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Bible

The Value of Reading Scripture in Print

Posted by M.Ferris on

Nothing will show you a generation gap like the media one uses to read the Bible. Roughly stated, the older crowd reads in print, younger Christians in electronic format. The benefits of a Bible app are many; portability, and having the Bible always at the ready, for example. Plus, the possibility of having several versions, and perhaps study tools along with that are also advantages. On the other hand, the advantages of print Bibles are considerable. Nicholas Carr’s 2010 The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is a jeremiad against the diminished attention spans that come with online reading. His book is backed up with formidable research, but even anecdotally; ask yourself, when you read online, are you generally reading long articles or shorter snippets of things? And if you’re like most people, you are far more likely to jump around from page to page – to hyperlink. That convenience is a tremendous benefit of online reading. So, while I’m not suggesting you give up your app entirely, I am suggesting that I think what Carr observed has merit, and especially with the most important of books, print should hold sway over our reading.  Now at the risk of being labeled a Luddite, let me add that I use a Bible app with some frequency. I also have an app for the Greek New Testament, which is incredibly convenient. But, for my daily Bible reading, I use a hard copy Bible. The benefits of this, in my view, far outweigh the convenience of app reading. The value shows itself in a few ways:

Distraction-free reading. A print Bible doesn’t give you notifications, it doesn’t ding when another commentary has a message. Since apps live in the smart-phone ecosystem, there are all kinds of things working against concentration. In short, where Bible apps live is the land of distraction and multitasking, and as many have discovered, multitasking is a ruse. Concentrating on the words of Scripture is a single-threaded activity that should have all of our brain. Apps – even Bible apps -conspire against that. I have found that just plain staring at the page is a real aid to soaking in what the inspired writers have recorded. Plus, I find it annoying at times that I have to look at the words through what is really a small view port. You’re reading in the New Testament and you want to look at something in the Psalms. It takes several taps, going to the table of contents, finding the book, finding the chapter. It’s quite inefficient. It’s still far easier to just flip over the physical page, keeping a finger in the NT so you can go back to where you were. Staring at a page, poring over it, is a way to counteract and overcome the effects that Carr discusses in The Shallows. Is there anyone who can’t do with more focus on God’s word?

The following two benefits apply more specifically to writing in your Bible, but I think they are worth considering.

Organizing your thoughts. For years, I didn’t write in my Bible. My wife has always done so, and a few years back, I started using a wide margin journaling Bible, and it has been a tremendous aid in my study and reading. When you encounter an idea, a theme that recurs throughout Scripture, writing this in the margin at each occurrence is a great help in remembering and in being able to bring this to mind. Take, for example, a big-picture idea such as the Abrahamic covenant. Can’t you get that from a study Bible? You can, but someone else has done the work for you. You value the gems you mine. I’m not suggesting that you discount the scholarship behind study Bibles. I use study aids extensively. But it’s good to check your conclusions in these resources after you’ve come to them, and adjust if necessary.

Creating your own cross-references. Research has shown that when we write in longhand, it has an effect on comprehension. Briefly stated, if you are typing something, it just doesn’t stick in the same way it does when written in longhand. That’s why putting a note in your app isn’t the same as writing it on the page of a Bible. There’s nothing like doing the leg work yourself to come up with passages that are linked to one another. You simply remember more.

If you haven’t read the Bible in hard copy in a while, take and read (and write!)

Bible/Evangelicalism

Whither Evangelicalism?

Posted by M.Ferris on

IT’S NOT THE NUMBERS THAT ARE IMPORTANT FOR THE FUTURE.

An article at Religion News Service on the Future of Evangelicalism in America examines (once again) the questions of what lies ahead for an admittedly amorphous movement. The article is really just a teaser for the book the same name, and I say once again because this has been a topic of discussion and research in the recent past. Molly Worthen’s Apostle’s of Reason: the Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism is a good piece of both history and journalism, and chiefly because Worthen squarely faces the question of “What does the term evangelical mean?” Her answer, and that of several others: not much.

