Christians, you cannot read the Bible any old way you want – Part 2

As a follow up to You Can’t Read the Bible Any Old Way You Want-Part 1, which really was a primer for this one, I first want to express why I’m so passionate about this topic. One of the greatest tragedies of my Christian life is how I read the Bible. And from day one of trusting in Christ as my Lord and Savior, I had a firm desire to know what his word said. But because I did not know the framework of how the 66 books fit together, I read it in a very disjointed fashion, imposing whatever philosophies influenced me through the teaching I was under, which for many years was pretty wretched.

I came across an article recently on docetism and Scripture, which resonated with me in terms of how I would approach Scripture. Docetism was one of the earliest heresies that infiltrated the church and the pre-cursor to Gnosticism. Docestists placed emphasis on the “spiritual” to the neglect of the physical. You can see docetic approaches to Christianity in some sectors of Christianity today, where the Holy Spirit acts as a rogue agent;

A docetic approach to the Bible is one that allows any text to have any meaning to which we might consider ourselves led by the Spirit. The human dimension of the Bible is ignored so that the careful exegesis of passages and a sound hermeneutic are regarded as unspiritual impositions on the Word of God. What the Spirit makes the text mean to me is what it means! It is true for me even if it isn’t true for you. What is worse is that any fanciful interpretation of Scripture is then attributed to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But the Word is inspired by the Spirit, and his leading is always testable against the responsible exegesis of the Word.

Of course, no one is going to sit and devour the Bible in one setting. It makes sense that we only read a little bit each day. But it helps to put whatever we’re reading in context – in context of the author’s theme, in context of the genre and in context of the placement in the redemptive narrative. That means we just can’t read it anyway we want to. Continue reading

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Pope Fiction: The clash of the Protestant Titans

pulp fiction_travolta and jacksonAs I’ve watched the events unfold these past few days with Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., I’ve watched another set of events unfold – Protestants. Angry Protestants. Protesting Protestants. Protestants that pepper the interwebs with angry rants about the evils of Catholicism and the falsehood of the pope celebrated as the head of the church (which actually he would say Christ is the head of the church as would any knowledgeable Catholic). Nonetheless, I’ve been somewhat amused at the “hit job” that has emerged from a simple visit as if the Pope is seeking to take over the United States and must be silenced.

Now, I am staunchly Protestant so please don’t confuse me with a overly mushy ecumenical sympathizer who just wants to blindly sing Kumbaya with my Catholic friends (some of whom really are Christian by Protestant standards BTW) while I bask in the presence of his majesty the pontiff. I’m no expert but I believe I have a somewhat firm grasp on the distinctions between Catholics and Protestants. While I am sympathetic to the premise of Catholic belief especially the intrinsic relationship of Christ to his church, I don’t agree with some tenants of Catholicism primarily the way the indistinguishable nature of the invisible church with the visible church leads to a faulty view of justification as a Christian. Of course, as a Protestant I believe that justification is a one time forensic act through the work of the Spirit not an infusion as one walks out their Christian faith in the context of the church. I am also vehemently opposed to the veneration of Mary and prayers to the saints.

However, given the tumultuous Catholic v. Protestant divide, I took the opportunity in seminary to really investigate Catholicism through a couple of required research papers with the intention of dealing fairly with the material, to the best of my Protestant ability. Considering the charges that are commonly levied against Catholicism and it’s adherents as being misled at best or a false religion at worst,  I thought it was really necessary to examine the charges levied against this system by actually striving to understand the system. Given the love that Christ has lavished on his church, I think some caution is in order before banishing folks out as heretics. Continue reading

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Do Christians need to take authority over Satan?

pointed fingerOne interesting topic that has emerged from the popularity of the War Room is the idea that Christians need to take authority over Satan. That is, it is reasonable for prayers to consist both of praying to God and rebuking/binding Satan with a presumed need that this is not only required, but expected for fruitful prayer life and Christian life.

I’m going to write why I strenuously believe that is not the case.

Now before I get into why I think this teaching is misplaced and not consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture, I am mindful of why so many believe this to be true. In fact, this exercise was a routine component of my prayers and normal Christian discourse for many years. Why? Because of teaching that influenced me, which I then regurgitated in my theological arsenal. I am convinced that the number one reason Christians believe what they believe even when it is not faithful to Scripture is because of a wholesale embracing of teaching they absorb, especially when it is fueled by extra-biblical teaching and fragmented reading of Scripture through emotional appeal.

