Tag Archives: doubts

The Need for Christians to Read the Bible

Statistics show that few people take the time to actually read the Bible.  A survey conducted by Lifeway of 2,930 Protestant churchgoers indicates that only 19% read the Bible everyday and that 18% rarely or never read the Bible.  Furthermore, only 1 in 5 Americans claims to have read the Bible from cover to cover.  The American Bible Society also reports on the distressing Bible reading trends.

The trouble with these reports should be self-evident.  As Christians, we make the bold claim that the Bible is the very Word of God, but many of us do not regard as such in practice.  The average churchgoer can probably tell you a number of books that they have read, but the Bible, strangely, is not on that list.

So, why is it so important to read the Bible?  Here are a few reasons that I can think of right off the top of my head:

  1. It is the Word of God.  This should be sufficient reason alone for someone to want to read the Bible in its entirety.  Indeed, this is good enough reason to make Bible reading and study a lifelong practice.
  2. It is in the pages of Scripture that we learn about Jesus Christ – the one and only path to the Father.
  3. It prepares us, as Christians, to engage with the world we live in.  Christians should make Bible reading and study a habit so that we know what the Word says.  We should not be part of the number that thinks Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, or that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.  In order for us to engage the world with a developed Biblical worldview, we must read the Bible.
  4. It provides the ethical and moral system by which God expects us to live by.
  5. It allows us to see the Bible as a whole and not as a bunch of random texts that are often read without context.
  6. It has had a profound impact on our culture throughout history that can be seen in numerous places, including literature, art, music, and history.

I am sure that you can probably add your own reasons to this list, but these are what popped into my head first.

While reading the Bible as individuals is important, I also think it is vital that families read the Bible together.  This allows for questions to be asked and answered; deep, thoughtful discussions to take place; doubts and concerns to be expressed in a safe and supportive environment; and it can help families have aligned values.  Reading the Bible in its entirety as a family is also important because it exposes difficult passages that are often overlooked.  Christians should be aware of difficult passages and have some idea, or framework, for how to deal with these.  This framework may vary depending on your theology (Arminian, Calvinist, etc.), but it will help guide you in understanding the Bible as a whole.

This last point, understanding the Bible as a whole, is of critical importance.  I have strange suspicion that a lot of people know bits and pieces of the Bible and build a caricature of the whole thing from those parts.  Similarly, I think many Christian try to engage culture with a very keen knowledge of a very small amount of Scripture, but do not have a good grasp of the whole Word of God.  Having an understanding of the Bible as a whole is of enormous value to mature faith.  After all, the canon of Scripture was given to us for a reason, and that is to learn what God has to say to us.

Happy reading!

More on the Transmission of the Gospels

This week I will continue my complaints against the arguments Bart Ehrman provided in his discussion with Richard Bauckham on the Unbelievable? radio program of Premier Christianity. In case you are unfamiliar with the subject matter, Ehrman was arguing for the notion that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, while Bauckham argued that they were. In particular, Ehrman hammered away at the possibility of people being able to recall facts from decades earlier. Last week, I addressed a number of objections I had to his arguments. This week, I will address two more issues that Ehrman raised.

Let’s consider first the literacy rate in Judea at the time of Christ. Ehrman makes mention of the idea that the literacy rate in first century Palestine (a.k.a. Judea) was only around 2 or 3%. He points to research done by other scholars in this field to support his claim, and I have no doubt that many scholars endorse this view. However, I think we need to state the obvious: we have no real way to verify the literacy rate of Jews in first-century Palestine. Unless there was some sort of survey done during that time frame addressing the ability of people to read and write, we must admit that we are making educated guesses when we speak of the literacy rate. The idea behind much of this is that only the upper crust were educated enough to read and write. I recognize that acquiring an education in the ancient world was not something that just everyone could afford, but it does not necessarily follow that everyone was dumb as a box of rocks.

Now, interestingly, Ehrman makes part of his case for the bulk of Jews being illiterate based on the fact that we have found very little Jewish written material from that area and time frame. But, let’s be honest about something: we have not found too much written material in that area and during that time frame regardless of language or ethnicity. However, it should be noted that the Essenes had quite a bit of literature in their possession (the Dead Sea Scrolls), and it is entirely possible that the Jewish population in first-century Palestine wrote primarily, if not entirely, religious material. Furthermore, I want to argue that Ehrman is simply arguing from silence, which is not necessarily a very sound way to argue. As the old saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

But, let’s think this literacy thing through one more step. Let us suppose for a moment that it is absolutely true that only 2 or 3% of people could read and write. Is this the only way of transmitting information? I can think of at least two methods: oral tradition and art. I spoke a little about oral tradition last week, so I will not touch on that today. Instead, I will simply and quickly point out that art is an effective method of communicating messages, especially if there is a story that goes along with it. Take, for example, stained glass windows in churches. When they are done well, a person can share with another the entire life story of Jesus from birth to ascension.

