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Can you be a Christian and not believe the Bible?

22 Feb

Did that question get your attention?  I hope so, because it is one I ponder often.

Why?  Run your eyes over some of these responses I’ve encountered when talking about God with friends and family:

  • I worship the God of the New Testament
  • The Bible was written by men
  • How can we trust what the Bible says?  It got corrupted through all the oral retellings passed down from one generation to another
  • The Bible represents primitive man’s best explanation at the time
  • Because of science, the Bible is obsolete
  • What applied then doesn’t fit society today
  • I don’t think Jesus really said that
  • That’s just Paul’s opinion
  • I attended divinity school and my professors taught us how the Bible actually came to be.  We are to take it metaphorically

Do you see why I am drawn to sort out what one must accept/adhere to in order to be a Christian?

How do we even begin to answer the question?

All adept Logical Joes and Janes start with clarifying terms.  So which terms need parsing and comparing to reality?

  • Christian
  • Believe
  • (the Bible is concrete and unequivocal)

The terms ‘Christian’ and ‘believe’ could potentially require a long time to arrive at a truth-reflecting definition.  (It’s not consensus we aim for, but accuracy and clarity of terms.)

For does it matter what the world calls a Christian?  Would any one disagree that many who self-identify as Christians are not in the least?  I don’t know if Hitler considered himself to be a follower of Christ, but atheists often trot him out as poster-boy of a supposed Christian who perpetrated untold evil.

More difficult to discern are those people who attend church, who do kind things, who serve humanity and choose to self-identify as Christian.  Here is the rub.  Can we tell from one’s outward behavior whether one is a Christian or not?

Turning to what it means ‘to believe‘, how is this concept often taken?

It can mean to agree, to follow, to espouse.  But isn’t our church replete with people who say they ‘believe’ the Bible?  Yet upon a fair assessment of their actions, temperaments and words, one wonders.  I do acknowledge that true Christians are always growing, with fits and starts, so we should be careful about judging.

Why am I even bothering with this analysis?  Because many people dear to me are on this spectrum of:

  • a sort of Christian
  • a sort of belief in the Bible

My husband and I were once members of that ‘sort of category’.  Although had you asked us to explain ourselves, we would have avowed without reservation that we were Christian. I do think we would have equivocated with the second question – Do you believe the Bible? For we had not READ the Bible.  We had read/heard bits and pieces of the Bible, for sure. But read it?  No, not in our Episcopal Church experiences growing up.

Now, having been given light to SEE and having acquired Biblical truth through Bible studies, evangelical pastors’ sermons, books, podcasts, church community, small groups and friendships with Christians, we can easily ‘catch’ the aroma of a true Christian.  They can be as distinct from me as you could imagine, yet we recognize each other as blood -bought brothers and sisters in Christ.  We talk the same language, cherish the same Jesus, marvel over God’s goodness, and enjoy boasting about His magnificence.

I’m curious to know what and how you define these two terms.  Please post a comment. And in a few weeks, I’ll summarize your responses as well as clarify and delimit those terms.  In the meantime, let us not stop praying for ‘heart-transplants’ in those whom we love, about whom we are not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore what the question even means and how we would go about setting up a discussion and then at the end invite readers to respond to the question I don’t have to answer it myself

Prayer logic

4 Jan

You do not have, because you do not ask.  James 4:2c

I’ve been listening to archived John Piper sermons on prayer.  The Bible’s stunning truth about prayer hit me afresh this morning.

We don’t understand WHY the all-powerful God, the One who created every visible molecule in the universe as well as everything that is invisible, says He waits on us to ask. Only that He DOES…command that we pray, that we ask Him for what we need and want.

Note to Maria – Don’t spend any energy chewing on the bone of how come – just revel in it. The fact that He who created all things at His command should invite us to participate with Him should STUN us!

After we pick ourselves up off our face, we should then focus on the truth that James announces.

But an obvious question emerges if we try to formulate James’ truth claim into a syllogism in order to think it through. Do we apply James’ statement universally (ALL versus SOME) or as referring to a particular group of people?  Here’s what it looks like when I write it as a universal truth.

Premise 1: ALL people who lack something are people who don’t ask God for that item

Premise 2: You are a person who doesn’t have something

Conclusion:  Therefore, you are a person who doesn’t ask God

Hmm, does that logic square with how you have experienced reality so far?  Are there situations in which you have prayed to God and have yet to receive?  Or conversely, has God given you gifts for which you didn’t ask/pray?

I think all of us can attest to circumstances when despite LOTS of prayer God has not supplied the healing, the job, the baby, the money, the spouse or the resolution. As well as times when He ‘out of the blue’ graced us with a surprise blessing, both unanticipated and unasked.

