Friday, July 31, 2009

Eschatology Addendum

Back in May I did a post on Eschatology where I tried to summarize the basic views on end times. I recently learned something new. Everyone (most everyone) is likely aware of the "premillenial view" of eschatology. "Oh, yeah, sure, keep using big words and assume everyone knows what you're talking about." Okay, you know the standard view of end times. It starts with the Rapture and then there is the Great Tribulation, a seven year period during which the Anti-Christ reigns and a special redemptive plan for Israel is instituted saving 144,000 Jews. At the end of this period, Christ returns, binds Satan, and sets up the Millenial Kingdom. This time is marked by a return to Old Testament style temple worship and sacrifice commeorating the sacrifice of Christ. Oh, and those who were Raptured at the beginning get to rule with Christ. At the end of that period, Satan is loosed and ... well, you know that one ... Armageddon. And then there is the Great White Throne Judgment and the New Heaven and New Earth. While folks may dicker over specifics, that is what is commonly referred to as "premillenialism". What I didn't realize is that this view is actually called "dispensational premillenialism", a product of the 19th century through teachers like John Darby and Scofield and perpetuated through today by well-known folks like Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, and Tim LaHaye.

I've been bothered by this view since I found out that it traces its roots all the way back to ... the 1800's. Really? You mean it took God 1800 years to get the truth of this across to His people? What was going on prior to that? Why didn't Luther or Calvin or Augustine or Jonathan Edwards or any of the greats get this? What happened?? So I started looking at other views, like postmillenialism (no thanks) and amillenialism (interesting).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that there is a view known as "historic premillenialism". Historic premillenialism differs from dispensational premillenialism in that it drops the "dispensational" ... and it is historic. (Yeah, I know ... you think I'm making this stuff up. I'm not.) Historic premillenialists trace their roots back to folks like Ireneaus (140-203 AD), Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), and Papias (80-155 AD) . (Yeah, yeah, I know. "Dispensational premillenialists trace their roots back to the Bible." Be reasonable. All views trace themselves to the Bible. That's not a differentiation.) This view, in fact, was the leading contender among Protestants until Dispensationalism came along.

So, what's the difference? The primary difference is that Dispensationalism sees the Church as having replaced Israel. As such, God implements a separate method of salvation for the Jews in the Great Tribulation (since, after all, the Church is gone). This is one reason that dispensational premillenialism requires a pre-tribulation Rapture. The Church has to be gone. Historic premillenialism, however, expects a time of tribulation at the end of which the Church would be raptured -- meet up with Christ in the air -- and return with Christ to rule. (That's where the "post-tribulation" view of the Rapture comes from.) This view does not hold that the Church replaced Israel, but that the children of Israel are the children of the promise, not the flesh -- kind of like Romans 9:6-8 says or Romans 11:13-27 describes. So there isn't some special dispensation for Israel that follows the "Church Age" (See Dispensationalism).

It's interesting to me because, after all my studying, I've come away wholly unconvinced. My view -- not something I'd argue with anyone, but just where I sit -- is a melting pot. I can see the arguments of the partial preterists who say, "It all happened in 70 AD" and I can see the problem of the premillenialists when they say, "But ... where is the 'binding of Satan' and all that?" In my view, then, eschatology is a lot like the prophecies regarding Christ. We know that He was portrayed in prophecy both as the Suffering Servant and the Reigning King. The Jews of His day were confused because they liked the Reigning King thing but saw only the Suffering Servant. And we understand, from this perspective, that both are true of Christ ... just not simultaneously. So ... why can't both be true about "end times" ... just not simultaneously? The events of 70 AD largely fulfill the prophecies of, say, Matthew 24, but not completely the prophecies of Revelation. I think, then (and this isn't a hill I am willing to die on), that much of prophecy about end times was already accomplished, and that there is yet to come a Millenial Kingdom. In other words, I seem to fall pretty squarely in that Historic Premillenialism ... before even knowing what it was. Interesting.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When the rubber meets the road

There is a problem with the medium we call "blogging" that is hard to keep in mind. It's very easy, here at my keyboard with no one to answer back and no one to raise an issue, to simply spout. I can tell you whatever I want. Now, presumably, I want to tell you the truth. That, in fact, is my goal. (I admit, I may be wrong at times, but I don't intentionally try to deceive.) But the truth sometimes needs something additional. Sometimes it needs compassion. Oh, I'm not talking about mitigating the truth. That's not it at all. But when you express somethings in certain ways, it is sometimes easy to run roughshod over another person's feelings. You could have expressed it with concern, sympathy, or empathy, but it's so hard to keep all that in mind when you're sitting here, all alone, at the keyboard and simply thinking with your fingers on the keys.

