Considering the Unthinkable: Do we Really Believe the Bible?

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When Bill Wiese released his book that recollected a vision he claimed to have had of hell, a wild  fire of criticism from the Christian community  erupted.

When the film, “Heaven is For Real” hit theaters last Easter it was met with much the same reaction.

These are only two recent examples of what has been a long standing tradition of the Church to be critical of supernatural experiences.

We could go back further naming some of the early charismatic leaders such as Kenneth E. Hagin, John G. Lake, or Smith lakeWigglesworth, who claimed to have witnessed many miracles and the onslaught of criticism they were met with.

When asked the reason for such critical attitudes, Christians will usually respond with something along the lines of, “well, the experiences were unbiblical. What these people claim to have witnessed can’t be found in the Bible.”

One person I talked to concerning Bill Wiese’s story said they doubted it because, though much of his description did seem to match the biblical hell, Mr. Wiese claimed to have seen demons torturing humans. And since the Bible does not say anything about this (at least we think it doesn’t), the experience was highly suspect.

Others said, “nowhere in the Bible does it say God would show people visions of hell.” And this, they felt,  justified them rejecting the claim.

When someone purports to have been supernaturally healed by prayer, there is a large portion of the Body of Christ that comes forward demanding documented, medical  proof. When proof is not forthcoming, they declare the whole thing to be a sham.

Two Noteworthy Observations

Having spent the greater part of my Christian life witnessing the Church do this time and again,  I have made two observations:

Firstly, the logic surrounding the rejection of these accounts seems, for lack of a better word, a bit odd.

For example, we start by saying the experience is unbiblical. When probed for why, the answer is, “The Bible does not ever record anyone getting sick, being taken to heaven, then coming back to tell about it.”

. . . Well, it doesn’t.

So  I guess, the rule here is that the experience has to be in the Bible?  I mean, it’s not enough that it says in the last days people would have dreams and visions. It has to be a specific kind of vision?

. . . Alllllllllright.

So what do we do with the other testimonies that are not found in the Bible? . . . You know, the every day kind like the bum who stumbles into a church service and finds Jesus. Shouldn’t we scrutinize that story just as much,  demanding evidence that it went down the way he says it did?

Or how about the person who tells us God completely delivered them from drug abuse? I don’t know of any Scripture that says God did that for someone.

I know people who say they got saved when they raised their hand in a church service and said a prayer. There is no Scripture that records this practice.

Where is the outcry from the Christian community over these kinds of testimonies? Why are we not demanding proof or additional evidence to support the claims being made? If it isn’t enough that the Bible mentions signs, wonders, and visions, in order for us to accept those other accounts, then should it be enough for the  Bible to mention people being saved, for us to accept these?

 . . . A little weird, right?

The other phenomena I’ve observed over the years is that no matter what the claim is, even if it sounds like it came right out of the Gospels or Book of Acts, the majority of the Body of Christ still seem to reject it. If it isn’t rejected, every aspect of it is meticulously critiqued, rigorously questioned and at best labeled,  “suspicious.” In addition, whoever makes the claim is subject to a thorough (and often unfair) investigation into their character, what kind of doctrines they believe, and if there is any sin in their life.

Because, . . . You know, . . . God only does supernatural things for good Christians with the right denominational beliefs . . . Like those folks in Corinth who were getting drunk at communion and boasting about the incest among them . . . wait . . . I meant Galatia where they were falling for a different gospel . . . or, uh . . . Peter who had to be rebuked by Paul—hold on, hold on . . .

 . . . eh, I got nothing.

Say It Ain’t So . . .

I’ve thought long and hard on this and when considering all the factors, there really is no explanation for the bizarre and seemingly contradicting behavior among Christians.

None of it makes sense.

Until we introduce the unthinkable.

Is it possible that even though we claim to believe in the supernatural, deep down, we kind of, sort of, in all actuality, don’t?

People may object insisting they believe in the creation account,  Jesus as the Son of God, the hope of heaven, and everything else in the Bible.