But, let’s carry on with the idea that only 2-3% could read or write and this small number was made up primarily of the wealthy and professional scribes. Does this count Jesus and His disciples out? Hmm… I think not, and that leads naturally to my second gripe against Ehrman in his dialogue with Bauckham.

So, I will now turn my attention to the ability of Jesus and His disciples to have produced written documents. Taking Ehrman’s position on the literacy rate in first-century Palestine at face value, is it possible that Jesus and His followers could have produced written documents? I think it is entirely possible. Consider the fact that not all of Jesus’ followers were penniless – or perhaps, miteless : ) According to John 3:1-21, Nicodemus seems to have had some interest in Jesus’ teachings, and he was a member of the Jewish ruling council (see also Jn. 19:39). Joseph of Arimathea was also personally invested in Jesus enough to have His body removed from the cross and buried in his own tomb (Matt. 27:57-60; Mk. 15:43-46; Lk. 23:50-53; Jn. 19:38-42).

In addition to Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, there were others who were seemingly financially well to do. Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) was a tax collector (Lk. 5:27-32), as was Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus, by the way, is also described as being rich (Lk. 19:2). John Mark seems to have come from a family with some degree of wealth. After all, his mother had a house big enough to entertain multiple guests and included at least one servant (Acts 12:12-17). Jesus also had women that followed Him who were wealthy enough to travel with and minister to Him (Mk. 15:40-41).

These are just names found in the New Testament. There may be plenty more in the early church. After all, it is not unreasonable to think that a wealthy person converted. Furthermore, the use of an amanuensis (a professional writer who takes dictation) was not unheard of, and Paul made use of such workers.

This is good enough for today. Next week, I will turn to some other worthwhile topic.

Questions Youth Have: Part 4

This is the final installment in this series dealing with questions youth have. The series is in response to a study conducted by Youthworks involving 208 “Scripture kids” between the ages of 11-14. The fourth most common question for these youth was whether or not evolution disproves God. Evolution’s impact on the faith of many cannot be denied, and I believe that in most instances that impact has been negative. But, I must emphasize that this is not true in all cases.

To approach the notion that evolution proves God does not exist, it is important to first note that you cannot “prove” the nonexistence of God. In order to prove that God does not exist would require at least two steps: (1) an idea of what, exactly, you were looking for, so that you could actually identify it in a search; and, (2) an exhaustive search of all that exists.

But, let us move on to the bigger question: does the mechanism of evolution explain away the need for God. Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not believe in macro-evolution (from goo to you by way of the zoo). I do recognize that micro-evolution does occur (variation within a species), but that these variations have limits.

So, does the mechanism of evolution explain away the need for God? The simple answer is: no. Darwinian evolution, provides an explanation for the variation we see in living things by way of descent with modification and natural selection. So, a certain feature arises in a population (a beneficial genetic mutation) and that allows the mutated creature to excel others in the area of reproduction, making it grow in number and eventually superseding its predecessor or becoming a distinct, yet co-existing population. The process of Darwinian evolution requires great lengths of time for new species to arise.

Now, you may have noticed that something is missing in all of this. The creation of life to begin with. Darwinian evolution does not explain abiogenesis (the rise of life from non-life). And, without an explanation for how life arose to begin with, the process goes nowhere.

Again, I am not an evolutionist, but I also do not believe that it is a show stopper to faith. There are brilliant people that hold to Darwinian evolution that are also evangelical Christians. The most well-known of these would probably be Francis Collins. Another example is Charles Foster, who wrote, The Selfless Gene. While his exact position on the question is not always clear, C.S. Lewis uses language sympathetic to evolution in Mere Christianity. Another prominent Christian who holds to evolution is Alister McGrath, a prolific author with doctorates in both Molecular Biology and Divinity.

For many of these the theory of evolution does not explain everything. For instance, the facts that we are selfless in many instances and have morals that seem inborn to us are not explained by evolutionary mechanisms. There is also the question of how did it all start. For these individuals, they are okay with the process, but God started it by creating the first life forms. For others, there is the idea of evolution being guided. In these cases, it is often suggested that the process does not seem entirely random, but that God is directing the process.