Mark Silk, who coedited the book, mentions David Bebbington’s “Evangelical Quadrilateral” in the article, but only to say that his co-editor wanted to stick to that as a working definition, while admitting the “movement” may have outgrown the designations. Much of what Bebbington identified as essential elements of evangelicalism is absent from its current forms. And that is why I agree with Worthen that the label has really come to have no meaning. For many, “evangelical” has more significance to identify a voting block, rather than core theological convictions, and that is a sad fact of evangelicalism’s current state.

Growth in numbers may mean a certain demographic is on the rise, and for evangelicalism in its American forms of today, that’s about all one can say. Numbers are rising in various churches, (“demographically, evangelicalism is holding its own. It has supplanted the Mainline Protestantism as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in America.”) but how has the substance changed?  I wrote previously about evangelical heterodoxy, and I’m sorry to say I don’t see this trend changing. Nor is mysticism or sacramentalism the answer. No matter what moniker we want to wear – evangelical, protestant, seeker – if we aren’t moored to Scripture and to its authority, any future we have won’t much matter.

These concerns aren’t new, but Christians always need to be reminded to hew close to Scripture, and to keep mining the riches of the word of God. It’s only in the word we learn about the Word, Jesus. The need for the Church today is the same as it’s always been. Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, Christ. I recall early in my Christian life, someone asked me what I was looking for in a church. “Good preaching, good music.” I said. This brother answered me in a way that has stuck with me ever since. “How about Christ-centered?” I had never thought of that before, but it made immediate sense. Evangelicals are no more immune to drifting away from their foundation than anyone else. Mature believers know they never outgrow their dependence on the Bible, which properly read, will continually lead them back to Christ.

Bible

Knowing the Word through the word in the Coming Year

Posted by M.Ferris on

GROWING ONE’S FAITH APART FROM SCRIPTURE IS NOT POSSIBLE.

The new year is a typical time for resolutions, and new beginnings. One of those that Christians often take up is to read through the entire Bible in a year. I’m struck at times by the number of Christians who have not done this.  It is simply impossible to learn more about God, his truth, his plan of redemption, the person of Jesus Christ – any of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, without a thorough familiarity with the Bible. I’ve posted previously about the biblical illiteracy among those who claim a relationship with Jesus. That this has left the church as a whole more impoverished, and allowed heresy to grow and flourish, is quite evident.

Heresy aside, if you as a Christian are to be equipped to deal with trial, with suffering, with the inevitable challenges that come into every life, and deal with them in the way God has designed, if you don’t know the Bible, you will be unable to do so. If it is your practice to open the Bible to wherever the pages fall, read a bit and seek God’s guidance in this way, you are leaving out a huge portion of God’s revelation, and impoverishing yourself spiritually. This is particularly true of familiarity with the Old Testament. Some Christians seem to assume that because they are under the New Covenant, the Old Covenant and it’s Scriptures are less important and secondary. Because of Jesus, the New Testament is really where we need to read. But this is untrue and short-sighted.

When Jesus met the disciples on the Emmaus road, he instructed them “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). The Old Testament is therefore “Christian Scripture.” It is not simply a Jewish history book, nor a record of God’s dealings with mankind in prior ages that now has no bearing, as if it is somehow replaced by the New Testament. The Old Testament books were the only Scriptures known to the earliest church, and it was in them that the promises and prophecies of Jesus were found. The Old Testament comprises nearly 80% of our Bibles. Giving that much of God’s word short shrift by assuming it contains little for Christians is contrary not only to God’s design, but to the way the apostles treated the Old Testament.  In other words, there is a wealth of guidance in the Old Testament, and about Jesus himself, for us now.

