How to Not be a Heretic

What you believe matters. Your beliefs about the world, yourself, and God are always operating in the background of your mind, shaping your decisions and passions. Especially today, where tolerance is often talked about but little practiced, talking about religious belief is difficult and tricky.

Being a Christian means you believe certain theological statements are true while rejecting other claims about God and religion are not true. Of course, that’s not unique to Christianity. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Atheism have their own “theological walls” that set the boundaries… and if you pass those boundaries then you can no longer be considered a part of that theological camp.

For example,

  • An Atheist cannot believe in intelligent design.
  • A Buddhist cannot believe the Jesus is the only way to heaven.
  • A Christian cannot believe there are multiple paths to heaven.

While some people throw the word “Heretic” at anyone with whom they have a strong disagreement, that doesn’t capture what heresy is. Heresy is a teaching that undercuts and contradicts the essential teachings of a religion. This is why Christians may disagree regarding Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, but Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered cults who are outside the bounds of true Christianity. airplane-wreck Continue reading

What is the Bible?

 

Steve and Rob are friends who are discussing the meaning of life. Steve is convinced the purpose is to simply do good, be happy, and leave the world a better place than it was before you were born. Rob generally agrees with his friend, and he prods Steve for clarity over what it means to be good, what happiness is, and what the world “should” look like.

In the end, they agree their disagreements flow from a big difference in their epistemology (ep-iss-ta-maw-lo-gee), or, “how you know what you know.” Steve believes that we each determine our own truths, so long as they don’t do harm to others around us. Rob is a Christian who believes the Bible is the final authority and measure of truth. In his frustration about Rob’s continual mention of the Bible, Steve expresses, “What even IS the Bible? It’s just a book, and it’s not even trustworthy. People made it up and threw it together, stop talking about the Bible!”

According to a joint-study of Barna Group and American Bible Society’s on The State of the Bible,

  • 80% of Americans consider the Bible sacred literature.
  • 1/3 of Americans claim to read the Bible at least once a week.
  • 62% have a desire to read the Bible more frequently.
  • 50% of American Christian Millennials believe it is the Word of God and has no errors (some verses were meant to be taken figuratively, and not every verse is literal)
  • 27% of American Millennials who are not Christians believe the Bible is a dangerous book which promotes oppression.
  • 19% of American Millennials who are not Christians believe the Bible is completely outdated and has no relevance to life today.

The impact of the Bible on history cannot be disputed. But what is the Bible? Is it any different from other books? And is the Bible trustworthy?

The purpose here is not to persuade anyone new that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but to clarify historic Christian teaching about what the Bible is.

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How to Read Your Bible

The Christian who doesn’t read will always struggle to hear God speak. Because God has chosen to give us his Word in written form through the Holy Bible. And as Mark Twain is supposedly said, “He who does not read has no advantage over he who cannot read.”

While it’s helpful to remember that God speaks through his Word, I have a feeling that many Christians open their Bible, read the passage, and then think, “Ok… now what?” So then they re-read a few verses, pray, and then close their Bible after wondering if they just failed at reading their Bible.

Fellow pastors, we need to stop telling people what to do without equipping them how to do it!

As a youth pastor, for many years I was far more guilty of this very thing than I’d like to admit. Over the last few years I’ve started prioritizing teaching students how to read the Bible, not just convincing them that they should read it. So whether you’re a teenager or retired, I trust the following could help you grow in your ability to read and understand the Bible in your personal life. bible-study Continue reading

Christians & the Old Testament

I hate the word “old.” It makes it automatically seem like the thing that’s old isn’t any good anymore. If something’s old, maybe it’s still around for a reason – it’s worth keeping around!

Look at your Bible and you’ll notice one binding. One book… all Scripture. 1 Timothy 3:16-17 famously declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While this may be familiar, it’s important to remember the “Scripture” being referred to is what we call “the Old Testament.”

As Christians, we need to remember that the Old Testament is just as authoritative Scripture as the New. The problem is, we don’t always know how to interpret the Old in light of the New. Here are some reminders that will serve you well.