All of these have one thing in common–none are tangible in the here and now.  You know as well as I do that when it comes to things past, future, or unseen, they’re just easier to believe. Or at least easier to convince ourselves that we believe.

Intangible things don’t quite put the same stretch on our natural reasoning that an extraordinary, observable  claim does. When someone says, “Aren’t you glad you’re going to heaven when you die?” We can say, “Amen!” without skipping a beat. But if the same person says, “I just raised my grandma from the dead” All of a sudden things change, don’t they?

We go from church cliche’s to . . . .

(press play)

And so while no one seems to want to admit it, this is where I have found we have drawn the unspoken line.

The Test

If the extraordinary is to be believed  among the majority of Christians today, it must fall under one of these categories:

Either,

a. Something that happened in the distant past

b. Something that will happen at an unknown date in the future

Or

c. Something that is spiritual in nature, thus abstract and cannot be quantified.

In other words, if it can’t effect us in any measurable way, Christians are more prone to be accepting of it. If, on the other hand, it has sensational overtones and wreaks of something out of the Book of Acts, it’s suspicious.

Over the years I have quietly kept this criteria in mind and observed that I can actually make predictions with it as to whether an idea will be accepted or rejected by a majority of Christians.

The Conclusion?

This is by no means an open and shut case. In science, a phenomena is referred to as a theory if you can use it to make predictions. So that’s what I would call this—a theory for consideration.

It isn’t meant to condemn anyone. Lets not forget all of Jesus’ disciples were unwilling to believe He had been raised when they first heard it. It’s natural to be skeptical of things and I am not at all suggesting we should be gullible. That being said, I think we need to be willing to consider the possibility that we have, in some areas, allowed unbelief to creep in and become a driving force in our Christian lives.

Lets not forget, everything in Christianity from start to finish is amazing.

It’s supernatural.

It’s freaking extraordinary!

All I’m saying is maybe it’s time we start expecting a little something extra in our ordinary.

Why Your Suffering is Probably Your Fault

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The story of the man born blind in the Gospels is pretty well known. We often think of it as a demonstration of how clueless the disciples were concerning spiritual things–Actually having the audacity to ask Jesus whose sin was responsible for making him blind.

What kind of jerky theology would hold people accountable for their disabilities?

Well . . . The Bible.

I know that it makes us feel really compassionate to read this passage and think, “Well, DUH. Of course no one was responsible.” But that may be us reading through the lenses of our American Christian Goggles more than anything else.

The question the disciples asked Jesus was actually pretty legit. We probably don’t think of it that way because we have never had a well rounded Bible lesson on this topic.

Both Old and New Testaments draw a correlation between our overall health and our choices. (Deut 28: 15-35, Psalm 119:67, John 5:8, 9, 14, 1 Cor 11:29-30).

That is not to say  that every time someone gets hurt, sick, or is born with some disability that its because they sinned (sinning before you are born? Don’t expect an answer from me about that . . . I have no idea.)

What I am pointing out, however, is that we have probably overused this passage (along with Job) to relieve ourselves from taking responsibility where we should have. It’s become our Go-To-Scripture of defense as for why sometimes things just, “happen.” Our Ol’ Stand-By used for knocking down straw men that we erect. Like the commonly referred to fanatical preacher who accuses sick people of not repenting for their sins . . . You know . . .  The one who no one really seems to have ever actually met . . . Or know the name of . . . Or . . . Come to think of it, know anything about other than that he’s out there–lurking.

It is true that with this instance in the Gospel of John, the man had not sinned. It’s also true that neither had Job. But the rest of the Bible has a whole lot more to say on this subject than just these stories. We often ignore passages that are clear and addressed to a broad audience (us)  in favor of  uncertain applications that are forcefully deduced from biblical accounts.