What am I talking about? It's one thing to stand firm on the biblical passages that say "Do not divorce". It's another thing entirely to listen to the heart-rending stories of women and men who are abused, tormented, or destroyed by their spouse and then spout, "No divorce!" It's one thing to counsel someone else "not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler -- not even to eat with such a one" (1 Cor 5:11), but what do you say when it's your uncle or son or spouse? It's one thing to confidently assert that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28), but exactly how do you express that to the mother who just lost her husband and 2-year-old in a tragic car accident? Mind you, all of these truths are true, and they are not less true because of circumstances. Truth is not dependent on circumstances. Still, it's one thing to hold them as true, and expressing them in ways that fit the need of the moment is something else.

I wish there was a mechanism in this venue that would allow for this aspect. It's problematic, of course. Some people need a "slap in the face" kind of approach. "You're sinning and you need to see it!" Others need a "come alongside with a hug" approach. "I know you're hurting/angry/something, but have you considered ...?" There is no filter, no software method available to sense "who is reading and what are you going through and here's how best to express to you in particular what I'm trying to express at this moment". So I'm stuck with this medium. Please, then, if you feel like you got a slap in the face when you needed a hug, understand that I'm writing more about truth than people. We can talk in terms of individuals on an individual basis, right?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Does the Bible contain lies?

If you answered (with a shout), "No!", you're a bit overzealous. Let me demonstrate how the Bible does, in fact, contain lies.

One story I like a lot is the story in 1 Kings 22 where (evil king of Israel) Ahab asks (godly king of Judah) Jehoshaphat to go to war with him against the Arameans for some disputed property. Jehoshaphat agreed, but required Ahab to ask the Lord. So Ahab asked his prophets and they said really cool things, but concluded "Go up, for the Lord will give it into your hand." The truth is that the Lord said no such thing. These prophets lied, and the Bible accurately records those lies. Jeshoshaphat didn't buy it and asked for a second opinion ... you know ... from a real prophet. Micaiah was called and ordered, "Speak favorably." So he showed up and said, "Go up and succeed, and the LORD will give it into the hand of the king." Again, God said no such thing and the Bible accurately records the lie. Micaiah goes on to tell the truth (which is why we know it was a lie), tells the king, "The LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you." And, if you finish the story, the latter was the truth and Ahab dies. You can see, then, that in a historical narrative such as the books of the kings, the Bible is accurate if it accurately records a lie as a lie.

The suggestion has been made that this same sort of thing occurred over in 1 Samuel.
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey'" (1 Sam 15:2-3).
Is it possible that this text, though clearly written as a historical narrative, accurately represents the prophet Samuel telling a lie? Is it possible that God said no such thing, and Samuel was making it up for his ulterior motives?

First, given the 1 Kings 22 passage, you have to admit that it's possible. The Bible does record lies. So, how do we determine if this was such a lie? Well, the fact that Saul acted on it is no indication. The Bible records people acting on lies. What is interesting is that Saul did not obey the full command. According to the account, "Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed" (1 Sam 15:9). But the result of Saul's choice not to carry the command through is telling, as it Samuel's response to God's response.
Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands." And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the LORD all night (1 Sa 15:10-11).
Here we have a historic narrative that is presented not as a public display. In the first instance, Samuel told everyone that God had said such and such. In this instance, it is a private conversation between God and Samuel. Further, in this private conversation (which, therefore, isn't Samuel lying), God accuses Saul of having failed to follow His commands. If the command given in verses 2 and 3 were lies, then Saul didn't fail to follow God's commands. No, in fact, this would make Saul more of the hero. He recognized a false command when he saw it and didn't carry it out. Further, if Samuel intended to gain some power or achieve some ulterior agenda, why did he spend the night crying out to God?

I'm afraid this passage will not work as a recorded-but-accurate lie. The only conclusion that makes sense given the context of the events is that God actually spoke to Samuel when He gave the command to strike Amelek. Since that appears to be the only reasonable conclusion, we're left with only two possible choices here. Either the Bible is accurate in what it represents as historical narrative, or it is not. If it is not, we're left to our own devices to decide what we like or don't like as "true", and since the Bible presents itself as "the Word of God" ("God-breathed"), we would have to agree that this won't quite be the case. That whole sola scriptura thing, where the Bible is our sole source for matters of faith and practice is out. On the other hand, if we accept this account as a truthful account of an actual historical event, complete with God's words on the matter, we're left with serious questions regarding God, His motivations, and His goodness.

Now, I choose the latter. I believe that the Bible is true, that even this account is accurate, and that there really are good answers to these questions regarding God, His motivations, and His goodness. But feeding you answers isn't a good teaching tool. You'll have to think about this yourself for awhile and see what you come up with.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are you sure you want to go there? V

The topic that my frequent commenter, Dan Trabue, was hot to debate with me was "feminism" which he defined (essentially) as the quest for equal rights for women. I am (again) not debating it here. What I am thinking about is the concept of rights in general.