In analyzing the above syllogism, we would say it is logically valid, that the premises are laid out in a correct order, but the conclusion is not true. Why?  because the subject in Premise 1 falsely includes ALL people in the world.

If we exchange the universal quantifier ‘ALL’ for the particular quantifier ‘SOME’, then we might get closer to the Truth.  Let me show you what that looks like and then we’ll talk about it:

Premise 1: Some people who lack are those who don’t ask God to provide what they need/want

Premise 2:  You are someone who doesn’t have what you want

Conclusion:  Therefore, you are someone who hasn’t asked God to provide

Again, that conclusion is not true in every situation.  To wit, I have repeatedly asked God to give me a different job.  And He hasn’t, YET……

So just using one circumstance in my life as a counter-example, I can prove that the conclusion in this second syllogism is not true.  It’s also not valid.  Why?  Because the conclusion overreaches the facts given in Premises 1. This first or major premise describes only one of two categories I’m going to call ‘LACKERS’ – those who haven’t prayed.  There is the category of ‘LACKERS’ who have indeed asked God for what they want.  So even though Premise 2 is true (you don’t have what you want) we can’t be sure which group of ‘LACKERS’ you fall into.

Bottom line?  I don’t know why God hasn’t answered my many prayers, YET.  But I do believe the Bible is authoritative.  I know that God commands us to pray.  I also know that He is good.  So there I rest AND I will continue to pray. What about you?

Your claim is arrogant!

17 Aug

“You’re arrogant!” or “That’s arrogant!”

Have you ever experienced this kind of attack following your stated view on a topic?

Recently while listening to a podcast, I heard about just such an encounter.  Listening to the details prompted me to think through how I might effectively respond, all the while employing a calm demeanor.  In my mind, I role-played a hypothetical conversation.

The podcaster relating the story had stated that ‘old-earth creationists’ were not evolutionists  (where the term evolution refers to a non-directed process of natural selection).

The man who disagreed then flung back the barb, “That’s arrogant!”

In the shock and heat of the moment, I can envisage how tempting it would be automatically to deny the hubris of one’s original statement – without thinking!   But that would be to succumb to a fallacy trap.  The attacker with this comeback has in effect employed a Red Herring fallacy, by sidestepping the truth or falsity of the premise he disputes.

If you can picture throwing an angry dog a piece of meat or fish to distract him from chasing you, then you understand the basic concept of the Red Herring.

It is immaterial whether the assertion ‘S is P’ is arrogant or modest. Premises are either TRUE or FALSE! A person may appear arrogant in how he presents a claim.  But to label a claim as arrogant is actually a category error.

What our name-caller actually is doing is making an entirely different assertion, one that is implicit:

Your claim is arrogant!  = People who hold your view are arrogant.

I don’t know if a calm discussion would be even possible, but IF it were feasible, this is how I imagined my follow-on question to the attack might unfold:

Me:  So let me see if I understand.  You are saying that my statement ‘Old-earth creationists’ are not evolutionists. indicates arrogance on my part?  Why is that arrogant? Isn’t what matters whether my premise is TRUE or NOT TRUE?

And why would not YOUR view that ‘old-earth creationists’ are evolutionists be equally arrogant, given your logic?

I can’t predict the rest of the conversation, but I wouldn’t bet on my phantom interlocutor settling down into a calm and rational discussion.  The accusation of ‘Arrogance!’ probably indicates an angry or heated speaker.  And that’s not an appropriate environment for exchanging rational ideas.

But having thought through how I might handle such a charge did strengthen my confidence!  Just as important as being equipped with the right knowledge IS our commitment to speaking with respect for the other human being.  After all, he or she is an image-bearer of our Creator.

Change the category, change everything!

5 Aug

He might have missed his greatest retirement project!

This professor learned first hand how hidden treasures can come to light by changing what you focus on and what you don’t include.

Catacombs art

Gregory Athnos (in what turned out to be a major theme of his retirement after a career teaching music at the college level) has written about the wall paintings in the Roman Catacombs.  Link to his book

When he researched and examined the frescos himself, he intended to write a 20-page paper.  His original focus pinpointed the quality of the art.  However, when he actually visited the underground graves of early Christians and studied the paintings, he was taken with the symbols. Not one cross was depicted on these burial sites, but God’s many-faceted deliverances were.

So he shifted his research question away from the quality of the art (which was probably not worth more than the 20-page paper he planned to write) onto the theology of the art.   And that shift made all the difference.  His casual study turned into a multiple-year project that birthed a book, a lecture series and DVD on the theological worldview of early Christians in the first 3 centuries.

When I listened to the interview, I was struck by this fact:

The content/subject matter of the paintings was the same – whether the context was art or theology.

But when one re-categorized the content away from art onto theology, EVERYTHING shifted.   That’s it – a change in categories changed the research goal which led to entirely different results.