This is a practice in Bible interpretation that continues to bewilder me. We take an event that occurred once or twice, and we set it up as the Golden Standard by which we will evaluate any similar situation happening now or moving forward . . . Which, I wouldn’t completely disagree with if we were actually consistent with it. But we’re not. Both Job and the blind man were healed. If we are going to use this as some sort of template for our own suffering, then we must expect to be healed . . . But we don’t.

In the scientific community, this is what they would refer to as, wonky science. A little bit fishy. A little sloppy. And wreaks of a doctrine that was arrived at by emotion, and not actual Scripture.

As previously stated,  not saying every suffering person out there is an evil sinner. Only that the Scriptures give us a little bit more responsibility in these matters than we often care to accept.

 

Will the Real Bible Answer Man Please Stand Up?

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As a younger, slightly more naive Christian, I used to be critical of pastors and Bible teachers who would preach the same messages over and over again. They had a binder or notebook with all the sermons they had written over the years, and instead of coming up with anything new, they’d just cycle through that book.

I’d think to myself, “hasn’t this guy got anything new? I want a fresh revelation. Some new wine for the new wine skins (whatever that means). Something I’ve never heard before. A different take on a commonly known Bible verse,  maybe. If this guy had a closer relationship with God, he would have a Word for today.”

Now, after being both a student and teacher of the Bible for some years, I find I have a growing respect for ministers who teach the, “same old, same old.”

Here’s why:

The Bible is a Big Book. The more I study it, the less I think I know about it. Sure, I could be like most and take a plethora of Bible commentaries from the same denominational point of view and its pretty easy to convince myself I’ve got it figured out. But when I stand back and have a long, honest look at the Bible, I realize there is little that I am willing to take a definitive stance on.

Contrary to much criticism I’ve received about this, I can’t, in good conscience, bring myself to believe that I’ve got the, “right” position on all—or even most Bible passages.

I’m afraid that our appetite for, “something new” and discontentment with the unknown has contributed to a culture of Christians who feel the need to have all the blanks filled in. A nice, evenly distributed sphere of doctrine. And of course, being the humans that we are, those blanks will be filled in differently depending on the reader. The result? Church splits and denominational divides abound.

It seems to me that we are Jack of all Trades and Masters of none. Except we don’t like uncertainty because we think it makes us vulnerable, so we parade as Masters of all.

Ultimately, I can’t speak for anyone but myself.  Like many, I have portrayed myself as knowing more than I actually did. And  have led many astray with random, off-the-top-of-my-head explanations of Scriptures because I didn’t want to ruin my image as The Bible Answer Man (eat your heart out, Hanky).

Now a days, there are a handful of Bible subjects I teach.  People who have known me for years  can tell you, I never really move on to anything else.

Honest Truth?

I don’t really know what I believe about water baptism. I’m uncertain where I come down on the ideas of predestination, election and free will. And I really have no idea what to think about the book of Revelation. You would be surprised how upset Christians get when you tell them you don’t have a view or an opinion on every Bible verse. “What?! You can’t just NOT have an opinion. You’re ignoring God’s Word, that’s what you’re doing!”

Sigh . . .

Don’t get me wrong, I could erect  a lofty position and then hold to it for dear life, unconsciously hoping that my dedication somehow makes it true . . .  Like I suspect many others are doing. I could give you my own opinion and jazz it up with terminology like,  “proper hermeneutic”, “contextual implication” and my personal favorite, “God told me . . .” But what good does that do?

I study. I pray. I’m open to venturing into other areas of the Word, but common sense tells me my chances for error drastically  increase as I push and push for a monopoly on the Scriptures.

Experience has taught me that one of the most authentic answers you will ever receive concerning the Bible, is “Humph! . . . I don’t know.” And we should be okay with that. It should not bother us if there are, “loose ends.” Let’s not allow mainstream Christianity to pressure us into being dogmatic about things that, deep down, we are still questioning.

In a nutshell? Not that the truth can’t be known (it certainly can be) but that we should be willing to consider the very likely and sobering thought that we don’t yet know it.