I suppose it is likely that all Americans over the age of 15 are able to quote this phrase from the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I suppose it is equally likely that very, very few of those Americans have taken a moment to ask, "Why? Why did they (and subsequently do we) hold these truths to be self-evident? On what do we base these 'unalienable rights'?" America is predicated on rights and has, over the centuries, become rights-and-entitlements driven. It seems almost all of us look at life through rights-colored glasses. You know ... "You deserve a break today." Oh, really? A recent commercial on local television assured me that "All Americans deserve a fresh start", referring to their bankruptcy option. Really? All Americans? When the FCC tried to turn off analog television last February, the cry went out. "We have the right to television, and some aren't ready for the transition!" Television is a right? Then you find organizations like the "Human Rights Campaign". Their mission statement: "HRC envisions an America where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are ensured equality and embraced as full members of the American family at home, at work and in every community." Ummm, okay ... let's interpolate. They are the "Human Rights Campaign" who are fighting for the rights of "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people". I would have to assume from these two facts that heterosexuals are not humans ... or have no rights? No, no, don't be ridiculous. We all have rights and we all know what they are and you're an idiot for even bringing up the question.

The U.N. has created a document titled The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It sets out to declare "a common standard" of what they term "inalienable rights" for "all members of the human family". I won't quote it -- there are 30 articles. But I'll give you the flavor of it. Article 1 assures us that "All human beings are born free ..." (Note: The three dots that follow what I wrote there indicate there is more. If you want to know what, look it up yourself.) It seems certainly true that not all human beings are born free. Article 2 says, "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, ... or other status." Really? Without distinction of any kind? All of these rights?? Some of these "rights and freedoms" to which every single living person is entitled without distinction of any kind are "a fair and public hearing" (a private hearing is a violation of human rights -- even in cases such as national security), "the right to freedom of movement", "equal rights as to marriage", "the right to own property alone", "the right to social security", "the free development of his personality" (think about that when you consider sociopaths, child molesters, and the like), "the right to rest and leisure", and "the right to a standard of living". One I found fascinating, considering recent hubbub in various places, was "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." Oh? What about home schooling? Has anyone told Germany? Another of the interesting items on their list of universal human rights was this little piece: "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures." In other words, the U.N. has declared that among other human rights is the inalienable right to ... democracy. All other governments -- monarchy, benevolent dictatorship, communism, etc. -- that are not elected governments violate human rights.

One of the "human rights" listed regarded marriage. "Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses." In one sentence the United Nations declared that God had violated basic human rights. You see, it was God who instituted marriage and the biblical examples of marriages were arranged marriages. It made me think. Since God has violated "human rights" ... what makes us think they're human rights?

The question gets really sticky after this initial examination. The concept of human rights assumes that humans simply by virtue of being humans have basic moral guarantees that cannot be arbitrarily removed because they are based on the fact that the human is human. Wait ... it gets stickier. The basis of human rights is that there is "a rationally identifiable moral order", a moral universalism that is inherent to and applicable to all humans. Do you see the problem yet? You see, one of the basic premises of human interaction these days is the argument that there is no moral absolute. That's a mere Christian myth. Human dignity in Christianity is based on the basic claim that people are made in the image of God, but since we're discarding Christianity as an absolute and, in fact, discarding moral absolutes entirely, we don't have that basis anymore. So ... now what? Since morality is now defined as historical and cultural and volatile, we would necessarily define human rights as historical, cultural, and volatile.

Now, having found that we've carefully and willfully undercut the basis for "human rights", we end up back at the beginning. What rights do we have? What rights are "unalienable"? Having removed the basis of moral absolutism, how do we determine what rights are right and what rights are imaginary and what rights are temporary? After having stirred through that nasty pot of stew, we would next need to determine exactly what "equal rights" means. As an example, the argument has been made that if a test is given to all the members of a fire department and only white fire fighters passed the test, it wasn't "equal rights". The argument has been made that paying some people (like doctors and lawyers) more than other people (like administrative assistants and the cleaning crew) is a violation of "equal rights". Some people would like us to believe (and you will need to decide if they're right or not) that unless everyone has the same thing, it's a violation of "equal rights". So, with little basis for "human rights" and the "reality" that whatever you define as "human rights" is volatile and then moving on to trying to figure out what exactly "equal" means in terms of "rights" (which are in question, remember), well ... you can see you have your work cut out for you. So, for the Christians, let's start here. Go to your Bibles and find, if you will, a basic list of "human rights". Feel free to look anywhere in the Book. It doesn't have to be a "list" in one passage. Anywhere will do. Basic human rights from Scripture ... that's all I'm looking for. Thanks.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Discipline and Culture

Tim Challies writes a pretty good Christian blog. I understand he's near the top. The other day he wrote one from a comment from a book by Arnold Dallimore. Dallimore was writing about George Whitefield who came to America from England as a missionary. On his way across, he had this entry in his journal:
Had a good instance of the benefit of breaking children’s wills betimes. Last night, going between decks (as I do every night) to visit the sick and to examine my people, I asked one of the women to bid her little boy say his prayers. She answered his elder sister would, but she could not make him. Upon this I bid the child kneel down before me, but he would not till I took hold of his two feet and forced him down. I then bid him say the Lord’s prayer (being informed by his mother he could say it if he would), but he obstinately refused, till at last, after I had given him several blows, he said his prayer as well as could be expected and I gave him some figs for a reward.
Of this Dallimore says (and Challies agrees) "this action seems both foolish and cruel by today’s standards and it is not in any attempt to excuse it that we notice that it was in keeping with the customs of those times. ... We must deplore both the custom [of attempting to conquer a child’s will] and Whitefield’s action on the basis of it."

