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Last week, OnFaith published my post about five of the most commonly abused verses in the Bible. The day it went live, my wife and I welcomed our son into the world. While we were busy changing diapers and pushing his bassinet up and down the hospital corridor, the article went a bit viral-ish, being shared more than 18,000 times on Facebook. 

If I could change one thing about my piece, it would be the title. I wish I’d called it “Five Bible Verses We Need to Stop Misusing,” because the truth is, we all do it. We all twist and selectively quote Scripture to suit our preferences. I believe one of the best antidotes is to stop reading the Bible in fragments. It didn’t come to us as a collection of verses; it wasn’t meant to be chopped into soundbites and plastered on t-shirts and coffee mugs. 

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The other day, someone gave me a note with Nahum 1:7 printed at the top: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”For some reason, they neglected to include the next line, which continues the thought from verse 7: “But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of Nineveh.”

Okay, so maybe the fuller version doesn’t deliver quite the same Hallmark moment. And maybe that’s the problem with how many Christians use the Bible.

Christians read (and quote) Scripture in tiny, artificial fragments all the time. And by doing so, do we alter the meaning without even realizing it.

Digital Bible apps make it easier than ever to Twitterize holy writ. But we’ve been doing it for ages. Here are some of the most commonly misused Bible verses.

Read the rest at OnFaith

The other day, Joel J. Miller offered some helpful insight into what he calls the “most highlighted verse” in the Bible, Philippians 4:6.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

The problem, he observed, is that highlighting and reading this verse in isolation yields a rather different meaning than the one Paul intended. Arbitrarily placed verse divisions, none of which were original to Paul or the other biblical authors, have conditioned us to ignore the surrounding context. In this case, the immediately preceding statement: “The Lord is near.”

Which, it turns out, was Paul’s whole reason for not being anxious in the first place.

Severed from its original context, Philippians 4:6 sounds more like a self-help guide to stress management than what it truly is: an affirmation that God is presently at work doing away with all cause for anxiety.

But this isn’t the only example of how reading one verse at a time can cause us to hear something different from what Scripture is really trying to say.

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We do not experience God in ways that take us out of this world, but we experience him in ways that root us even more deeply in this world.

I came across this quote the other day while reading The Compassion Quest, a great new book by a friend named Trystan Owain Hughes.

This idea, that our relationship with God is rooted in this world, flies in the face of how some of us — especially those of us who grew up in the evangelical subculture — are accustomed to thinking.

This world is not for experiencing God. This world is for “just passing through” on the way to God. This world is overdue for judgment, burning, destruction.

We don’t wait for God to meet us here. We wait for him to evacuate us from here.

Right?

After all, “the days are evil.” Just like Paul said in Ephesians 5:16.

I hear this verse (half a verse, actually) quoted a lot. Often with an air of resignation. As a rationale for why the world doesn’t turn the way some Christians wish it did, for why it doesn’t always cater to their expectations.

The days are evil.

So what’s the point in bothering with this world?

None, right?

As it happens, that’s the precise opposite of what Paul argues in the passage we now know as Ephesians 5. Here’s the fuller quote:

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

“Making the most of every opportunity” can also be translated as “redeeming the time.”

Redeem. As in, buy back. Reclaim. Make good again.

Time. As in, this present age. Otherwise known as “the days.” Yes… the same days that are “evil.”

The days are evil is not an excuse for resignation, abandonment, or escapism. It’s not an invitation to retreat into some religious bubble… or to check out, sit back, and wait for the apocalypse to commence. It’s an invitation to engage, connect, restore, rebuild. The days are evil is why Paul admonished his readers to make themselves useful.

“Sure, the days are evil. So do something about it. Redeem them. Make them good again.”

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Near the end of Genesis, there’s a story about a man named Joseph who was sold into slavery by his older brothers. Through a series of unlikely events, Joseph wound up in Egypt, where he was elevated to the rank of second-in-command, just as famine struck the entire region.

Everyone turned to Egypt for food, including Joseph’s brothers. After a somewhat tense reunion, the brothers worried that Joseph would seek his revenge. But Joseph assured them there would be no reprisal. What his brothers meant for evil, Joseph explained, God had used for good.

