Category Archives: Bible

What is the Bible? An incredible series by Rob Bell

Rob Bell may have courted controversy over the past few years with his views on hell and homosexuality, but he has never done so gratuitously and he has always attempted to base his views on a good, solid understanding of Scripture. You might not agree with his interpretations, but you cannot deny that he takes the Bible seriously.

I happen to agree with both his approach to Biblical interpretation and the outcomes of that approach. He is a great scholar, a gifted teacher and writer, and a wise leader. But don’t take my word for it.

Rob has now created a series of articles which could actually act as a series of studies for personal reflection and/or group discussion on “What is the Bible”. It’s very accessible, well written, simple to follow, and a tremendous resource for the church. And it’s free.

Start the course with lesson one here, on what is the Bible, and then continue through some important, controversial and illuminating topics as Rob helps us to understand and apply God’s Word in our daily lives. Brilliant stuff.

“Just Following the Bible”

BibleI wrote a few days ago about the “Best of Stuff Fundies Like” for 2013. My personal favourite was a very short piece that satirised the way that many conservative Christians approach the Bible. When an issue gets too complicated or too controversial, they will quickly retreat to a position of “well, I just try and read the plain meaning of the Bible without all that fancy interpretation stuff”. If they are a little more trained in Bible interpretation, they may revert to “well, the plain meaning is always the best – your attempts to show alternative interpretations are just playing with words”.

While I hardly ever encounter the staunch KJV-only type Christians this post also satirises, I do encounter people who still cling to young earth creationism on the basis of their “plain reading” of Genesis 1-11, and to people who still restrict women from leadership roles based on their “plain reading” of Paul’s instructions, and, of course, the homosexuality issue is pretty much all about this kind of interaction about what Scripture really means. Whatever you might believe about homosexuality, surely you do have to start the conversation with some humility based on the long history of the church realising that maybe Scripture didn’t mean precisely what Scripture appeared to be saying (I think of everything from flat earths to the Sun at the centre of our galaxy, from slavery to women’s rights to vote, and more recently the causes of HIV/AIDS and apartheid).

Anyway, you can read the original here (and I’d highly recommend taking the time to follow the conversations in the comments), or below. These are things your church should be talking about, but I am sure they’re not:

I just follow the Bible. I just follow the obvious meanings of a 400 year old translation of a document written originally in languages I don’t speak, influenced heavily by cultures I don’t begin to understand, and by people who I assume looked, acted, thought and dressed just like I do.

I just follow the Bible. It’s not only a road map for life and God’s love letter to everybody who isn’t an Amalekite but it also apparently contains an uncanny number of direct statements about how much beat is acceptable in music and how one should pledge to the country’s flag — even though countries didn’t have flags when it was written.

I just follow the Bible. And the Holy Spirit. And my pastor who God sent to tell me what the Holy Spirit says the Bible means. Just last Sunday I learned that Job 31:10 is a seven-thousand year old sermon against twerking.

I just follow the Bible. And my cultural predispositions. And my inherent biases. And my economic expedients. And my filters of time, place, biology, psychology, technology, and personal experience.

I just follow the Bible. You’d better follow me too.

Source: Stuff Fundies Like

Letter to a Woman Called to Church Leadership

I used to think that women should not lead in the church. My (faulty) understanding of Scripture was to take Paul’s restrictions literally, without understanding cultural context, interpretation or the adaptations of our theological positions that the Holy Spirit leads us to over time. We should make these adaptations slowly and with due consultation and attention. The danger is that we can stray from God’s will, and that would be a tragedy.

But over the past century, more and more people have come to understand the Bible in different ways from our historical interpretations about the role of women. I now completely and fully support the role of women in church, across all levels of leadership and involvement, with no restrictions (at least, none related to their gender).

It breaks my heart to watch women who are called by God to lead and serve, having to spend most of their energy fighting for their right/privilege to do this, rather than just doing their ministry calling.

Earlier this month, I came across this letter, clearly written out of this space of concern and pain. It was written by Esther Emery, a freelance blogger. It is beautifully written, heartfelt, and rings of truth. Please pass it onto all women you know who are feeling called by God to ministry.

Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

by Esther Emery, 14 Nov 2013

I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.