I was a little surprised at the quote from Whitefield, but I had to remember that in his day all adults helped to raise all children. You knew, if you were a kid, that even if your parents didn't see you do something wrong, another adult might and would just as likely box your ears as your parents would. But the real surprise was the response. It is, apparently, a given to Dallimore, to Challies, to a large part of Christendom, that it's wrong to hit a kid. While Whitefield's contemporaries assumed corporal punishment was good and wise, today's world is pretty sure that it's wrong. It's today's world that thinks that it's deplorable "to conquer a child’s will". The problem, of course, is that the argument runs afoul not of psychology or culture, but of the Bible.

It wasn't Whitefield who wrote "A rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding" (Prov 10:13). It wasn't an 18th century misanthrope who wrote, "He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently" (Prov 13:24). It wasn't a confused pastor of yesteryear that suggested "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him" (Prov 22:15) or "Apply your heart to discipline And your ears to words of knowledge. Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol" (Prov 23:12-14).

Today's "wise" folk will assure us that spanking a child will only lead to a violent child. Jeremiah spoke of "the rod of His wrath" (Lam 3:1), referencing God. While only 18 of the 50 states allow corporal punishment in school, it was the author of Hebrews that assured us, "Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives" (Heb 12:6). In other words, if disciplining children is evil, then we serve an evil God who commands such evil.

The wisdom of the day and the certainty of even a Dallimore or a Challies notwithstanding, it appears that God favors corporal punishment. Some argue that it is assault. The Bible argues that it is love. I personally think that many, many of the problems we face today in arenas like politics, education, economics, and elsewhere are direct products of our failure to agree with God on this topic, and we're paying the price. It's just a shame that someone who is generally so well written as Tim Challies has fallen prey to this error.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A church like this

I've been to a lot of churches in my lifetime. I've gone to church in Alaska and I've gone to church in Mexico. I've been in liturgical churches and pentecostal churches. I've been in churches where my skin color made me the extreme minority. I've been in good churches and some not so good. But I've never been to a church like this:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor 14:26-33).
This isn't like anything I've seen before. You wouldn't actually attend a church like that, would you? In this scenario, "each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation ..." That's not a church you can "attend". That's a church in which you participate. You wouldn't just be showing up to listen, worship, be fed, but to share, to lead worship, to feed. Imagine if you went to a church where everyone showed up "for building up".

One of the things that strikes me in this explanation of church is the final verse: "God is not a God of confusion but of peace." Most of us, reading this description, would think "chaos". Paul didn't. He thought that God, as a God of peace, would be pleased with a church service where everyone had something to add. Paul thought that God's idea would be to have a "conversational church", where someone over here says, "This is what I learned from Scripture this week" and someone over there would say, "No, Ted, that's not quite accurate. You see, here it says ..." (v 29) and that would be good. One of the reasons this strikes me is that I've been in many churches where things are quite controlled, but not necessarily characterized by "peace". Odd.

Now, I'm not saying that this passage describes what church should be like. I'm not entirely sure it doesn't, but I'm not suggesting a rule here. I'm just saying that maybe, just maybe, it would be interesting some day to find a church where the people that go there don't attend; they minister. They don't come to be fed, but to feed. They don't show up to see "what's for church today?" like a smorgasbord, but to share what they had all week. It might be interesting at that.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Are you sure you want to go there? IV

Yeah ... no, I'm not entirely sure I want to go here. So I'm doing this on a Saturday. Less readers, you know.

What does the Bible say about ... wait for it ... sex? I know. A lot of people might say, "Nothing good!" But if God is our Maker and if He designed sex for a reason and if He has something to say about it ... wouldn't it be in our best interests to find out what that is?

Contrary to the opinion of some today, the Bible isn't all over the place when it comes to the topic of sex. It is, in fact, abundantly clear. Expressed both in the positive and in the negative repeatedly and without wavering, the Bible is clear that sex is intended for marriage and only for marriage. When you think of the word "chastity", you probably think of celibacy. The first definition of "chaste", however, is this: "refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion". Chastity, then, actually refers not to abstinence (alone), but to moral sexual relations. So what does the Bible say about sex? What are "moral sexual relations"?

Sex is first referenced in Genesis. "So God created Man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'" (Gen 1:27-28). Note, first, the image: "In the image of God". Then note the command: "Be fruitful and multiply." That, my friends, is "sex". You see, as image bearers of God, humans are made to reflect God's creativity and dominion via procreation. The first, biblical purpose of sex, then, is procreation.