I think Genesis 50 is a picture of what Paul describes in Ephesians 5. But notice how bringing good from evil isn’t God’s responsibility alone. It’s ours. We have a part to play in the story. We’re meant to be God’s agents for bringing good into this world. We are his best plan for “redeeming the time.”

The days of Joseph’s brothers were evil. They were marked by jealousy, betrayal, oppression, and violence. But with God’s help, Joseph redeemed them, “making the most of every opportunity.” In the end, Joseph redeemed not just “the time” but his own family, rescuing them from starvation and slavery.

We too are called to redeem the time. Checking out early isn’t an option. Writing off this world as a lost cause isn’t an option. To do so is to read only half the verse and miss the whole point.

Rep Conaway debates SNAP reduction

So…the debate on Capitol Hill turned biblical the other day.

Democrats and Republicans took turns quoting Scripture during a debate over a proposed $4 billion cut to the welfare program formerly known as food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).

Kicking things off, Representative Juan Vargas (D-California):

There are starving children in the United States… but for me, it’s more basic. Many of us who follow Jesus — who say that openly, and I certainly do — often times read the Bible, and Jesus kind of fools around and gives you parables. He doesn’t often times say exactly what he means. But in Matthew 25, he’s very, very clear. And he delineates what it takes to get into the kingdom of heaven very, very clearly. And he says that how you treat the least among us — the least of our brothers — that’s how you treat him. And interestingly, the very first thing he says is, ‘For I was hungry, and you gave me [something] to eat.’

If Republicans were caught off guard by Democrats unabashedly using the J-word, they hid it well. But they had their work cut out if they were going to regain the upper hand in the Capitol Hill Bible Challenge.

Not missing a beat, Mike Conaway (R-Texas) took to the pulpit to respond:

I read Matthew 25 to speak to me as an individual; I don’t read it to speak to the United States government. So I will take a little bit of umbrage with you on that. Clearly you and I are charged that we do those kinds of things, but not our government.

And then came Stephen Fincher (R-Tennessee) with a prooftext of his own, quoting the apostle Paul as an early supporter of cutting government food assistance:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’  (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Rep. Fincher’s mishandling of Paul’s statement has to be one of the more egregious abuses of Scripture I’ve seen. Others have already pointed out how the context of 2 Thessalonians undermines Fincher’s interpretation. Paul was addressing a community of early Christians who thought the end of days was upon them, that Jesus’ second coming was just around the corner. Therefore, they decided there was no point in working any longer. They were content to just sit back and wait for Jesus to reappear.

Paul wanted Christians to be active and engaged in the world around them — earning a living, contributing to society — not pressing the “check out” button early. That’s why he said, “Hey, if you don’t want to work, you don’t have to eat, either.” It had nothing to do with poverty, government assistance for the hungry, or anything like that.

Nor is it remotely fair to equate food stamp beneficiaries with the supposedly lazy recipients of Paul’s letter. The reality is that most people living in poverty work harder, longer, and earn much less than I make while I sit in a comfortable office each day.

All of which is to say: context matters.

By quoting an isolated verse with complete disregard for its context, Rep. Fincher shamefully misused the Bible to advance his own political agenda.

I would really like it if the story ended there. I’d also really like it if Matthew 25 meant what Rep. Vargas said it means.

But it doesn’t.

Social justice organizations — many of which I support — have gotten a lot of mileage out of Jesus’ “least of these” statement in Matthew 25. It’s quoted repeatedly as a general call to help the poor, the hungry, the vulnerable. Heck, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used it that way.

But what Jesus actually said was, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine…”

“Brothers and sisters” (adelphoi) is a term Jesus used of his disciples. The word “least” is actually a form of the Greek word for “little ones” — which he also used in reference to his disciples.

If you back up a few pages, you’ll find that Matthew 25 is part of an extended discourse which began after Jesus and his 12 disciples left the temple. As they sat on the Mount of Olives, Jesus started preparing them for a coming period of upheaval — one so intense that not even the temple would survive.