Practically speaking, how to get started? There are a host of reading plans out there – many Bibles come with one in the back. Some take a chapter from the Old Testament historical books, a psalm, and a chapter or two from the New Testament. Those are workable plans. My preference is to stay in one spot, because I think the narrative and sense of the book are better grasped in this fashion. There are 1189 chapters in the entire Bible, and so reading 3.25 chapters a day will get you through in a year. Reading a quarter chapter is rather awkward, so an alternative is to read 4 chapters every 4th day. Reckoning on 92 days in a quarter, you’ll end up with 1196 chapters read, a bit over, but that provides a tiny bit of slack. The plan you choose is less important, than sticking with the plan. Desiring the pure milk of the word means following through and reading it in the year ahead.

Bible/The Church

It’s Not Just Strength of Belief That Matters

Posted by M.Ferris on

THE SUBSTANCE OF DOCTRINE IS VITAL

It isn’t news that mainline Protestant congregations are numerically shrinking, but once again, research confirms that it’s the underlying theology of these churches that is the reason for the lack of growth. I say once again, because these observations are not new. the Barna Group has on several occasions highlighted this. Ross Douthat’s 2012 book, Bad Religion also profiled this trend. Further evidence of this is found David Millard Haskell’s opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News, Why Conservative Churches Grow and Liberal Churches Shrink.  But it is opinion supported by research.

Haskell and his colleagues did survey-based research on the beliefs of congregants in the various types of churches, and the results are not surprising to theological conservatives: doctrine matters. What you believe changes behavior, it influences your life, and causes you to live differently.  He notes:

We found, without exception, the clergy and congregants of the growing mainline Protestant churches held more firmly to traditional Christian beliefs, such as the belief Jesus rose physically from the grave and that God answers prayer. The clergy of the growing churches were the most theologically conservative and the declining church clergy the least. 

The research was greeted unenthusiastically by those on the theological left, as they pushed back on the notion that content of belief was determinative. They suggest, rather, that strength of belief is what is important. Looked at solely from the standpoint of church growth, however, the implications of this are clear. If you believe that conversion is a non-essential, you will not be particularly concerned to preach a gospel of Jesus as the only way of salvation. Conservatives preach this gospel. but, “half the clergy at the declining churches held the opposite conviction, believing it is not desirable to convert non-Christians.”

The conclusions to draw from this are not that church growth is the end goal, and that is why treating the Bible as God’s actual words is important. Rather, those who take this view are focusing on transcendent and eternal truths, things that matter beyond this life. If one focuses only on a gospel of social justice or political action, the more effective place to do that is within a political party. In some cases it seems that mainline churches have become just that – political action committees with a side of well-being by sharing these convictions with others. But what is conspicuously absent is a measure of truth.

It is a frequently repeated canard that theological conservatives care only about the spiritual, and do nothing to address the pressing physical needs of humanity. This is simply not true. Faith-based ministries abound that do just these things, provide food, clothing, medical attention, and the gospel. It is also the case that strength of faith is tied to charitable amounts. The reason for this is because the object of faith for committed Christians is the Son of God.

Paul said it bluntly to the Corinthian church: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In other words, to disbelieve this central truth of Christianity, while at the same time being part of a church is an exercise in futility. Conversely, an affirmation of the resurrection is a truth that matters, not only for all the implications of this life, but for the one to come. “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Bible/Reformation