If we hold off briefly for a moment and look at the "second look" of Genesis 2, I think we can expand that slightly and come up with a clearer, more comprehensive, more satisfying purpose statement. In Genesis 2:24 we get God's definition of marriage: "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Note the last phrase: "They shall become one flesh." That would be the second purpose of sex -- becoming one flesh. However, I think we can stick the two concepts together and come up with a more complete picture. The biblical purpose of sex is ... drum roll, please ... family building. This process of "family building" includes the making of two people -- man and woman -- into one flesh and the procreation that follows that union. In addition, as a family building process, it would continue to serve as a uniting element to the husband and wife, perpetuating that family.

Is sex, then, for pleasure or for ... purpose? Is it for fun or for duty? According to the text in the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon if you prefer), it would appear that biblical, marital sex is indeed enjoyable. So explicitly enjoyable are the exchanges in that book that some have suggested it be banned. In earlier times some rabbis argued that touching the book made you unclean while others suggested it was "the Holy of Holies" of biblical books. But taken at face value, there is no doubt that the book celebrates marital sex as a beautiful and pleasurable event.

Biblically, then, sex has a purpose, but in fulfilling that purpose it is certainly pleasurable.

What else does the Bible have to say on the subject? Well, as you would surely guess, there is a whole lot about avoiding sexual sin. The Bible is full of references to avoiding fornication (all sorts of sexual immorality) and adultery and even specifics like incest, homosexuality, and bestiality. The New Testament repeatedly warns believers to avoid sexual immorality. Here's a token example:
1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thess 4:1-7).
These are instructions on "how you ought to walk" to "please God". Heaviest on Paul's mind, then, is "abstain from sexual immorality." Okay, Paul, we got it. No, we don't. "Each of you know how to control his own body in holiniess and honor." Okay, okay, we get it. No, not yet. "Not in the passion of lust." Interesting ... because there are those who would argue that lust is perfectly okay in marriage, but Paul suggests otherwise. In summary, Paul says, "God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness."

You can search all you want and find all those "avoid sexual immorality" passages. I'll give you an instant summary here. Biblical chastity -- moral sexual relations -- occurs in marriage (Heb 13:4) where husband and wife give themselves to each other (1 Cor 7:3-4) for procreation (Gen 1:28) and unity (Gen 2:24) with lust controlled.

One more thought here. In 1 Cor 6:20 we are told, "glorify God in your body." The topic of the text is avoiding sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:13, 18). The command, then, is not about how you dress or what you eat. The command is about glorifying God in your sexual behavior. Sex, engaged in for personal pleasure or other motives and apart from biblical morality, does not glorify God. However, when we approach sex from a biblical perspective, using it for the purpose intended and controlling lust, we find ultimate satisfaction and God is glorified. Imagine that! God glorified in sex. Let that one sink in ...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Male Superiority - NOT!

Dr. Albert Mohler has an excellent article on President Jimmy Carter's "exit" from the Southern Baptist Convention. Why is the ex-president severing his ties with the Southern Baptists? Because they prefer to use the Bible as their rule of faith and practice rather than the U.N.'s "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (1948). Losers! How is it remotely possible that a Christian denomination would choose the Bible over the U.N. declaration? Are they crazy?? Don't get me started! Okay, anyway, Dr. Mohler's article is clear (and timely some might say). I'll leave you to peruse his article and come to your own conclusions.

One thing, though, that struck me in the article was a quote from President Carter. He complains that "the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths." Now, there are a variety of things that could be said about this. The suggestion is that the Church for all time has been built around "the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence", something the Church has never been free of until, fortunately, here in the late 20th and early 21st century we figured out they have always been wrong. One wonders about the magnitude of arrogance required for such a position. Another thought is that it is freely admitted that the Bible holds this position on issues of gender roles. It's not like it's not there. It's not as if it's hard to fathom or difficult to figure out. No one is saying, "That's not what it says." It is biblically clear. The argument is "It's no longer applicable", not "It's not in there." Why is it no longer applicable? Well, of course, because the U.N. figured out how it should be! (Yes, that was sarcasm, in case anyone was wondering.) One very important (and rarely heard) truth about this is that the entire system of genders and roles (set up, by the way, by God) is designed as protection, not oppression. That never seems to be understood by its detractors.

There is an issue here, though, that I want to address that seems to be a constant theme ... and is totally wrong. President Carter (and the folks who agree with him) see this phrase as inherent in the biblical concept of gender roles: "the superiority of men". You see, if wives are supposed to submit to husbands and women are not allowed to be pastors and (that oh, so vicious claim that) Eve was created second to Adam, well, then, it's all about male superiority, isn't it? And that's what I'd like to address. The very clear and (should be) obvious answer to that question is "No!"

