to sustain you and keep you held up by his grace.

As Jeremiah wrote, "His mercies (aka 'monkey bars') are new every morning."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Link- Theology and Holy Living

Just a few verses that connect knowedge of God & correct doctrine (aka 'theology') with practical living. These are motivation for me to know my Bible better...

1 Timothy 1:9-11- "The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted."

POINT- Sinful living is contrary to correct doctrine/theology.

1 Timothy 6:2-3- "Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness..."

POINT- Correct doctrine/theology accords with godliness.

Ephesians 4:13-16- "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

POINT- "Knowledge of the Son of God" is equated with "mature manhood." Maturity ("no longer be children") is equated with doctrinal/theological stability (not carried about by "every wind of doctrine"). We are to grow to Christlikeness in every way. All this knowledge and maturity, theological/doctrinal AND practical, results in practical fruit- the body "builds itself up in love."

Titus 2:9-10- "Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."

POINT- A well-behaved worker/slave is "decorating/adorning" themselves with doctrine/theology.

Hebrews 6:1- "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity..."

POINT- The author views theological development as "maturity" in one's life.

2 Timothy 3:16-17- "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

POINT- Scripture (correct knowledge of Scripture is called 'theology/doctrine'!) is profitable for equipping you with "every good work."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Believing Correct Theology & Doctrine- Don't Injure your Heart!

For those of you who don't know, I went to a conservative Christian college (The Master's College) and majored in Biblical Studies. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, especially the community I developed in the dorms. Undoubtedly, discussions would arise on many topics- funny movie quotes, sports arguments (most of which were better than your local sports talk radio!), or stupid prank ideas (we once gave a false fire evacuation of our dorm at 2am. During the crazy Socal wildfires that were within miles. Not a good idea.). But theological discussions were a unique part of my college experience, and a part that has carried on into my "real adult" life.

Now, many issues are "gray areas" and are definitely to be handled with grace. But ultimately, the Bible must be our authority. What God's word says, goes, no questions asked! One issue seems to hinder some (myself included) from accepting what the Bible seems to clearly say-the "practicality" of believing certain doctrines that are hard to accept.

For example, let's say that the Bible clearly teaches something hard to accept- that God is sovereign and in control over "all things," including the salvation/conversion of humans. And let's say that I (or another in your life) bring up clear passages of Scripture to show this to be true (Romans 9, for example). If someone is not inclined to accept this teaching, I have come across (and myself have given) a few responses listed below:
- "Believing this is not a matter of salvation, so it doesn't matter what I believe about God's sovereignty, the end times, etc."
- "This doctrine does not affect how I live my daily life, how I parent, how I act at work, etc."
- "Well I don't think God would do that in that way. That doesn't seem fair."

These any many other unexpressed reasons have prevented me from accepting what God is saying in His word. And maybe, the reasons are relatively true at times- adhering to "Calvinism" or "Cessationism" or "Premillenialism" or "any-other-ism" is not a matter of salvation at all. And, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I have not killed any sin lately with the sword of "literal 6-day creationism" in my hands! So these reasons may seem true and valid on the surface. But...

What I believe is at stake in believing correct theology is the health of the spiritual muscle known as your "heart." Let me illustrate. In this article here, the cause for many bodily injuries related to exercise is determined to be "degenerative conditions." What this means is that your body accumulates tension in bones, joints, tendons, etc. over time, and eventually, the smallest action (like sneezing) causes an injury. A second cause of exercise-related injury is doing an exercise wrong. You may "curl" alot of weight, but you are also killing your back over time by performing the curls with the improper fashion! These improper actions overtime harm your muscles.

Likewise, our heart is our most important muscle. What is at stake in believing correct & biblical theology is the health of our heart. The primary function of our heart is to submit to God and His word. This means that when we "work out" our muscle correctly in regards to believing biblical doctrine, we are strengthening the very muscle that must submit to God when temptation arises. But when we reject a hard teaching from God's word because "it is not a matter of salvation," we are weakening the heart- we are performing "curls" in the wrong way and harming our muscle! We desire to strengthen our hearts to submit to God's word. If we brush off God's Word in the area of biblical theology, we are more likely to brush off God's Word when temptation comes our way! Is there something biblical that we either ignore or reject? Is there a topic that we are inclined to steer clear of, because it's "too hard," "too controversial," or "too deep"? Or do we strive to align both our actions and our beliefs under the authority of God and His Word?

So, my encouragement to you and to myself is to "guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). We want to be believers, as the Psalmist says, who "incline our hearts to perform your statutes forever, to the end" (Psalm 119:112). May we not 'exercise' our hearts in a harmful area just because we can't see or feel the effects now. We may be injuring the most important muscle God has given us.