Reformation 499

Posted by M.Ferris on

Let the revisions begin

martin_luther_cranachToday is the 499th anniversary of Martin Luther’s declaration of war, or thus it amounted to. Indeed, Luther may have intended the 95 theses to be grist for university debate, but they struck so fundamental a blow to medieval religion that the tide could not be stopped, and the Reformation was set in motion. A reading of the 95 theses reveals that while they have an air of protest about them, they aren’t in any way a full-throated Protestant manifesto. Luther would certainly progress from these early complaints to more overtly biblical stances. In this year of run-up prior to the actual quincentenary, revisionist history is sure to be written. You’ll see a plethora of articles on interpreting and reinterpreting the Reformation. Part of this is driven by an anachronistic look at the contemporary church, and to view things as so much better than in Luther’s day, was the Reformation really necessary? This is not necessarily new, but in a manifestly post-modern intellectual (and spiritual) milieu, Luther has suffered in the house of his friends. From Erik Erickson’s Young Man Luther, to proponents of the New Perspectives on Paul who often surmise that, at least on his understanding of the apostle to the Gentiles, the Wittenberg monk was off the mark. In the year ahead, as you read the appraisals and assessments of the influence of the Reformation through the preceding half millennium, I think it is important to keep a few things in mind.

Ecumenism is not the measure of truth

Some of the archetypical Reformation foes – Roman Catholics and Lutherans – have sought to bridge the divide that it created. The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is an example of efforts to say that we really do agree on the signal doctrine that Luther insisted upon. Pope Emeritus Benedict said just a few years ago, “It was indeed biblical to say, as did Luther, that it was the faith of a Christian, not his works that saved him.”[1] His successor, Francis, said much the same, referring to Luther’s views on justification by faith alone. “On this point, which is very important, he did not err.[2] But these statements have to be reconciled with the insistence “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation”[3] Declaring justification by faith alone, while at the same time saying that certain acts must be performed cannot be squared as sola fide. As a never more appropriate cliché says, the devil is in the details. The Vatican is often interested in ecumenism as a means to invite people to “come home.” You see, we really do agree on so very much. Ecumenism wears the mantle of nobility. Being charitable to those who disagree with you on certain points is evidence of an open-minded and magnanimous attitude is it not? But we should not confuse charity with truth.

Looking for common ground with all who name the name of Christ, we may feel the pull to diminish our differences, even if they involve fundamental tenets of faith. That is, those who want to see the Reformation breach healed will be keen to paper over the differences and to proclaim that we are all in agreement now. We can do no better than the apostle Paul on this, who asked the Galatians, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” We should not forget the things that incensed and animated Luther: the selling of salvation, and the attitude of a priestly class toward the ordinary believer. Though justification was the central grievance Luther had, there were other things he decried in the church of his day. Ecumenism shouldn’t blind us to the fact that putting the Church in the stead of the Holy Spirit, for example, is still a feature of the Roman Catholic Church.

The priesthood of all believers is vital

One of the things Luther did that had lasting value was to highlight the status of every Christian as equal in God’s sight. Indeed, Western civilization has so adopted and expanded this with respect to human rights that it may seem odd to think otherwise. But in the medieval church it was otherwise. Clergy had a status above that of laymen, and were believed to possess special abilities. Part of the controversy was political and economic. The clergy enriched themselves at the expense of the laity, and there was pent up resentment of this among the faithful. The medieval Church was, after all, an entity with the power of taxation. But it was also theological. By virtue of the sacrament of ordination, only a priest could celebrate mass, baptize, and safely shepherd a soul through life with the likely outcome of a period in purgatory. For Luther, ordination was not a sacrament, but a public declaration of a man’s calling to the work of ministry. It did not raise the man above his fellows in God’s estimation. The ancillary effect of the priesthood of all believers was Luther’s desire to get the Word of God into the hands of the faithful in the vernacular. Luther was following the path of Wycliffe in this, but the effect was profound on the German speaking peoples.

One may look at the Catholic church of today and say that Luther’s reforms have indeed taken hold. Bible reading is permitted, we have a far more realistic view of the clergy, and the Church has long since ceased to have any taxing authority. But if we look closer, the hierarchical church still wields its power. Bible reading is allowed, but not particularly encouraged, and even then the final authority for interpreting the Scriptures rests with the Magisterium. It is still the case that “the minister who is able to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in the person of Christ is a validly ordained priest alone.”[4]  There is lip service to the priesthood of all believers, but in practice, there is very little of it. And this is not only among the more liturgical churches. Sadly, even among evangelical churches, there is too much reliance on pastors who are vocational ministers, and not enough Bible study in the congregation. Evangelicals of all people, should celebrate this New Testament truth by exercising it.