Jesus told his disciples to anticipate hardship in the years to come. The blessings (and curses) in Matthew 25 were for those who showed (or withheld) some form of mercy to Jesus’ suffering followers. It was not a blanket statement about poverty and injustice.

Now, as it happens, there ARE plenty of broad statements about poverty and injustice to be found in the Bible.

Isaiah 58, for example.

Or Isaiah 61 which, though originally addressed to Jewish exiles in Babylon, was picked up by Jesus and was expanded to include Gentiles (much to the chagrin of his synagogue audience in Nazareth).

The fact that Matthew 25 may not be a blanket statement about poverty does nothing diminish to Scripture’s unrelenting focus on the poor and the vulnerable.

So why do we keep using Matthew 25 out of context?

The thing is, if we insist on using our favorite verses like this, then we have no right to challenge others when they misuse the Bible. I happen to think Rep. Vargas is more in tune with the overall trajectory of Scripture than either Rep. Conaway or Fincher. But all three were examples of Christians quoting the Bible badly the other day.

Not that such examples are hard to come by. The truth is, we’ve all given in to the habit of quoting Scripture selectively.

We might not have this problem if we didn’t insist on dicing Scripture into artificial nuggets and calling them verses. Or if we would get into the habit of reading what comes immediately before and after a given passage of Scripture. Discerning the context of Matthew 25 or 2 Thessalonians 3 doesn’t take a theological degree.

All it takes is a willingness to read attentively. To read the Bible on its terms, not ours.

And to maybe read more than a verse at a time.

If we read the Scriptures more holistically, we might not make Mike Conaway’s mistake either — claiming the Bible addresses individuals only and not societies whenever it says something that doesn’t line up well with our political leanings.

“Clearly you and I are charged to do those kinds of things [e.g. feeding the hungry],” Rep. Conaway reasoned, “but not our government.”

I wonder if Rep. Conaway has read the prophet Amos, who yearned for justice — by which he meant economic justice — to “roll on like a river.”

And just who, according to Amos, was partly responsible for maintaining economic justice?

Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.

I wonder if Rep. Conaway has ever read Psalm 72, where the writer prays that the king (Solomon in this case, according to tradition) will maintain justice and righteousness:

May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.

I wonder if Rep. Conaway is aware that his brand of individualism — the lens through which he reads and then discards those parts of the Bible that make him squirm — would have been an utterly foreign concept to the original writers and recipients of Scripture? Theirs was a world shaped by community, one in which an “I built that” mentality was simply incongruous.

The idea that some portions of Scripture could be read individually and not corporately?

It would have been unthinkable to those first recipients of the Bible.

Context matters when reading the Bible.

Which means that, no, Matthew 25 isn’t a blanket statement on helping the poor — though there are plenty other such statements in the Bible.

And no, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 isn’t a biblical endorsement of libertarian economic policy. (It’s a denunciation of end-times escapism.)

And no, Rep. Conaway, you can’t read the Bible’s injunctions on poverty and injustice as if they were statements to you as an individual and not to the society you’re a part of. The biblical writers simply didn’t make that kind of distinction. And as for the prophets, well, they spent a good chunk of their time addressing people like you — that is, rulers and authorities with the power to do something about injustice.

So may we all learn to do better by the Bible so that, together, we can embody the kind of justice it expects of us and our society.

Leslie Leyland Fields’ latest feature on Christianity Today, The Gospel Is More Than a Story,” starts by expressing ambivalence for an unnamed but “much-hyped” story version of the Bible.

I’m pretty sure she’s talking about one of my old projects.

I helped create The Story in 2005, intending it to be an easy way for non-Bible readers to get a handle on the scriptural narrative, so that when they opened a real Bible, they could see how the various pieces fit together.

To our surprise, some of the strongest response to The Story came from churches that wanted to use it for their own congregations. Randy Frazee, then a teaching pastor at Willow Creek, began developing a curriculum to take churches through The Story. When he moved to Oak Hills (pastored by Max Lucado), Randy took his idea for The Story with him.