But I know something. I know this. You are called.

You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.

Rise up.

The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.

Too loud.
Too greedy.
Too masculine.
Too angry.
Too emotional.

Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.

Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.

That place is yours.

Continue reading Letter to a Woman Called to Church Leadership

Bad sermons: Blue is for boys and pink is for girls

One of my favourite websites is “Stuff Fundies Like” (Fundies, as in Fundamentalist Christians). This blog is an eclectic collection of videos, blog posts, pictures and posters that come from genuine fundamentalist churches (mainly in the US of A – no surprises, I suppose). My favourite category is the “bad sermons” where extracts from sermons preached by raving fundamentalists expose narrow mindedness, bigotry, misogyny, racism and almost always some serious abuses of the Bible.

Last week, they posted a short video from YouTube, “Pastor Tony Hutson preaching against sodomy!“. See the original post on SFL here.

Now, whatever you believe about homosexuality, this is not the way to make your point if you are trying to make your point from the Bible. Watch the clip for yourself – because I bet you won’t this at your church on Sunday:

Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Only sissy boys wear pink. And he wouldn’t want to marry a woman who would wear boots and a hard hat (no female engineers, then, dears – stick to nursing, teaching or typing where you won’t get hurt, my darlings).

My point in this blog is not what he believes about homosexuality, but rather how he is using a pulpit and pretending to use the Bible to make a cultural point. And to make a cultural point that is in fact wrong.

Pink has only recently become a girls’ colour (within the last century). Throughout history, blue was the colour of purity, femininity and girls. Think of what colour Mary wears in almost all historical paintings. In fact, until about a century ago the preferred colour for boys was a light shade of red (i.e. pink). Red was the manly colour of strength (favoured by the British army in particular), and the light shade of pink was the boyish version of this.

If you want to read a very documented history of the colours used for children through history, click here.

This is one of the major weaknesses of fundamentalism: it believes itself to be sticking to the purity of the Bible but most often is doing nothing more than imposing a set of man-made, culturally-connected, un-Biblical rules.

It gets even worse when they venture into the realm of sex (which they do very, very often). As one of the comments on the SFL website put it: “I think these fundamentalist preachers spend more time thinking about gay sex than most gay men. However, I still think Mark Driscoll thinks about straight ‘back door’ sex more than they think about gay sex, for what [little] it’s worth.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s funny that the Pope has recently said the church needs to move away from this fixation.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t have informed, rational, Biblical views about sexual issues. We must. But they must be precisely that: informed, rational and Biblical. Not like this nonsense from Tony Hutson.

Sermon on The Parable of the Lost Son (and the Extravangant Love of the Father)

A few weeks ago, I preached at my home church, Gracepoint. The sermon was entitled “Extravagant Love” and was about the parable of the ‘prodigal son’. In fact, the parable is about the older brother, and how he refuses to accept the return of his younger brother. Jesus told the parable in response to the interactions he had with the religious leaders of the day who were wondering why he was fraternising with sinners and unclean people.

The point for us today is that we should actively welcome into our churches those who could potentially bring disgrace on our family name, those we consider disgusting and sinful, and those who have been far away from us. This is a tough message for us, but one Jesus was clear on: he was a ‘friend of sinners’. Are we?

When we look at the story through Middle Eastern eyes, we see a story of extravagant love and a strong call to change how we think about church today. Is this the type of love they preach about at your church (or does your church more resemble the older brother)?

You can download the sermon now from Gracepoint’s website.

Women in the church: the vital importance of understanding household codes

I spent the first 25 years of my life at a church where women were not allowed to be pastors, elders or leaders in any way. I spent nearly a decade of that time passionately defending this position, and even left the church of my childhood in protest when they changed their constitution to remove all gender references in leadership appointments. I felt strongly about it. I acted on my beliefs and convictions.

But I was wrong.

During the course of nearly nine years of formal theological training, including a degree and two post graduate qualifications, I came to realise that my interpretation and application of Scripture did not stack up. I changed my position completely.