Even though I am not an evolutionist, I feel it is important for people to understand that you do not have to make a choice between the Christian faith and the process of evolution. If you look on my page under “Resources” and then click “Science,” you will find a number of websites that support various positions on the question of science and religion. I am a creationist, which means I believe God is the creator. To me, this is the most consistent position with Scripture, but I am not willing to prevent someone from coming to, or growing in, the Christian faith over this issue. Besides, there are plenty of days ahead when I can be critical of evolution.

I think it is important that people are able to think through these issues. We encounter more problems when we shut children off from the ideas they will come across in the world. It is important that parents do their own homework on the vital issues of the day, but also that we find ways to provide quality information to our children that allows them to think through these matters in an informed manner. The Christian faith is resilient and can withstand challenges. The reason it can do this is simple: it is true.

Questions Youth Have: Part 3

Continuing in this series of posts, it is now time to address the third most common question youth have about the Christian faith according to a YouthWorks survey published in 2011. As it turns out, number three on the list is, “How can I believe in a good God when there is so much suffering?” It should not be surprising that the problem of evil has made the list. After all, this is one of the most common, if not THE most common objection that people have to the Christian faith (and religion in general, for that matter).

So, let us turn our attention to the problem at hand. Why should a person believe in a good God when there is so much bad in the world? I think there are a number of points that should be addressed about this question. First, the Bible sheds light on why there is evil in the world and the New Testament teaches us what God has done, and will do, about the matter. In the Fall, humankind opened the floodgates for sin to enter this world and, with it, pain and suffering. The solution to this problem is a restored relationship with God the Father. But, this can only come through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the work He accomplished on the cross. While this does not make evil go away in this world, it does prepare the way for an eternity with God beyond this earthly life that is free from the evils that we presently experience. It also means that Christians are a force for good in this world and that we should be engaged in reducing evil wherever we find it. So, the Scriptures make sense of our predicament an offer a solution.

The events of the Fall in the Garden of Eden show that our original ancestors had a choice in the matter. In other words, they exercised free will. Now, I must confess up front that I am an Arminian and not everyone will hold to this theological position. But, this is my blog, so I am staying the course with what I hold to be true. The argument from free will, a precious gift of God, is the second manner in which I like to appreciate the problem of evil. God has given us a truly precious gift out of the storehouses of His love: the ability to make choices for ourselves. I believe that these are true choices, not the kind of choice a person makes when there is only one option (for instance, making a right turn in a hall when the hall only turns to the right). The problem for humans is that free will allows for the possibility of people make bad decisions. Some of these decisions lead to direct evil on self or others. For instance, a person who chooses to intentionally hurt others. Some of these decisions can lead to troubles down the road. For example, a person has poor diet that leads, in the long run, to disease. So, I believe free will accounts for much of the evil we see in the world. And, God, in His love for us and His desire for us to truly and freely love Him, has given us that free will.

There is the matter of natural evil, the bad that comes from nature itself. So, why do we have tsunamis, earthquakes, and tornadoes, etc.? While I do not know all the science behind this, there are others that have pointed out that if our earth did not have many of the natural features that it does, then life would not be possible. Earthquakes happen because of shifting tectonic plates, which are necessary for certain life sustaining features. The same can also be said for other natural phenomenon that can be considered bad by humans. While I think it is Hugh Ross that addresses these issues, I cannot be for certain off the top of my head. But, let me toss in there once again the idea of free will. No one forces us to build on the coasts where hurricanes and tsunamis hit, or near volcanoes, or on fault lines, etc. Nor are we forced to build structures that do not adhere to strict standards that help prevent destruction in the event of a natural disaster. So… I say all of this just to point out that we may have a certain degree of natural “evil” in the world because it is necessary for life, which is a far greater good.

Third, God may have reasons for allowing bad to happen that we do not yet understand. Let’s face it, we do not know all that God knows. It is possible that God has reasons that simply cannot understand. Perhaps a greater good will come from a particular evil that a person, or persons, may experience. In this case, it would make sense that God would allow certain evils to occur.