To date, hundreds of churches have used The Story. It became a #1 bestselling Bible. There have been all manner of product spinoffs: companion books, kids versions, CDs, even a concert tour.

Field’s chief concern with The Story — assuming I’ve guessed right on which “story version” she was reading — seems to be its tendency to discard everything in the Bible that isn’t story. (Though to be fair, The Story does include a sampling of other biblical genres. But yes, the overriding focus is on the narrative.)

Fields argues that much of what makes “narrative theology” so compelling gets lost whenever it’s translated into a commercial product like The Story:

Though the larger narrative theology movement revives a deep respect for the Bible’s language and literature, many of the commercial products show little respect for Story. Story, as all high-school English students know, relies not simply on what happened but also on the language and literary devices used to tell it: metaphor, description, analogy, repetition, parable, image. Nor does this larger narrative movement pay heed to the other literary genres God chose to speak his words through — poetry, lament, epistle, proclamation, prophecy.

She’s got a point.

We often think of the Bible as a story, and indeed story is one of the dominant motifs in Scripture. My own “gospel sketched for kids” is yet another attempt to present the core message of the Bible in story form.

But Scripture is not simply one big story. It is a collection of books, representing a wide array of literary genres: poetry, correspondence, prophetic oracle, song lyrics, laments, legal codes, genealogies, apocalypses — and yes, narrative. Each has to be read in light of its particular form. You wouldn’t read a poem the same way you’d read a legal text. Nor should we read an apocalypse the same way we read a more straightforward piece of narrative — not if we want to understand it properly, that is.

In the past, many Christians insisted we read everything (or almost everything) in the Bible literally. This tended to flatten Scripture, obscuring its many genres and literary devices. Fields seems to think the modern-day obsession with narrative carries the same risk, and again… she may be onto something.

All this points to an even bigger series of questions being asked by a growing chorus of people:

What is the Bible? What do we do with it?

Simplistic, reductionist answers will not do. If you’re interested in the growing conversation about the Bible, I encourage you to start following blogs by people like Scot McKnight, Rachel Held Evans, and Peter Enns. Pick up a copy of The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith, while you’re at it.

And if you’re one of many who’ve read The Story, great. As one of its creators, I’m thrilled to see the impact it’s having. (I’d be even more thrilled if I’d gotten a royalty out of it!)

But don’t stop there. The Bible is so much more than narrative, just like it is more than a series of propositional statements or a list of do’s and don’ts. The Bible represents the collective effort of God’s people to tell God’s story through all manner of genres and literary devices. When read with this in mind, I can’t promise the Bible will always be easy or enjoyable, but it can be deeply rewarding.

The next few words might come as a bit of a surprise, especially if you’ve followed the Jared-Wilson-quotes-Doug-Wilson-who-likes-slavery controversy of the last week or so.

Anyway, Doug Wilson is right about something.

The Bible never explicitly condemns slavery.

Now, before you grab your pitchforks (which you’d be right to do if I left it there), just bear with me for a bit.

Scripture never says, “You shall not own slaves.” The Mosaic law included a number of stipulations regulating slavery, many of which tilted the scales in a slightly more humane direction; and the apostle Paul certainly took a dim view of the slave trade. But nowhere does the Bible flat-out say it’s a sin to own another human being. In the New Testament, slaves are instructed to obey their masters, even the abusive ones.

So how did Christians come to view slavery as a moral evil? It’s because they intuitively understood the folly of a literalist approach to the Bible. They understood that Scripture doesn’t try to give us the last word on absolutely everything. The kingdom of God is not a static entity; it is a living, breathing, moving reality.

Pentecostals might call this the leading of the Holy Spirit. Progressives might call it the redemptive movement hermeneutic.

Whatever you call it, the seeds of this movement can be found in Scripture itself. On slavery, for example, Paul encourages slaves to seek their freedom (though by legal means). Elsewhere, he urges one of his wealthy patrons to welcome back a runaway slave “no longer as a slave, but… as a dear brother.”

Seeds of abolition can even be found in the Old Testament — in the very first story, where God created humanity to be his eikons or divine image-bearers. How can one eikon claim ownership of another?