I therefore have deep connection to both sides of this issue, and have spent many years considering it. One of the people who has most recently made an impact is someone I quote quite a bit on this blog (only because I think she’s (1) right, (2) smart and (3) articulate) is Rachel Held Evans. Rachel spent a year living “Biblically” as a woman as part of a grand experiment to see if the Bible’s instructions to and about women can be taken literally (as many insist they should be). Her wonderful book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” traces her monthly focus areas, and both humorous and poignant attempts to understand the Bible. It’s well worth a read.

Women in churchRachel’s blog continually returns to this topic, as it remains a key area of division and confusion in many churches today. In the past few weeks she has focused her attention (again) on the so-called “household codes” as a key to interpreting what the New Testament has to say about women and their role in spiritual communities. I think she is spot on about this – once you see the context in which Paul and others were writing, and understand how their instructions match up against what was being said in society at the time, I think there is only one answer, and that is to let women lead – as equals with men. Of course, this also has implications for how Christian homes are structured and the relationship between husband and wife as man and woman.

But why don’t you read what she’s written and make up your own mind:

If you have the time, check out the additional resources she has suggested this past week – see her list here.

And then also look at the archives on her blog on the issue of mutuality.

These are amazing resources and deserve serious attention.

A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

Recently, Thabiti Anyabwile (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition) wrote an article which the Gospel Coalition posted on their website: “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and ‘Gay Marriage’“. I have heard this argument before: that the disgust many conservative Christians feel towards homosexuality is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in their consciences and a clear indication that it is wrong.

Whatever your belief about homosexuality and gay marriage, this is an entirely spurious supposition.

Here’s something you won’t hear at your church this Sunday: your conscience isn’t working!

I travel all over the world for my work, and have very often had a gag reflex in response to some of the food I have been offered. Is that my conscience telling me that the food is morally bad for me? Or is it possibly more likely to be some deep seated cultural conditioning telling me not to eat this food which is unknown or unappetising to me? I have learnt not to trust my gag reflex in many situations.

But I have also experienced the ‘gag reflex’ Pastor Anyabwile speaks of in a church context. The first time (and a few more, sad to say) that I heard a female worship leader (sorry, Darlene Zschech) and a woman preacher I had literal bad physical reactions. I had been brought up to believe with all my heart that women should not be leaders or teachers. I don’t believe that anymore. But the gag reflex had nothing to do with it – either way. I also had a ‘gag reflex’ the first time I saw a black man and a white woman kissing. I grew up in Apartheid era South Africa where this was illegal, and also considered immoral on the basis of the Bible. Although I remember my church being vaguely opposed to apartheid, we never had any black kids in our Sunday School or youth programmes (it was technically illegal to do so, but some churches didn’t bother obeying that particular law, while mine did). And there were certainly no cross cultural couples around. I had a deep cultural conditioning against such things. I don’t anymore (my family has even adopted a Zulu daughter). But a few years ago, on an international youth pastor’s forum, I asked participants to list their top three biggest youth group issues. Many pastors from the southern states of the USA listed cross cultural dating as their number one issue (and they were opposed to it!).

So, I don’t trust my gag reflex to be my moral guide. I really honestly don’t. And I find it horrific that a person in the position that Pastor Anyabwile is can publicly put forward the level of homophobic attitudes he does in his article.

As I was wondering how to respond, I was delighted to see that one of my favourite Christian bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, had also picked up the story and provided a thoughtful and useful response. You can read it on her blog, or an extended extract below.

God forgive us for these attitudes, and rescue us from the pit from which they come.

Continue reading A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

The Bible as a magic book with all the answers

Here’s something you might not hear at church: Stop reading the Bible (or, at least, stop reading it the way you’re currently reading it).

Many Christians use the Bible as if it was some kind of magical book. They dip into it every morning through their ‘Daily Devotions’ type inspirational readings that direct them to one verse of the Bible and add a pithy pop-psychology insight. They read the Psalms as if they were promises, and put bumper on their cars like, “This car is protected by Psalm 91” (I personally prefer locks and alarms). In times of trouble and distress, they open the Bible at random, maybe even literally putting a pin into a verse, hoping that “God will talk to them”.

All of these are not only deeply offensive to God and His Holy Scriptures but completely misuse and misunderstand what the Bible is and what it is for. I have spoken about this elsewhere, so won’t go into detail here. But this post was sparked by an email I received this morning which maybe shows the worst such usage of the Bible I have yet seen. What do you think?

