“You who call yourselves Jews [believers] are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth.
“Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles [non-believers] blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:17-24 (NLT) [brackets mine]
I love the Bible. With apologies to some in this audience I especially love it when it’s bound in soft, high quality leather. I love how the Bible looks, how it feels, how it acts, how it flows. I love how it elevates me, gut-punches me, compels me. It twists my thoughts, turns my eyes upward, moves my soul. It is a gift from God.
The Bible is a collection of ancient writings that continues to influence and change people wherever hearts and minds are open to it. As I wrote last week, it has many voices, expressions, and ways of communicating. I’m continually moved by how it speaks with grit and artistry, how it experiences pain and joy. It doesn’t shy away from the hardest truths of life but always leaves us with hope, wonder, and a reason to return to God.
… bible abuse …
I love the Bible so much that I hate to see it abused. In that sense it has a long, wretched history of being manipulated by people to support their particular viewpoints, to justify all kinds of wackiness, and even to encourage pure evil.
Sounds paranoid I know, but let’s not forget that the Bible has been used to support: cults, slavery, capital punishment, white supremacy, monarchism, colonialism, socialism, racism, sexism, rejecting refugees, supporting immoral leaders, aggressive wars, supporting child labour, rejecting environmental responsibility, and much more. I could even make a list of good things that were bent and twisted until they were unrecognizable. Bible-abuse.
Why is it vulnerable to abuse? Because, in spite of its inspiration, human beings have their fingerprints all over it. Ironically its divine magnetism is precisely why it is a perfect tool to manipulate people; they will believe almost anything if you convince them the Bible says so.
Bible-abuse gives me a serious case of the heeby-jeebies at any time, but recently I have been feeling that way pretty much daily.
There are states that want the Bible taught in public schools (taught what, by whom?); so called prophets who use it to predict bizarre future occurrences; faith healers and ‘healthy and wealth’ preachers who happily use it to pick the financial bones of anyone who listens to them. There are powerful government figures who have been taught, and adhere to, a cataclysmic view of their role in supporting Israel and armageddon. Most frighteningly, these influences leech out and slowly, relentlessly, pollute mainstream Christianity.
I fully expect celebrities, politicians, and everyday people to misquote or misuse the Bible, that’s not a new pastime. However there are high profile Christian personalities who only see their own pre-determined meanings in its pages.
All this because they are not willing to yield their wills to the wideness contained in the Bible. While trying to defend it, they actually limit it and make it more human.
… my boat’s bigger than your boat …
When this kind of abuse happens, so much is lost. Let me give you a concrete example:
Fundamentalists defend a literal reading of the creation account in Genesis. No problem. Except that they see evolution as a terrible distortion of the Bible and dedicate themselves to fighting it at any cost.
And when I say any cost, I mean it literally. One group has built a $100 million replica of Noah’s ark in Kentucky to prove that it was a real thing like the Bible says (Paul Wallace calls their logic ‘proof by spectacle‘).
Naturally a project of this kind needed lots of private donations plus $62 million from local government bonds. Yet in spite of inevitable cost over-runs, various legal machinations, and questionable biblical scholarship, the big boat was built.
So… Yeah… As I see it, these fundamentalist Bible readers accomplished the following, in order of increasing importance:
- They built a big boat out of wood, proving that people can build big boats out of wood;
- They built a big tourist site out of wood, proving that people can build big tourist sites out of wood;
- They convinced themselves of the legitimacy of simplistic thinking and trained others to do the same;
- They spent more than a hundred million dollars on a wooden tourist-boat in a state with higher than average poverty (any reading of the Bible will tell you this angers God) ;
- They ensured that future generations will lose their faith because it’s been built on issues rather that on Jesus;
- They work so hard to prove a big wooden boat can float that they miss the wonder and truest meanings held in the stories.
… let me make this simple for you …
See, many popular pastors and teachers have their own television programs or media audiences and are much more interested in working the crowd than they are in teaching truth. They have it all figured out in flat, easy answers but miss all the bigness and newness God has for them. They tell us the Bible is simple, literal, self-revealing, but as their methodology plays out:
- They explain the meaning of a Bible concept by taking us through a maze of mind-stretching logic. (I recently watched a conservative preacher online who showed how the Bible tells us men should wear pants and women should wear dresses. His explanation of the simple meaning of the Bible was bizarre and un-followable but people in the audience ate it up.)
- They claim to explain the Bible to us but actually end up replacing its voice with their own voice and shaping it into their personal brand. (How many books has John Hagee written about discipleship and christian life? Some. How many has he written about Israel, blood moons, and end times prophecy? Lots and lots and lots. And lots. And lots.)
- They defend their version of the Bible by pointing out the sinfulness and faults of those who disagree with them. This of course requires them to ignore their own sinfulness and faults. (Basic Christian confession, humility, generosity are extremely rare among high volume Christian preachers/teachers.)
… here’s an idea …
In my case, the Bible blossomed when I realized it was much more than what popular pastors/teachers told me it was. If you believe it is God-inspired then it shouldn’t surprise you that it is full of intrigue and creativity and new discoveries. You can take my advice or ignore it, but consider whether you should …
Avoid religious preachers/teachers who are over-confident, judgemental, self-important, unwilling to hear. In fact, being an alpha leader probably makes them less qualified. Don’t let yourself be spoon fed absolutes and rules – there are many views of many things in the Bible.
Learn from those who are open, thoughtful, humble, and exhibit healthy ‘fruit’ in their lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness). Learn to feed yourself with input from a cross-section of trusted pastors, thinkers, scholars, writers, saints, etc.
If you listen to the former types, the Bible will be a flat, stilted, rule book. If you listen to the latter types, the Bible contains layers of refreshment and learning and Jesus will shine through.
The Bible is for you. It is God’s explicit, written permission to explore and discover him. Don’t allow either the religious or the secular to take it from you.