For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, August 24, 2018

How Do We Read the Bible?

How do we view the authority of the Bible? Do we allow what it says to transform our thinking or do we transform what it says to match our thinking? 

This question is increasingly important today because people have a low view of God and of the Bible. They doubt the ability of God to inspire the writers of the Bible in a way that is authoritative for the Christian life through all time and all cultures. Instead, people view the Bible as a document of ancient history which contains some valuable truth which needs to be understood and applied in our context. The question then becomes how we determine what is “merely cultural” and what is “timeless truth”.   

Of course, the Bible was written over the course of many centuries in a variety of cultures by people of different backgrounds. But they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is "God-breathed." God's intent is for his Word to transform culture. Therefore, we must understand that correct application will often be opposed to our culture. Romans 12:2 says that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world instead we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This verse tells us that we need to allow the scripture to speak to us for itself and bring correction to the way of thinking that we learned from our culture.

The danger is that we may dismiss things that we do not like or agree with as being “merely cultural" and therefore feel free to ignore them. Any time there is a conflict between the way we think and the things that our culture values, we will tend to rationalise away the clear meaning of the text. Let me give you an example.

 Let us imagine that someone is living in a culture where being in a violent gang is normal. In this imaginary culture their parents, their relatives, and all of their friends belong to one of these gangs. As a member of the gang they have territory that must be defended. Both gang and personal honor must be upheld. There is frequent violence against other gangs. Because other gangs have frequently attacked and even killed members of their gang, they have responded in kind. Sometimes they even launch preemptive strikes. It is normal. It seems right and logical. At times it is encouraged and even celebrated. 
Then someone shares the gospel with them. They learn that they can be forgiven of all their sins and that Jesus loves them. They become Christians. They pick up the Bible and enjoy it but there are some troubling passages. For example, it says “Do not murder.” When they read the Bible it seems impossible to apply. It is directly opposed to the things that their families taught them and that they learned from the world around them. It seems wrong.
As a result, they search for a way to reinterpret the command. For example, they might say that the command "Do not murder" cannot possibly apply today because they it is "loving" to protect family...even if it means killing someone long before they attack! Not only that, but Micah 6:8 tells them to "do justice" and many of the heroes of Hebrews 11 were warriors! So the loving and godly thing to do is murder.

You probably thought that example was preposterous. But why? 
I think there are several reasons. 
First, it completely violates what the command explicitly says. 
Second, there are many passages in the New Testament that support the idea that we should not murder. Love=Murder goes against the entire tenor of Scripture. 
Third, it seems ridiculous because our culture has taught us that murder is wrong. 
In other words, our culture and the teaching of the Bible are in agreement and so it is easy to see that the gang members’ interpretation is horribly wrong. But notice the motivation of the gang member: to do what they were taught was right by their family/culture. When confronted with a passage that conflicted with their customs, they sought ways to reinterpret the passage so they could do what they wanted.

This is the temptation that we face every time we study the Bible. Do we allow the Scriptures to transform our thinking or do we seek to mold what the Bible says to be more palatable? Which is more important: what the Bible says or what our culture values?  

Going back to the example "do not murder", the gang member reinterprets the command by saying that it is loving to defend the gang and avenge wrongs done to it by murdering the members of opposing gangs. Thus, the nebulous idea of love was used to twist what the Bible says in order to justify what the gang member wants to do.

This is where the battle is being fought today.

This is most clearly seen today in the area of sexual ethics. The Bible clearly teaches that sex is reserved for marriage and that marriage is only between a man and woman. This is the teaching of both the Old and New Testament. There are clear and explicit warnings about the dangers of sexual immorality. In fact, it clearly states that sexual immorality is one of the reasons for the wrath of God. Today more and more churches are rejecting this teaching. Not only are they tolerating and supporting heterosexual immorality but they are actively supporting homosexual behaviour. They have deemed the prohibitions against sexual immorality as being a reflection of an ancient culture’s biases rather than truth meant to transform culture. And they have done it in the name of “God” and “love” even though the Bible clearly says that those who practice such things will suffer eternal judgement and that his followers MUST turn away from these sins. 

This is no less absurd than the gang member reinterpreting "you shall not murder."

 We must determine once and for all that the Bible will be allowed to transform our thinking. The Bible teaches a way of life that will often be opposed to contemporary culture. This was true then and it is now. 

We must allow the Bible to transform our thinking. Whether it comes to sexual ethics, finances, murder, or any other area of our life, the Bible has much to teach us. If we claim to be followers of Christ then we must seek to understand what the word of Christ says and to apply it to our lives. 

Will you allow the Bible to transform your thinking? 

Say yes.

For a more technical article about some of these issuesclick here.

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