The centrality of the Word of God

Behind all Luther’s reforms stood the Word of God. A study of the Word had taught him justification by faith alone, it taught him that peace with God was the possible, not through the sacraments, let alone purchasing pardon from God, but by reckoning on the sure and certain promises of the New Testament. It is difficult to perceive at the distance of these centuries the accretions that had shaped and formed the understanding of theology of Luther’s day. Scholasticism and Aristotle, the allegorical lens applied to Scripture, and above all, the authority of the Church – these were the things Luther began to sweep away and insist there be scriptural justification for any obligation upon believers. The authorities of the day were not prepared to grant him any of his fundamental points, and thus, he could do no other.

Part of the knock on Luther is that he set in motion a virtual free-for-all in terms of scriptural interpretation. Look at the plethora of denominations under the Protestant banner and see where this principle leads, the criticism goes. But it is a ruse to imagine that some centralized authority or body can pronounce the true and certain meaning of the Bible. This is evident for several reasons. Unanimity is worthless if the interpretation is wrong, and even the hierarchical church has repudiated the legacy of allegorical exegesis. Secondly, as Thomas Bergler notes in The Juvenalization of American Christianity, Roman Catholics feel every bit as empowered as Protestants to pick and choose what they want to believe from Church teaching. The central authority is rather ineffective. But most importantly, the Scriptures promise no continuing authority apart from the Holy Spirit guiding the Church, but not through a hierarchy. The church is a who and not a what; an organism, not an organization. This belief still separates the Reformation parties.

Luther had his inconsistencies, and in some areas did not allow the Bible to fully hold sway over his thinking. But do not mistake his imperfect outworking of principle for a deficiency in that principle. The need to subject our faith and practice to the Bible remains. Historians and commentators who suggest that the Reformation was unnecessary, or a misunderstanding, should recall the state of the medieval church. To whatever degree the institutional church has reformed, we can thank Martin Luther for this. Some things are indeed different today, but the need to continually turn to the Scriptures for guidance and authority, for the warrant of all we believe and hold – this need has not changed. In this sense the Reformation is not over, nor should it ever be.

[1] http://www.christiantoday.com.au/article/luther.rome.and.the.bible/5255.htm

[2] http://www.dennyburk.com/pope-francis-says-he-agrees-with-martin-luther-about-justification/

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 319.

[4] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P38.HTM

Bible/Canon of Scripture

How Does Your Knowledge of the Canon Measure Up?

Posted by M.Ferris on

The canon is both history and theology.

koine

The New Testament canon of Scripture is a subject that is too little understood by believers. As a topic most often left to specialists and scholars, the Christian very frequently has an inadequate understanding of how we got our Bible. But the importance of understanding this has grown, rather than diminished, over time. That is, as scholarship has advanced through centuries it has both sharpened our knowledge, while at the same time increased opposition to the idea and content of the New Testament canon. Canon means rule, or measuring rod, and the idea of the canon of Scripture is that it is the rule against which teaching and doctrine are measured. It is the norma normans non normata, or the standard over which no standard exists, but can believers explain exactly why? As scholars such as Bart Ehrman produce books and research that putatively debunks Scripture and the canon, it is vital that Christians – all Christians, not just scholars – be able to articulate the reasons for believing the canon of Scripture is God’s record. There are a couple of points where believers often get tripped up.

“The Church gave us the Bible.”