Most importantly, we have Jesus’ inaugural sermon, in which he declares that his mission was to “set the oppressed free,” among other things. And it was not just “spiritual” oppression he was talking about, as his subsequent years of ministry would attest.

And yet, these were just seeds. It would be years before the church caught up to the Holy Spirit. True, there were some who caught the movement before others. St. Patrick, himself a former slave, was one of the first to speak out against slavery. Gregory of Nazianzus was another. In more recent history, the cause of abolition was taken up by Christian luminaries across the theological spectrum, from John Wesley to Charles Spurgeon.

Whether they knew it or not, they were implicitly rejecting a literalist, absolutist approach to the Bible.

To those who say the only way to read the Bible is to read it literally — or to those who say we dare not go beyond the words of Scripture: do you oppose slavery? Because if you do, you’ve already gone beyond the Bible.

No one — except maybe Doug Wilson — follows a literal interpretation 100% of the time. And he doesn’t even practice what he preaches, judging by the fact that women in his church aren’t required to wear head-coverings.

Jesus anticipated that his followers would wrestle with matters not definitively settled by the Bible. Twice he told Peter (and the other disciples), “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:18).

“Bind” and “loose” were rabbinic terms meaning to “forbid” and “permit.” Jesus invested the apostles with authority to discern difficult matters. He didn’t tell them to just stick with whatever the Bible says and leave it at that. He told them to “bind” and “loose” on behalf of the church.

Today, the church still has this responsibility to bind and loose. We still have to discern the Spirit’s trajectory on matters not definitively settled by the Bible (or where the Bible doesn’t necessarily speak with one voice) — from the role of women to homosexuality.

So how do we do this without going off the rails? Where do we ground this trajectory, so it doesn’t just lead us wherever we want it to go?

I believe the answer is in Christ himself. In The Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith calls this the “christocentric hermeneutical key.” Everything in Scripture has to be read in light of the “centrally defining reality of Jesus Christ.”

“In the beginning was the Word,” wrote the apostle John. But he wasn’t talking about the Bible. He was talking about Jesus. And if we really believe in the resurrection, then this Word is a living, breathing entity — not a static object frozen in time.

This changes how we read the Bible. To quote Christian Smith:

Truly believing that Jesus is the real purpose, center, and interpretive key to scripture causes one to read the Bible in a way that is very different than believing the Bible to be an instruction manual containing universally applicable divine oracles concerning every possible subject it addresses.

The trajectory we encounter in Jesus is radical indeed. It’s worth hearing his inaugural manifesto in its entirety, which he borrowed from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good new to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
 and recovery of sight for the blind,
 to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Of all the Old Testament texts Jesus could have used to define his mission, he chose this one. The reality is, the Bible contains a mix of both radical ideas (“liberate the oppressed”) and not-so-radical ideas (“it’s OK to beat your slaves as long as they recover within in a day or two”).

When Jesus taught, he didn’t just gravitate toward the more radical texts; he superseded the less radical ones, too. “You have heard that it was said,” Jesus was fond of saying, “but I tell you something else.” For example, where the Old Testament law tolerated an “eye for an eye” mentality up to a point, Jesus said that wasn’t good enough anymore. Instead, he forbade his followers from using force: “Do not resist an evil person.”

Jesus shines a great big spotlight on the most radical parts of Scripture. Then he goes even further. So this is where we must start in our quest to discern just how to embody this thing we call Christianity in the 21st century. To quote blogger and Episcopal priest Nate Bostian:

It might be that this “radical” trajectory is inspired by God in such a way that it subsumes and transforms less radical Scriptures, because “less radical” Scriptures represent a divine accommodation to ancient culture, whereas the “more radical” Scriptures more fully represent God’s vision. This could be argued on the basis of the Incarnation: God’s word is present in a preparatory, incomplete way prior to Jesus Christ. But when Christ comes, he is the full embodiment of God’s Word which the earlier words pointed to. So also, the radical trajectory of the Bible is hinted at haltingly in less radical Scriptures, but they subtlety point us to the more radical Scriptures as their fulfillment.