Moving along, I want to propose one final idea. This, is something that I have thought about for quite some time and that is not written about much at all. I have never liked the following equation:

a. God is all good

b. God is all powerful

c. There is evil in the world

d. Therefore, God is either not all powerful or all good

The problem that I have with this equation is the way it attempts to reduce God. There is more to God than Him being all good. When a person reads through the Bible they will find a host of attributes for Him. So, it would seem that we could easily replace statement a or b with one of those other attributes. But, even in those cases it would reduce God into something that is inaccurate. So, to make this equation more accurate, we would have to scour the Scriptures, find every attribute of God, and then come to a conclusion from that. The deity in the equation above is the deity in someone’s mind. I am under no obligation to defend a deity as you see it. I believe in the God of the Bible and do feel an obligation to defend Him. The God of the Bible, however, is beyond a simple formula.

Questions Youth Have: Part 2

In my last post, I made mention of a study regarding questions that Christian children had about the faith. Each of the youth interviewed had received religious instruction, so they should have had some sort grasp on the basic tenets of Christianity. In that post I addressed the most common question that these 11-14 year olds had: How can I know that God exists? It is now time to turn our attention to the second most common question: How could a loving God send people to hell?

I can certainly understand where a question like this would come from. It seems that most people want God to be a giant cosmic teddy bear that has only hugs and kisses for His creation. The problem is that this does not seem to gel with what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Scriptures clearly teach that God is love and this is something that we can never put out of our minds when we think about Him. In fact, the question being addressed in this post is: why would a loving God send people to hell.

I think we must approach this question on at least two fronts. First, does the fact of God being a loving God necessarily mean that He cannot send people to hell? Second, does this question accurately portray what is happening when people go to hell?

So, let us take a look at my first proposition. From where I sit, there is nothing about God’s love that would necessarily preclude Him from sending someone to hell. When we see a parent that refuses to discipline a child, and instead tolerates aberrant behavior regardless of its impact, we typically consider the parent as irresponsible and doing a disservice to the child. What we do not say about such a parent is, “Look at how much they love their child.” In the same way, we do not consider a government good if it refuses to deal appropriately with criminals. Love is not the same as tolerating all behavior and turning a blind eye to justice.

Regarding the second proposition, I do not believe the question asked by the youths accurately portrays what is actually happening when someone is condemned to hell. C. S. Lewis once made the point that God does not send people to hell, but people send themselves there. I agree with this statement. As you read through the New Testament (the primary place hell is discussed) you will notice that over and over again God is making efforts to have people come into a saving relationship with Him. While there are warnings of hell, these are for those who refuse the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. While there is “fire and brimstone” in the New Testament, God is not breathing constant threats of hell against humanity. What we see in Scripture is a love letter written to humankind. God has reached down to us and, in His mercy, has provided for us a way of salvation. What we choose to do with His offer is on us. So, to make certain the point is clear, God has made a way for salvation and eternal life with Him. If someone chooses to refuse that and is doomed to hell, then that is a consequence brought upon his or herself.

Questions Youth Have: Part 1

I recently read about a survey of Christian youth conducted in recent years. In her research Ruth Lukabyo, of Youthworks College, identified the four biggest questions that these 11-14 year olds had about the Christian faith. To quote the article, they are:

  1. How can I know that God exists?
  2. How could a good God send people to hell?
  3. How can I believe in a good God when there is so much suffering?
  4. Doesn’t evolution prove that God doesn’t exist? *

In this post, I will address only the first. So, how can we know that God exists? I am no philosopher, but I do think there are some good arguments for the existence of God.

So, here are three arguments that I believe make a strong case for the existence of God.

  1. The Kalaam Cosmological Argument as put forward by William Lane Craig is pretty solid. Some may object that if God created the universe, then who created God. However, the argument is that whatever begins to exist must have a cause. But, God did not come into existence. He has always been. He is timeless. I understand that there are arguments that are being put forward by atheists that suggest the universe could have come from nothing without a creator, but I do not think they are as strong as their proponents would lead us to believe. Simply redefining “nothing” in a way that makes it something instead of no thing, is just word play.
  2. The fine tuning of the universe for life suggests a creator. To have life there are a number of conditions that need to be met. The odds of having any one of these specific conditions come about by random chance is astronomical to say the least. But, there is more than just one condition that must be met for the universe to sustain life. In some of his books, Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe keeps an up to date list of these finely tuned conditions. A search of his website will also turn up several articles on the subject.
  3. The moral argument. The fact that we have a moral understanding is good evidence for a creator that has placed that knowledge within us. Knowing right from wrong is not something that arises by chance. It was this argument that had the greatest impact on C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins.

 

* https://www.youthworks.net/articles/what_questions_are_adolescents_asking