The idea that we wouldn’t have the books of the Bible if the church didn’t give them to us appears logical at first, but when the question is more thoroughly examined, it falls apart. This is in fact reversing the order of things. God’s word produces God’s people, not the other way around. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18), and “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Pet. 1:23). We as God’s people were created, formed as the Church, by the word of God. We do not form God’s word. The church indeed receives the word from God, but she is not the source of it. As Michael Kruger has commented, “the role of the church is like a thermometer, not a thermostat. Both instruments provide information about the temperature in the room—but one determines it and one reflects it.”[1]

Some will point to various councils that seem to ratify the canonical list of books, and say that this represents the church “giving” us the Bible. But this is to confuse reception with authority. John Barton comments, “When fourth-century Fathers and councils attempted to regulate the ‘canon’, they were doing little more than codifying what was already almost universally accepted.” [2] With this, James J. O’Donnell agrees, saying “Before translocal hierarchies of bishops and eventual popes and patriarchs ever evolved to have any doctrinal authority, Christians had come to agree, without noticing it, without debate, without anybody planning it, that scriptural texts, gathered in collections of apostolic authority, would prevail.”[3] Neither the church through some grand decision, nor through conciliar agreement gave us the Scriptures. Rather, the books of the New Testament are self-authenticating, and possess innate and inherent authority. To suggest otherwise is to confuse authority with canonicity. The church recognized these books as authoritative, and the decision to “canonize” them is but an acknowledgement of this divine and inherent authority that belongs to these books.

There were many writings extant during the apostolic era, but our 27 books have prevailed while others have not. And to refer to any such writing as apocryphal is not really correct. Apocryphal means hidden, and these books were by no means hidden or underground. They simply did not contain God’s truth and the believing community did not regard them as Scripture. There is no evidence for the idea that a bunch of bishops sat around and by a show of hands said yea or nay to including the Gospel of Thomas.  If indeed the Word of God is living and active, what God has inspired to be written is able to vindicate itself as his authoritative writing.

“There are so many manuscripts, what about the differences?”

This is perhaps more a question of textual criticism, but it is so closely allied with the questions surrounding the canon that it is important to note. Some have fancied that the plethora of manuscripts has somehow made it more difficult to determine the true words of Scripture, but quite the opposite is the case. Consider for a moment an event where there is but one witness. What that witness says must be regarded as the truth, because there is no one to contradict him. Now imagine there are two witnesses and their stories differ. This presents a problem of knowing which of the two is correct. But if we have hundreds of witnesses, and the vast majority of those witnesses agree, there is far more confidence that one has gotten the correct version of events due to the bulk of evidence from so many voices. There are approximately 5000 manuscripts containing the whole or part of the New Testament. This evidence dwarfs that of other ancient writings. For example, Metzger points out that “Among the tragedians the witness to Euripides are the most abundant: his extant works are preserved in 54 papyri and 276 parchment manuscripts, almost all of the latter dating from the Byzantine period.”[4]

The bounty of manuscripts for the New Testament allows us to have more confidence, not less, that we have the Word of God. By comparing manuscript with manuscript – engaging in textual criticism – this provides an exceedingly high degree of assurance about the accuracy of our Bible. Centuries of manuscript sleuthing has produced ever more evidence for the 27 books we know as the New Testament. Believers should have confidence that weight of evidence keeps pointing in the same direction.

Is the canon really that important?

I believe having at least a working knowledge of the New Testament canon is exceedingly important. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus based on the apostolic records left to us. We are admonished in the New Testament to desire the pure milk of the word, to show ourselves approved, rightly handling the word, and to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Without the canon of Scripture, none of these are possible. To have an understanding of how those books came to be, why we believe that we indeed have the right books – the books God wants us to have – these are not ancillary concerns. Further, as opposition to biblical faith increases, believers need to have confidence in God’s book,  and to be able to explain why we hold to the canon we have. The canon is not the same as inspiration, but it is an allied doctrine. In short, Christians believe that the God who was able to raise Jesus from the dead was also perfectly capable of getting it right at the printer.