A literalist approach to the Bible represents a lower view of inspiration, because we end up trying to make the Bible something God didn’t want it to be. The higher (and harder) path is to try to find and follow the trajectory of Scripture, while staying rooted in the incarnational reality of Jesus Christ. To do otherwise is to be stuck with a pre-Jesus point of view.

A truce (of sorts)

23 July 2012 — 2 Comments

Here’s a thought in light of the recent controversy surrounding Jared Wilson’s inflammatory blog post (or, more precisely, Jared Wilson’s quoting of the habitually inflammatory Doug Wilson)…

Obviously, the gender roles debate isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor should it. This is a conversation we ought to be having. Yet both sides feel they’re routinely misunderstood and caricatured by the other. And that’s not such a good thing.

So… maybe it’s time we called a truce?

I’m not saying we should forget our differences. For me, as an egalitarian and father of a two-year-old girl, mutuality and equality are too important to set aside. So let the debate continue.

But maybe — for the sake of a more constructive dialogue (and because it’s the right thing to do) — we should start dismantling the caricatures we have of one another.

I’ll go first.

Complementarian marriages are sometimes depicted as little fiefdoms where husbands rule firmly and unilaterally. But this is a caricature. Few couples have likely given much thought to whether their marriages are “complementarian” or “egalitarian.” But among those who have — and, specifically, among those who’ve embraced the complementarian point of view — most husbands I know are loving, considerate, and honorable.

They are not domineering. They do not bark orders at their wives. They do not make important decisions on their own. They help out around the house. They run errands for their wives (as Jared Wilson can attest). Although they may not care for the phrase “egalitarian pleasure party,” their wives are well loved.

Most complementarians know full well that “wives, submit” isn’t the only thing the Bible said about marriage. They also take seriously the part that tells husbands to love their wives as they love themselves.

To be sure, the caricature of complementarianism — the boorish husband who walks all over his wife — does exist, and in far too many households. But in my experience, it is less common among those who are intentionally complementarian as a result of careful study and deliberation.

OK, complementarians? Are we good?

Now it’s your turn. You could start by acknowledging that we egalitarians don’t deny there are meaningful differences between men and women. Most of us have taken a biology class at some point. We get it. Boys and girls are different.

What’s more, we celebrate these differences. Egalitarians believe women and men each contribute something vital to the human race. In fact, we might’ve called ourselves “complementarians” if had you hadn’t snatched the label first.

You could acknowledge that egalitarians have no interest in neutering the human race. We’re not out to emasculate men or defeminize women. We just don’t see why the God-given differences between women and men require a hierarchal distinction.

What’s more, many of us have fairly conventional marriages. You might be surprised to learn my wife stays at home raising our two-year-old daughter, while I “bring home the bacon,” as it were. (I have the good fortune of working from home, so I suppose we’re both stay-at-home parents in a way, but my wife does the lion’s share of childrearing by far.)

We egalitarians don’t despise women who stay at home. We just don’t agree with those who say this is the only valid path for married women.

Yes, we think there’s value in rediscovering some of the feminine images for God found in the Bible (e.g. El Shaddai in Genesis 49:25, the mother in labor in Isaiah 42:14, etc.), but we’re not out to purge our lexicon of masculine terminology. Most of us are quite comfortable praying to God our Father. We’re OK with the fact that Jesus and his 12 disciples were male (although we think Jesus’ female followers — many of whom were more dependable than his male disciples — deserve a little more recognition).

It may surprise you to learn that very, very few of us strip down and dance around statues of ancient fertility goddesses on Sunday mornings. Sorry, but we just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. There are very real differences between our competing views of gender. And I fear those differences become even greater and more divisive when we turn to the subject of women leading in the church. Some of us have a hard time finding biblical justification for a view that automatically denies half the church (more than that, actually) the opportunity to lead, solely on the basis of which reproductive organs they have.

So we may not see eye to eye anytime soon. But for the sake of the gospel, let’s dispense with the worst caricatures of each other. OK?