That should come as no surprise.  Hasn’t that happened to you before?  When you reframe something, you react differently to it?  I recall the anecdote of a distracted father on a big city subway riding with his 2 high-energy small children whose antics were bothering the other passengers.  One irate lady apparently said something curtly to the dad about controlling his kids.  He wearily and humbly apologized and explained that they had just come from the hospital where the children’s mom and his wife had died.  Instantly a different mood and mindset descended on those around this small family.

Changing the context from: “things that annoy me” to “things that I find tragic” completely altered the sentiments of the others. The content or circumstances didn’t change, though.

I often reframe other drivers’ possible circumstances when they drive in a manner I find rude.  If I imagine that their spouse has just left them or that they are habitual drug users, I treat them differently.  The first scenario elicits a ‘let it go’ response in me and the latter a ‘let me stay out their way!‘ behavior.

Along the same line, I’ve been helped most on a daily basis through category shifting by the conviction that God is sovereign over every single event that occurs.  So when I’m delayed or when a door shuts I’m LEARNING (a work in progress!) to drop my complaining and instead wonder about what God might be up to in my life.  Helps with the stress!

Question:  What happens when YOU change the context or category around some content in your life? 

Stop equivocating!

26 Nov

Dad with daughter

My Dad must have repeated that warning weekly throughout my teen years.  Vaguely aware that he meant it to mean ‘stop arguing‘ or ‘enough of this twisting around of my words!

It wasn’t until ‘logic’ came into my life that I learned both the potential confusion AND danger of equivocal words – those terms that are spelled alike but point to completely different concepts.

Think about pitchers.  Two sorts spring to mind:

Pitcher of lemonade Pitcher throwing ball

 

It’s only in context that one’s sense becomes clear.

I thought about equivocal words again while mediating on one of God’s teachings in the book of Acts.  The passage is found in chapter 10 where Peter (the leader of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension) explains to the Roman officer Cornelius the details surrounding Jesus’ work on earth and his future return:

(verses 42-43) “…..And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

What got me thinking was how some people unfamiliar with the Bible think that God will judge the good and the bad.  Those are the juxtaposed groups they describe.  Yet that is a category error, if one relies on the Bible as the definitive word about God’s judgments.  In the above passage, the people groups mentioned are the living and the dead.  What we can safely infer is that this categorizing is both exclusive and exhaustive.  All humans who ARE living or who HAVE EVER lived fit into one of these two groups: the living and the dead.  

I’ll come back to this teaching in a moment; first let’s look at the erroneous initial division of humans into good and bad.  Here is where my reflection about equivocal terms brought me – pondering the sense of the term ‘good‘.   Many Americans are kind-hearted, generous and desirous of helping their neighbor.

Humanitarian acts

I’m sure you know just such good people.  These God-enabled humanitarian works DO make our world a much better place.  Undeniably.  Yet the term good is problematic precisely because it’s one of those troublesome equivocal words.

Here’s what I mean:

How do we reconcile Jesus telling a well-to-do young Jewish man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good--except God alone.” (Mark 3:12)

And in the Old Testament the Psalmist writes:

Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3)

Clearly there is good and there is good!

And we could talk about many other examples of how good is used:

  • good to eat (tasty and/or nutritious)
  • good at playing the piano (skilled)
  • that’s good! (almost meaningless, but communicates your acknowledgment of the news)
  • good weather for fishing/sunbathing/growing your garden (conducive to ______)
  • a good dog, child (well behaved)
  • a good wife (meets my expectations)
  • a good report (complete and accurate)
  • and last but not least, a good deed (kind)

You can probably thing of  more uses.

But the distinction that God describes in His word is one that has eternal consequences.  If

  • no one but God is good (per HIS use of the term) and if
  • He is going to judge the living and the dead

Then, knowing the category He uses is crucial.

Back to the apostle Peter’s explanation to Cornelius; obviously if none of us is good in God’s use of the term, and He separates all into either the living or the dead, then knowing that there IS a way to be reconciled and pleasing and loved and favored by God is pretty important.

 

Bottom LIne

And the news is ‘good’! (life-giving, joyful)

Reprising the 2nd verse (Acts 10:43) where Peter describes Jesus and his work on earth the first time:

“….To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Hmm…I spot another tricky term: ‘believes‘.  We’ll talk about how to understand the proper sense of  ‘to believe’ next time.

Until then, pick up and read all of Acts, Chapter 10 for yourself.  It’s a short account of what’s important.

Logical Gal and the beauty of a category error

29 Oct

I heard some good news this week – enunciated in a way that I can understand AND remember.

Good for goodness sake

And it was just the opposite of the song invoked in the photo above.  Whew!

One of my favorite preaching pastors, John Piper Link to his site, was explaining the concept of election and justification, Christian terms for being called into the Christian family by God.  He painted the scenario of a gal lamenting to her pastor that her past was SO BAD, that NO WAY could God forgive her enough to let her into His kingdom.