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Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

There is much to say about this particular topic and there’s no way to do more than scratch the surface in such a short summary. If there are  questions about this in the comments then perhaps I can address this further in a future post. The following big-picture review of the Bible should help you discern how each verse of Scripture points to or flows from the gospel.

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Who are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4?

This is the first post in what I hope to become a semi-regular feature here at Living Theologically… reader questions. If there’s something you’ve been wondering or confused about, please go HERE to submit your question.

Here’s today’s question:
Who are the “sons of God” & the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4?

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown

This is a strange passage of Scripture which has confused Jewish and Christian believers for centuries. By no means do I profess to have it all “figured out,” but after studying this passage in seminary and over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that we only lose when we avoid difficult portions of the Bible.

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Can the Bible Correct You?

I had a conversation a while ago with a friend who a Christian and is struggling through some difficult doctrines. In the midst of our conversation he said a few things I’ve been thinking about:

1. “I just don’t like it when people have an ‘I’m right and everyone else is wrong’ attitude.”

2. “I just don’t want to believe it.”

Ultimately, I think these comments come down to this question: Will you allow Scripture to correct your thinking. Here’s why I think this is the foundational question.

1. As Christians, we must be people who stand upon God’s revealed Word (the Bible) rather than our own opinions. 

2. When our opinion and God’s Word seem to be at odds, we need to be honest as we dig into Scripture to unveil the original intent (exegesis). Yes, there are cultural differences between our lives today and the culture of the Bible, but we need to be honest and have the integrity to resist merely saying, “Oh, well that was for them, not for us.” We need to honestly examine why it was for them and not for us and dig deeper than “Because that’s how I want it.”

3. When we refuse to believe what the Bible reveals, what we claim to believe about Biblical Authority and what we really believe are at odds with each other. It’s good to affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but if we will not allow God’s Word to correct us then we do not really believe what we think we believe.

4. Truth brings joy. Yes, there are times when it is difficult and painful to believe some things in Scripture, and there are times when I wish I could believe differently because it would be a whole lot easier. But God’s truth brings joy… eventually. Once we see God for who He is and we understand what He has done and what He is doing then even in the midst of the difficulty of faith, we rejoice in who God is and what He has promised.

If you are wrestling with something in Scripture that you do not want to believe… that’s ok. I think we should all be in that position, because it shows that we’re being honest about our beliefs and our preferences and we’re bringing them before God.

A few tips on wrestling with Scripture:

1. Pray. Ask God to increase your faith in Him and not in yourself or in your own preferences. We need to be people who are finally and ultimately devoted to God. We may know that, but are we truly willing to be that kind of person?

2. Interpret Scripture through Scripture. That may sound confusing, but the best way to understand difficult things in the Bible is by understanding what other verses/portions of the Bible have to say about that same thing. Interpret what is obscure or unclear through what is consistently and clearly taught. This also means we should interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament (but that’s a whole other blog post for another day).

3. Dig Dig Dig. God gave you a brain, he wants you to use it. Study, research, and read what has been written. There are many sites online that provide free Bible Study tools (crosswalk.com is probably the most well known; GotAnswers.com has great Q&A type of articles too).

4. Don’t think you’re alone. You are not the first person to ask the question your asking or to study the passage you’re studying. Read what others have written, but also talk to other Christians about this. Maybe they’re wondering the same thing but think they’re alone… study it together.

5. Finally, have faith. There are some things we will simply never fully understand because we aren’t meant to. That’s not an excuse to avoid intelligently pursuing truth. Instead, it’s a call to remember that God is infinite and you are finite. God is mysterious, but He has made Himself known… in part. If you think you can explain everything about who God is and what He has done (and will do) then either your wisdom is infinite or you have made God finite. There comes a point where you may need to humbly say, “I don’t know everything I want to know, but I know enough to confidently trust God.”

One of the greatest ways we can honor God is by trusting Him when we don’t want to.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1