On that note, I think this endorsing of devil binding is a good setup for part 2 of Why we can’t read the Bible any way we want (see part 1 here). As I reflect on why I believed so much doctrine that was inconsistent with Scripture for so long even though I read Scripture rigorously, it only strengthens my resolve in encouraging Christians how to approach the Bible and read it in a holistic manner in recognition of it’s central theme – God’s redemption of his creation through Christ. One has to place the stories, the language used and genre of books into the context of God’s redemptive narrative. We cannot just isolate an event or story and think it is a personal application for us to then emulate.

With that said, a key passage that I believe many use to affirm this need to rebuke the devil as part of our prayer life is Jesus temptation while he was fasting for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-11). Aside from the fact that he was not praying, I think we need to recognize that in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he is revealing the fullness of God, his mind, will and character (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15-20). Again, every scenario is not meant for us to emulate. In this case, he is the only person we see in Scripture that talks to the devil directly. In fact, I note in Jude 9, that not even Michael the archangel would talk to the devil but instead said “the Lord rebuke you.” Continue reading

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If you just pray hard enough, God will do it

war room claraAs a follow up to my last post, I wanted to bring the subject of The War Room closer to home. Again, in full disclosure I have not seen the film but I have heard a common thread in those that have seen, including the two reviews I posted in my last piece. Most notably, the takeaway from the film is that if you just pray hard enough God will do it.

Please allow me to get a little personal. Not that my story in no way can be a measuring stick but I think it can be instructive concerning this simplified formula in the context of God’s work in his creation. I also share this story because I know I’m not alone and I suspect this will resonate with a good number of Christians.

First know that I’m not sharing for this the sake of bashing a movie or releasing emotional diarrhea but the sake of examining how we consider prayer. For most of the 7 years I was in a troubled, unequally yoked marriage that was peppered with chronic illness and unkindness, I prayed. Oh how I prayed. I prayed that God would save my husband and soften his heart. I prayed that God would heal him and make our marriage whole. I turned my living room into a ‘war room’ and being more aligned with charismatic teaching at that time, would storm the gates, as I called it. The situation didn’t budge.

One day in 2004, I stopped dead in my tracks, or rather, I believe I was stopped dead in my tracks because the Lord gripped my heart. I was tired. I was disappointed. But most of all, I was intent on having things my way. My roar of anticipated triumph turned into a whisper of surrender – “not my will, but yours Lord.” I so desperately wanted him to give me that shiny object of a good marriage that I had prayed for. But alas, his will was something different. It was not long after that in that same year that my husband’s health rapidly declined and he passed away that August just shy of my son’s 7th birthday. Continue reading

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When bad theology makes us feel good

woman hugging herselfImagine that you are enjoying a delicious ice cream cone on a hot summer day. There’s something soothing about the frigid, creaminess that alleviates the scorch of the sun. Now imagine that someone comes and tells you everything that’s wrong with the deliciousness that you are enjoying or even goes so far as to knock that cone of goodness out of your hand. If you are like me, you would not take very kindly to that gesture, especially for something that was giving you such relief and comfort. You would feel violated in a way.

Unfortunately, I think that’s very much the sentiment whenever critiques or criticism arise with popular Christian books or movies that many, many Christians enjoy. And I believe there is a good reason. For Christians, our faith is the most defining aspect of our lives and hopefully, the lens through which we view life. It’s life shaping and intensely personal. But the Christian life is wrought with challenges – trials, temptations, difficulties, periods of lethargy and even apathy. We need fuel and encouragement. And so when we encounter movies and books that give us that lift, we will want to embrace it with all our might. God forbid that someone come and try to mess up that mojo with words of warning!

So what I want to do here is not knock the ice cream cone out of your hand but rather ask you to examine the kind of ice cream that will give true relief that we really need. Because I’ve noticed a common denominator with each release of popular books and movies that people praise – “It encourages my faith.” But I think a more important question is at stake. Is that encouragement produced by something that is faithful to the whole counsel of Scripture? Continue reading

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