That’s when Piper described her as BOTH prideful AND incorrect in thinking that any condition could block God’s will.

At that moment…..drum roll Piper announced that God NEVER even considers one’s past life or actions in his selection of His children.  This gal was making a category error.  She was thinking that the two kinds of people were

  • the GOOD enough

and the

  • NOT GOOD enough

It is truly happy news to learn that she was not even in the ball park.

She was right on one account;  there are just TWO categories of folk.  All humans fall into one of these two groups:

  • those who belong to the family of God and are considered His adopted children
  • those who don’t belong to the family because God has not adopted them as His children

But HOW He chooses is a mystery. If we take His words as truth (and since He is God, by nature He IS Truth), then He has decreed who He adopts for His own reasons that have nothing to do with how ‘bad or good’ we are.  (Truth be told, NO ONE is ‘good’.)  Listen to what God teaches us through Paul’s writings in Romans 9: 10-13

  • when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Of course, we will probably trip over the verbs LOVED and HATED.

So as all good logicians and thinkers, we should CLARIFY THE MEANING of these two terms.

 

Clarify meanining

I’ll leave you to think through what God might intend by ‘love and hate’, but before you snort and feel frustrated, think about how we freely and loosely toss around terms.

  • I love movies….I love my dog…I love my children…I love God
  • I hate laundry….I hate Mondays….I hate terrorists….I hate it when I lose my temper

 

Logical Gal and a win-win wager

22 Oct

True Confessions!

I struggle with worry.  Not only is this stupid, but it’s a sin since God commands Christians: Do not be anxious (Phil 4:6)

I was battling this unbelief Sunday night and Monday morning, when I realized that the possible outcomes revolving around my worrysome circumstance could be organized in a similar fashion to Pascal’s Wager.

Pensées - Pascal

Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and mathematician.  One of the ways you might be acquainted with him is through his Pensées .  This collection of thoughts were gathered by his man-servant and assembled after his death.  He had written each pithy reflection about God on pieces of parchment and then sewn them into his coat’s lining.

Pascal meditated on how one should live this life here on earth in view of what might happen beyond the grave.  His reasoning as a logician led him  in view of  after death options to sort out the possible outcomes of a decision for or against relying on God.

The 4 possibilities look like this:

1. God exists and I give up management and submit to Him – I get a joy-filled/punishment-free eternal life with God. The cost? Very little –  some temporary experiences that might have satisfied me if indulged in.

2. God exists and I refuse to acknowledge Him and control my own life – I get a scary and painful eternal life away from God. The cost? A LOT! – an eternity of pain that lasts a lot longer than the temporary earthly pleasures I indulged in

3. God does not exist and I give up my control and desires and live according to what I think He wants – I get nothing, because there is nothing beyond the grave.  Nothing bad or good awaits me forever. The cost? Very little some temporary experiences I held back from.

4. God does not exist and I live my life following my own desires – I get nothing, because there is nothing beyond the grave. Nothing bad or good awaits me forever.  The cost? Nothing

So if you evaluate what you stand to gain or lose, rationally it makes sense to bet on God existing. (of course what one thinks of God and what God thinks of us is not up to odds, but this is just a way of using reason)

Back to worry.  How does this idea of a wager apply?

I think we can set up a similar decision wager paradigm that clearly shows the folly of worry.

First of all, here is my pre-supposition:  Worry is a joy and happiness stealer.  The formula looks like this:

Worry Inequaltiy Math Symbol Joy

And our choice of belief boils down to this:

1. Believe God when He says He is taking care of us = no need to worry.

2. Don’t believe God when He says He is taking care of us =  need to worry.

  • If we believe God and He is who He says He is and therefore IS taking care of us – we didn’t worry and we have peace and get proof that God provided for that need/situation/problem.
  • If we believe God and He doesn’t exist or isn’t like what we think – we didn’t  worry and we have to deal with the outcome of the need/situation/problem but we didn’t experience the joyless pain of worry leading up to the situation.
  • If we don’t believe God, whether He exists or not, we end up worrying and lose our joy and peace.

It makes sense as Christians to opt for the first situation.

Happiness

If God IS God by definition, then in His essence He is honest and everything He says about Himself IS true.  Afterall, his character and reputation are at stake.  We yield to emotions so often and don’t cling to truth.  And all along God is present and willing and able to handle our situations.

I have to remind myself daily that God knows about my day and has provisioned me with exactly what I need for each moment.  I am to make use of these provisions by divine faith which He has given me.

Christianity is a calling to use the evidence that God through the Holy Spirit has given us.  May we each be empowered to believe the Truth!

…the Spirit is Truth.  1 John 5:6b 

Question:  What helps you with anxiety?