The confusion is over "Who is in charge?" If, as the Bible suggests, husbands are in charge of the marriage (and family) and men are in charge of the church (and so on), there is nothing you can read into this position that requires the conclusion, "Men are superior." It's just not reasonable. Look, we all live this every day, don't we? We all have bosses. We have governments. We have policemen that enforce the laws. We all answer to a variety of folk. Even CEOs have to answer to ... us, the stock holders. (How's that for a circle?) Everyone answers to a variety of people. Does that mean that the variety of people to whom we answer are superior to us? I think you can see the obvious answer: "No!" It means they have a position of authority, not superiority. There is nothing about "authority" that requires superiority. I, for instance, (among other things) manage a group of engineers. I am not an engineer. I am not expected to have their level of expertise in their particular fields. They were hired to do the job because they were deemed better than anyone else to do their job. I simply manage their jobs; I don't do them. I'm not superior. No one thinks I am or even should be. I don't decide how they'll do their designs or processes. I manage them and nothing more. You see, in my case it is (painfully) obvious that authority doesn't require superiority. And so it is in the vast majority of cases.

Look, it's very simple. We can talk opinion here, but let's look at an irrefutable example. Jesus repeatedly claimed that He was in submission to His Father. If those who argue that "submission equals inferiority" are right, then we have a collision of reality here. This would require that God the Son was inferior to God the Father ... except that both are God, equal in essence. See the problem?

Yeah, yeah, I know, "The argument is that those ideas are outdated, cultural, not for today." I know. "We have other things in Scripture that are cultural and outdated; why not these?" The Bible is actually pretty clear on what is cultural and outdated. Do we follow the Old Testament dietary laws? Not so much. Why? Well, God said that this was changed (e.g., Acts 10:9-16). Are we required to observe the Sabbath on Saturday? Most of us are pretty sure that's not key. Why? Well, Jesus said it (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:27). Why is it that circumcision is no longer an issue? Well, the New Testament Church decided it was an Old Testament issue, not applicable to Gentiles (Acts 15:1-21). And why aren't we still sacrificing for sin? Well, Jesus fulfilled that, didn't He? You see, God in the New Testament has declared certain laws from the Old Covenant as either satisfied in Christ or part of a culture that doesn't extend to the Church. Gender roles are not on that list. Gender roles, instead, are declared and affirmed in the New Testament. So my question would be, "At what point do we declare, based on modern ideas, that God's Word is no longer applicable?" I'd be very, very cautious answering that question with anything beyond "Never!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Last Thing

As it turns out, my cousin, Dan Heimbach, is a Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. My mom showed me a book he has written entitled True Sexual Morality which examines biblical sexual morality and how far we (as in "we Christians" even) have strayed from a biblical view on the topic. (By the way, contrary to "popular opinion", the Bible is not "all over the place" on the topic.) So, I asked Dr. Heimbach (it just seems odd to think of my cousin that way, but, hey, my brother has the same title, so why should it seem funny?) about some of the content (which I'll blog about later). It's always interesting when you can ask the author of a book, "What did you mean here when you said ...?" Then I asked him to take a look at my blog at the posts about divorce and remarriage and give me his input. (You know ... a "professor of Christian Ethics" ought to have input on the ethics of divorce and remarriage from a Christian point of view. He did.) It was a pleasant and interesting conversation and he confirmed largely what I wrote. Then I asked him my "tough question" and, as it turned out, his reply matched precisely my view. He noted, however, that I never gave my view on that question in my blog. So, since I failed to comment on it before and since he encouraged me by concluding as I did ... here it is.

If you've read my blog, you know that I believe that divorce is wrong. I see no grounds for any Christian to initiate a divorce. (I'm not talking about things done to you. I'm talking about divorcing someone.) As such, you would conclude that remarriage is off the table, and you'd (largely) be right. However, years ago when I was researching the subject (in Scripture), I came across this:
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. (1 Cor 7:27-28).
Now, I'm not shy about taking hard stands, so if Scripture teaches "Thou shalt not ever remarry" then I'd take that stand. But here I run up against something ... else. Here I run up against my "tough question".

The subject is marriage. Paul suggests (not "commands") that no one get married because times are tough and marriage is a distraction. Fine. He mentions in 1 Cor 7:10-16 that a Christian spouse should stay with a non-Christian spouse, but that if that non-Christian spouse leaves, "the brother or the sister is not under bondage." So here we are at verse 27 with the same language. "Are you bound to a wife?" Paul compares two conditions in which you might find yourself. You may be married ("bound to a wife") or you may be divorced ("released from a wife"). I say divorced because of the language of the text. You can't be "released" if you were never "bound". You can be "free", but not "released". That term requires a previous binding. So Paul says, "If you marry, you have not sinned." (He also lays out the third possibility -- unmarried. If a virgin marries, she hasn't sinned either.) The sentence "If you marry, you have not sinned" refers to someone in the previous verse. Clearly we can eliminate the married person, leaving us with the "released" person. This person was told "Do not seek a wife" and then comforted: "But if you marry, you have not sinned."

So, where does that leave me? I believe that there are no grounds for divorce to the Christian. I have already eliminated adultery and desertion. No grounds at all. I still hold that no Christian should ever under any circumstance initiate a divorce. So what do I do with this new "tough question"? When I read the previous passage (1 Cor 7:10-16), I notice a lack of action on the part of the believer. They don't do anything. They don't divorce the non-believer. They don't make them stay. "Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases" (1 Cor 7:15). I would hold, then, that, while I still maintain that no Christian should ever initiate a divorce and while it is best to remarry the spouse who left if possible, I would hold that a Christian who is divorced by a non-Christian is allowed to remarry (as long as the new spouse is a believer).