Now is it time for an awkward side hug?

Well, I was wrong.

Someone decided to play the judgment card.

As reported on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog today, Christian author and prophecy enthusiast Joel C. Rosenberg wrote that the Colorado wildfires were indeed sent by God to get our attention.

Here’s an excerpt from Rosenberg’s blog yesterday:

Is it possible God is using natural disasters to get our attention? Natural disasters continue unfolding one after another here at home and around the world as they always have. But have you stopped to notice that so many recently are described as ‘historic’ and ‘unprecedented?’ Eight of the ten most expensive hurricanes in American history have happened since 9/11…

The fact is that throughout the Bible and throughout history God has used natural disasters to shake families, cities, regions and entire nations. Why? To get the people’s attention. To warn people to stop drifting and/or rebelling from God and repent…

Thousands of years ago, God told the Hebrew prophet Haggai to write down these words: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations… I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations’” (Haggai 2:6-7, 21-22). This is Bible prophecy. This is an intercept from the mind of the all-knowing, all-seeing God of the universe. It is a weather report from the future, if you will, a storm warning… God told us well in advance that he was going to “shake all the nations.” That certainly includes the United States.

Let us urgently begin praying 2 Chronicles 7:14 for our country… time is running short.

OK, first… let’s talk about this Haggai. His oracle was addressed to Jews in the 6th century BC who, on their return from exile, needed a good kick in the pants in order to get working on the new temple.

THAT was the point of the very passage Rosenberg quoted. Not that his readers would know, since he left out the part that doesn’t fit his theory:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory.’

“This house.” As in, the second temple. The one built in the 6th century BC.

When King Solomon built the first temple four hundred years earlier, the glory of Yahweh descended on it (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). That same glory, God’s divine presence on earth, vacated the temple shortly before its destruction in 586 BC (Ezekiel 10).

In order to get construction of the second temple back on track, God promised Haggai that his presence would someday fill the new building, much as it had the old one. According to Christian tradition, this came to pass 500 years later. When Jesus Christ set foot in the finished building, God indeed filled “this house with glory” like never before. The aftershock of his advent reverberated across the nations, just as God had promised.

That’s what this prophecy is about. Not wildfires or earthquakes in 21st-century America. Haggai probably wasn’t even thinking about Colorado when he wrote this oracle.

It’s time we start respecting the Bible’s context — and stop treating it like a horoscope.

More importantly, let’s not take advantage of people’s pain and suffering in Colorado in order to score a few “oohs” and “ahs” from like-minded prophecy enthusiasts.

There is one thing Rosenberg was right about, though. We are seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of certain natural disasters: droughts, fires, etc. Since 1975, the number of natural disasters has increased fivefold.

But instead of blaming God, let’s should look a bit closer to home. Climatologists have been telling us for years that global warming will have this effect. Maybe it’s time we listened. Maybe it’s time we started taking better care of the planet.

The earth is, after all, the Lord’s.

Here’s an article I wrote for Q, an organization started by Gabe Lyons to help Christian leaders wrestle with the biggest issues impacting the church today…

Biblical Literacy Begins With… Reading

3.9 billion.

That’s how many copies of the Bible we’ve bought over the last 50 years, according to one estimate. As you might have guessed, that makes the Bible the bestselling book of all time. The Bible has sold more copies than Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight. Combined.

But we all know there’s a difference between “bestselling” and “most read.”

When J.K. Rowling sold 400 million copies of Harry Potter (#3 on the list), there’s a good chance most of those copies were actually read.

Can we say the same for the nearly four billion Bibles in circulation? I think we all know the answer to that.

Not all copies of the Bible are read, and almost none are read cover to cover. If we turned our attention to a modern novel, it would be a bizarre and ludicrous experience to only read a few pages in the middle and ignore the rest.

These are the words of an atheist blogger named Jake Wilson. They are a chilling indictment of our relationship with the Bible. The worst part is, he’s absolutely right.

We buy a lot of Bibles. We just don’t read them. And if we do, it’s usually a verse here or a chapter there. We don’t read; we cherry-pick. And cherry-picking is a guaranteed path to a miserable reading experience.