Dear Reader,

Most people know Sean Hyman from his regular appearances on Fox Business, CNBC, and Bloomberg television …

Sean is notorious for his uncanny ability to predict precise moves in the stock market.

Recently, I asked Sean what his secret is for investing so successfully.

I expected Sean to say that it was his years of experience at Charles Schwab or perhaps one of the complicated algorithms he uses for timing the stock market.

So when Sean responded that his secret to investing was the Bible, I was thoroughly shocked.

Yes, I knew Sean was a Christian (anyone who spends more than 1 minute with him will pick that up!). However, people usually keep their faith separate from things like … investing.

But not Sean

For Sean, the Bible is his FOUNDATION for investing.

He explained to me how there is actually a “Biblical Money Code” woven into Scripture.

Sean says it is this Biblical Money Code that took him from making a mere $15,000 a year to now giving away up to $50,000 a year. Sean also credits this code with helping him turn his father’s $40,000 retirement account into $396,000.

In fact, certain investment titans such as Warren Buffett have already used this code to amass billions.

What Sean had to say impressed me so much that I asked him to put a presentation together that reveals how anyone could use this Biblical Money Code.

I’ve personally watched this presentation several times.

In it, you will discover how you can use this Biblical Money Code to get out of debt … make sound investments … and morally build substantial wealth.

I won’t give this email the dignity of supplying you with the website they linked to, but a quick Google search will find it if you’re desperate.

I am sorry, but there is nothing Christian (as in ‘Christ-like’) about this at all.

Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

I really enjoy the writings of Peter Enns, and follow his blog quite closely. He recently asked the question in the title of this entry: Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? He argues convincingly that this is not a false dichotomy or straw man he’s created, but rather a genuine ‘choice’ that many conservative Christians try to make. If we were forced to make this choice, Peter is very clear what he sees in the Bible: Jesus is more concerned about what we do.

Read his excellent blog entry at his own blog (and subscribe to it while you’re there), or read it below.

Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

by Peter Enns

This question came to mind a few weeks ago as I was sitting in church, thinking more highly of myself than I should.
This isn’t a new question, by any means, but it’s still a deeply meaningful and relevant question for me.
Upon what does God look more favorably: loving others, even those who may believe differently, or prioritizing right thinking about God?

Now, you veterans of this sort of question are no doubt rolling your eyes right now, wondering how I can miss the obvious: “Hey Enns, go back to seminary. Everyone knows that right thinking and right behavior are not an either/or but a both/and. Jesus wants both.”

Continue reading Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

Redeeming the woman at the well

In John 4, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at midday at a well. This woman is almost always thought of as a prostitute. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates this. Rather, it is a product of a male-dominated culture and reading of the Bible that sees her as a sinner and not a victim.

This woman had had multiple husbands. Is it possible that in a small community/village that the local prostitute would have had multiple husbands? One maybe. Two at a stretch. But not five. Seriously: pause to consider this. Even in our modern permissive society, prostitutes do not get married five times. This is an impossibility in the rural community Jesus encountered.

No, the very much more likely scenario (I’d say 100% only possible scenario) is that she was a widow five times over. For some reason, her five husbands had died. (These could not have been divorces, for the same reason of logic – but also because the religious law prohibited more than two divorces for a woman). Of course no-one would marry her now. Would you?

Jesus amazes this woman by not only showing knowledge of her five husbands, but also her current living arrangements. The man she was staying with was most likely a benevolent uncle or family member who was giving her shelter in some back room, and acting as her protector. In no way does Jesus suggest this arrangement was anything untoward. There is no hint of condemnation and no mention of sin in this passage. Jesus never condemns her for anything. In fact, for us to think of her as anything other than a tragic victim to whom Jesus showed compassion and love illustrates how badly screwed up our view of women, sexuality and culture has become.

This was a woman who had faced tragedy and horror in her life. Now ostracised from her community, she encounters Jesus. He knows her. He loves her anyway. And he gives her the dignity and honour of being the one to announce the coming of the Messiah to her people. What a story.

That should be a lesson to all who think that their views of Scripture and what is going on in the Bible are completely without fault or need of updating or questioning. What else have you misunderstood because of your cultural conditioning?