Now, these are very limited conditions and not optimum, I would argue, but I find this the only way to make sense out of the passage as it is written. So, as I've contended in the past, Christianity (like life) is not cut and dried. And, once again, I find myself walking a very thin line. But, that's how I see it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Snapshot Living

(h/t to my friend Dan)

I like taking pictures. They're snapshots in time, suspending that moment eternally (so to speak). The picture never changes. Yet, as any photographer can tell you, the converse is also true. That particular, exact moment will never happen again. I saw a piece on a photographer that spent 30 years photographing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. You see, in all that time there were so many different faces of the bridge that it never got old. So while life around the picture changes continuously, the pictures never change.

There is a sense in which we tend to view life as a photograph. We seem to think that what is now has always been and will always be. We don't think in terms of a continuum, an ongoing, ever-changing sequence. And depending on how much we "get out", we tend to think that all places are like the place we live. Now, the older you get, the less you see things that way because, well, you have a longer "snapshot" in your memory banks. Experience tends to "stretch out" that snapshot of life. The ones that really suffer the most from what I call "snapshot living", then, are the young people -- those with the least time and experience in life.

What are the effects of snapshot living? There are a variety of effects, I'm sure. One is that we think "What is now has always been and will always be." You can see this in movies and television. They will shoot period pieces as if the culture then was the same as it is now. Well, besides movie makers and television shows, people think that way. Women have always hated being housewives, don't you know? Getting married at 30 has always been the norm. Men have always feared commitment. And people who had kids before the age of 25 have always been irresponsible. Conversely, children have always been as they are today -- wiser than adults, disruptive, headstrong, out of control. Teenagers have always been the same. In other words, "What is now has always been and will always be."

The corollary is "What is now is good." I recently heard the term "chronological snobbery". That's the idea here. "What is now is certainly good." Now, I'm using absolutes here, but I'm speaking in general, not absolute. It's better today because we have legal abortion and they didn't in the past. It's better today because we have no-fault divorce and they didn't in the past. We've gotten wiser than our ancestors because we now know that sex is meaningless entertainment to be enjoyed by anyone at any time and they didn't. It's now, so it's better. There is a commercial put out by the makers of Shredded Wheat. It's intended as humor, sure, but it is more true than anyone likes to think. The idea is this: "Where has Progress taken us?" They are advertising that they've remained the same as always ("We put the 'no' in innovation"), but the question still hangs there. We tend to assume that progress has gotten us where we are and that's good. Life is better now than it used to be because we have television and computers and the Internet and cellphones and all that wonderful technology, that we're better off now in our worldviews and political philosophies. Our relationship, marriage, and parenting skills are far better now than they've ever been. Tell me ... how did those ancients even survive without it? The answer, of course, is "Just fine, thank you."

Two things about snapshot living. First, what is now has not always been and will not always be. In fact, it is my suspicion that you don't have to wait very long for it to change. The one thing that has always been, it seems, is change -- not the status quo. Second, what is now is not necessarily good. Some of what we've left behind is a sad loss. I recently heard a news story about a small town that had one of their own come home from the conflict in Iraq as a quadriplegic. The town pulled together to prepare for his return. They built an addition to his parents' house so he'd have a place to live. They kicked in time, money, and effort to make his return comfortable and "home". Why? Because he was one of theirs. Of course, that sense of community is something we've largely jettisoned in our modern times. That's why it was ... news.

It's very difficult to see things outside of your own time. It's hard to realize that it hasn't always been. It's difficult to understand that it won't always be. And it's very hard to keep in mind that it may not be better. That includes lots of things. The real trick is reasonably and fairly examining them and seeing it for what it is. Is our government better than it was? Is our child-rearing better than it used to be? Are we treating people better than we used to? Because we live the way we do, is it necessarily better than simpler times? Are the values we hold today better than the ones of yesterday? Are we headed for better times? I'll let you do that on your own.

(Mom ... "h/t" means "hat tip", indicating a "thank you" to my friend Dan. We had a discussion about this that spawned my post. Just clarifying for people like my mom who may not understand some blog lingo.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mulling it over

I've been thinking it over further (and conversing with others). I think I need to point out a couple of things that didn't come across in earlier conversations.

I have maintained that the commands in places like Leviticus 20 carry two components. One component is the law -- "This is illegal" -- and the second component is the penalty -- "This is what should be done about it." I have maintained that I don't get to carry out the penalty; that's the job of the government. My job is to obey the law. Now, since the government is no longer a theocracy (as it was in Leviticus), the government no longer carries out most of the penalties listed there. That's not my problem. I have maintained that the failure of the government to carry out those penalties in no way nullifies whether or not the law is still in effect. As long as the law isn't repealed, it is still "illegal" even if the penalty isn't carried out.