I want you to change two things about the way you engage the Bible. If you do, you might just find yourself reading — seriously reading — God’s Word.

Read the full article here.

Just a bit of fun… my friend Tim Jahr offered to share this list of “biblical” ways to acquire a wife, which he compiled back in our college days.

Now all that remains is to figure out which of these he used to, um, “acquire” his lovely wife…

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1. Have God create a wife for you while you sleep. Note: this will cost you a rib.
—Adam, Genesis 2:19-24

2. Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you’ll definitely find someone. (It’s all relative, of course.)
—Cain, Genesis 4:16-17

3. Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place.
—Jacob, Genesis 29:15-30

4. Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock.
—Moses, Exodus 2:16-21

5. Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours.
—Deuteronomy 21:11-13

6. Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law!)
—Deuteronomy 25:5-6

7. When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, “I have seen a woman. Now get her for me.” If your parents question your decision, simply repeat: “Get her for me. She’s the one.”
—Samson, Judges 14:1-3

8. Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife.
—The Benjamites, Judges 21:19-25

“You want to marry your dead relatives widow? That’s great! Have a sandal.”

9. Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal.
—Boaz, Ruth 4:5-10

10. Cut off 200 foreskins from your future father-in-law’s enemies and get his daughter for a wife.
—David, 1 Samuel 18:27

11. Kill any husband and take HIS wife. (Prepare to lose four sons though.)
—David (again), 2 Samuel 11

12. Don’t be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity.
—Solomon, 1 Kings 11:1-3

13. Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest.
—Xerxes, Esther 2:3-4

14. Find a prostitute and marry her.
–Hosea 1:1-3

15. A wife?…NOT!!!
—Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Some complementarians want to frame the gender debate as a battle for the Bible, the gospel, and the very soul of the church. Some have even implied that their side is the only one that takes scriptural authority seriously.

Exhibit A, Thomas White, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

If we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose the proper interpretation of God’s Word, we lose inerrancy, we lose the authority of the Bible itself.

Exhibit B, Wayne Grudem:

I believe that ultimately the effective authority of Scripture to govern our lives is at stake in this controversy.

And exhibit C, John Piper:

As soon as you ask what are the implications of not following through with what Ephesians 5 seems to say or what 1 Timothy 2 seems to say… sooner or later you are going to get the gospel wrong.

Complementarians revel in their embrace of the so-called “difficult doctrines” or less palatable parts of Scripture. According to Wayne Grudem, egalitarians “pick and choose” what they like and don’t like in the Bible. Complementarians, on the other hand, faithfully adhere to “every word.”

But it’s not even close to being true. 

How many complementarians, for example, support reinstating the biblical test for an unfaithful wife? Women suspected of adultery were forced to drink a vile cocktail of water, dust, and ink — which, according to Numbers 5, would cause them to miscarry if they’d been having an affair. (That’s not very “pro-life,” is it?) ANY woman could be subjected to this indignity, even if the only basis for suspicion was her husband’s paranoia. And by the way, she had no similar recourse if she suspected her husband of infidelity.

Yes, it’s part of the Old Testament. But remember, Dr. Grudem said “every word.”

How about Leviticus 27:1-8, which assigns a monetary value to men and women? Males ages 20-60 were valued at 50 shekels of silver. Women the same age were worth only 30 shekels. How do we square this with the belief that women and men are “equal before God,” something modern-day complementarians strongly affirm?

What about Paul ordering women to cover their heads during worship? Complementarians frequently refer to Paul’s teaching about headship in 1 Corinthians 11, yet they mostly ignore the part about head coverings (which was the whole reason for Paul’s comments about headship in the first place).

Or what about the apostle Peter who, after advising slaves to essentially take a beating for the Lord, told wives to obey their husbands “in the same way”? I don’t know of any mainstream complementarian who argues that Christian wives should stay in abusive relationships for the sake of their unbelieving husbands.

So how is it that complementarians follow “every word” of Scripture while only egalitarians “pick and choose”?

Next up: complementarianism’s appeal to church history…