For those wanting to delve more into the topic, the following are some recommendations for further reading:

 

[1] Michael J. Kruger (2012-04-05). Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Kindle Locations 2772-2773). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] John Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p.15

[3] James J. O’Donnell, Augustine: A New Biography (New York, Harper Collins,2005), p. 277.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd ed. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 34.

Bible

Evangelical Heterodoxy

Posted by M.Ferris on

The term “Evangelical” no longer has meaning

A recent study by Lifeway and Ligonier points out once again that the term “Evangelical” means next to nothing these days. The doctrinal survey points out that those who self-identify as evangelicals are all over the theological map in terms of their beliefs. If there is an overarching theme it is that American evangelicals are products of their time, and are far too influenced by the surrounding culture. They are being transformed alright, but not toward a more biblically-shaped mind. It should surprise no one that Americans in general hold heterodox views, and the study data must be read carefully to distinguish when the respondents are Americans in general, or whether the answers reflect only evangelicals.

“Two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Twenty-four percent disagree. Twelve percent are not sure.” The exclusivity of salvation through Jesus is very clear in the NT. “No man comes to the father except through me”, Jesus told his disciples. That cannot be squared with “God accepts the worship of all religions” when no other religion defines Jesus as God incarnate. Among evangelicals, those who agree with this statement drops to 46%, but that is still a shocking number. Nearly half of evangelicals apparently believe that all faiths are more or less equal in God’s sight.

Not surprisingly, the majority of Americans are not clear on one of the most fundamental aspects of the gospel: You cannot earn salvation. “Three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. Half of Americans (52 percent) say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven.” That drops to 36% agreement among evangelicals, but again, a startling number of believers are confused on a most basic aspect of salvation.

It should be noted that were the survey to segment other groups aside from evangelicals, I don’t doubt that the results would be similar. That is, if Roman Catholics, Methodists, etc. were categorized, the results would not be any different. (See Thomas Bergler’s The Juvenalization of American Christianity for such evidence.) In other words, this problem is not unique to evangelicals, but indeed it should be the case that evangelicals are the outliers due to their orthodoxy, not their heterodoxy.

The solution to this is not a new one: Faithful exposition of the Bible. No amount of catechesis that is divorced from the biblical record can do this. The creeds are not living and active, able to divide between soul and spirit. Only the Word of God is able to do that. American evangelicals need to recover a regard for the Bible once again, not as supreme authority, but as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, as sole authority.

Bible

The Scriptures Are Disappearing

Posted by M.Ferris on

Influence on public life aside, Christians need more of the Bible.

Kenneth A. Briggs is a longtime journalist covering religion who is out with a new book, The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America. The theme is the vanishing of the centrality of the Bible in American life, and more importantly, in the church. This is but a further step of decline in what the Barna Group wrote about in its 2010 survey, citing six megathemes of the church’s direction. Number one on that list, “The church is becoming less theologically literate.” Theological literacy begins with the Bible, and Mr. Briggs work serves to highlight the sad and startling fact that among professing Christians, the Scriptures are simply not read very much.

Evangelicals should pay heed to what Briggs notes when asked about places he expected to find the Bible, but didn’t. “In the mega-type churches – the churches that were really heavily loaded with the visual and the audio and the rest of the electronic stuff, the music – I was really stunned by what I saw as that alternative version of Christianity being delivered through those means.”

Christians cannot grow spiritually beyond their knowledge of Scripture. We may have relational ministry, we may have worship teams, we may have what some view as crass “theotainment”, but if we do not have a deep and growing relationship with reading the Bible, we will not have conformity to Christ. No amount of community can make up for our lack of attention to the written word of God. Our pedigree means nothing. It doesn’t matter who started your church,  or what association or coalition we are part of. If a personal engagement with an open Bible is not part of our faith, we will be spiritually anemic. My sense is that Briggs’ book is part investigative reporting, part lament. He is saddened, as all christians should be, by the erosion of the Bible in not only our public discourse, but in our churches. Take, and read.