One question you will hear (I know because it has been thrown my way) is "Oh, so, you would be willing to kill homosexuals since God says that they get the death penalty?" That really misses the point. Like I said, the penalty was never the task of the rank and file. It was the task of the governing authorities. Even Old Testament law included such things as trials. Death penalty offenses required two or more witnesses. That is, those two witnesses didn't get to simply go out and kill whomever was doing the capital offense. There was a governmental authority that carried out the penalty. So ... no, I am not willing to ignore the government that Paul says I am supposed to honor (Rom 13:1) to carry out a penalty I am not authorized to carry out.

Of course, the skeptic won't leave it at that. "But ... if you were told by God to kill everyone in a particular town, including men, women, and children, would you do it?" My friend pointed out how similar that was to when the Pharisees brought the woman "caught in adultery" to Jesus. "She was caught! Are you going to kill her?" They weren't interested in justice or morality. (If they were -- and she was genuinely caught -- where was the guy?) No, no, this wasn't a matter of obeying the law. This was a matter of attempting to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place. Jesus didn't do them the favor of getting cornered. Instead, He responded with the truth. "He who is without sin cast the first stone." And I end up in a similar situation. If God told me to do something like that (and it was undeniably God speaking as it was when God spoke to Moses, for instance, and I didn't sin by failing to obey and God didn't stop me like He did Abraham) (in other words, lots of "ifs"), it seems to me that I've boiled it down to a simple question. Do I obey God or don't I? The really baffling question is the reverse. To you who are questioning, do you not? God Himself tells you in some undeniable way to do something and you say, "No!"? I know. I'm regarded as the loon because I would like to think I'd do what God commands me. Somehow, to me, deciding to intentionally, in advance, willfully refuse a command from God is more ... insane.

One other thing that I was mulling over regarding the incident was the series of events that led up to Numbers 31's "kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him." You see, this isn't an event in a vacuum. This was from Moses under God's command. "Yeah, sure, how would I know that?" This was the guy who showed up in Egypt and brought about 10 plagues. He's the guy that told Pharaoh, "Thus says the Lord, 'Let My people go.'" He's the guy that told them to pack before anyone was released. He's the one who parted the Red Sea. That's not something you see every day. He's the one who had them gather around Mount Sinai where God Himself descended and spoke to Israel. Most people don't know this, but the 10 Commandments weren't given first to Moses. They were spoken first by God to Israel. Their response? They told Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die" (Exo 20:19). Moses is the one who went up to the mountain and spoke with God. He's the one who had to cover his face because the time he spent with God face to face was visible ... and scary. Every message from God came through Moses. He was the one who gave them manna and quail and water at God's command. Well, the list is long and not minor. No, Moses didn't ask them in a vacuum, "Hey, guys, if you're not doing anything, how about killing these people?" No, no. He was the undeniable representative of God. The rebellion of Korah was just a few chapters ago where God opened up the earth and swallowed 250 people. So ... given all that, are you going to say, "No, I don't think so."?

Sometimes I wonder about people and their questions. When did God decide that that which was abominable to Him before is now okay? When the government stopped enforcing the law? Why would I think that I should kill people who violate God's law? Was it ever thus? And why -- really -- why would anyone ask whether it's a good idea to do what God says or not? Sometimes I just don't get it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

June 20, 2009

Look at that! So intent on what I was writing was I that I completely missed my anniversary!

Oh, no, not my wedding anniversary; my blogging anniversary. On June 20 I entered my 4th year of blogging. In that time I've registered 1,144 entries in my attempt to enter something every day. (I haven't quite succeeded. Three years including a leap year would be 1,096 entries, so, while I have missed a day or two, I'm pretty much where I intended to be.)

In the last year I've had slight variations in readership, up to 500 or so on a good week and down to just under 200 or so on a bad week. I'm not turning any heads -- not making a splash in the blogosphere -- but I can't complain. I don't know 200 people who would read my blog. So I'm satisfied with that.

I made more than a few posts on some of my favorite topics. I had 11 posts on the "same-sex marriage" debate, 6 more on homosexuals in general, and 6 on Global Warming. Apparently I do enjoy humor because I've tagged 13 posts as humor in the last year. There were 10 posts on marriage, starting with a post about my son getting married last June. And, of course, I'm a big fan of Reformed Theology as evidenced by some 16 posts on the topic. Now, I'm not a big fan of politics, but I still posted 16 entries with that tag in the last year. Of course, you have to realize that June of 2008 to November of 2008 was the presidential race, so that's a large reason why there would be so many. Interestingly (at least to me), my last post labeled "politics" was October 31, 2008. You see, when the race ended and the winner was announced, I was pretty much done with the topic. Pretty much. I did a 4-part series on "Doing Church" and a 2-part series on "Biblical Elders" and I started a series of posts titled "Are you sure you want to go there?" because I figured they wouldn't win me any friends. (Lucky for me I'm not here to win friends.)

Comments were livelier this past year. I've had some friendly discussions with an atheist who goes by the name DagoodS. Well, mostly friendly. I'm not complaining. And when I wrote my post on The Church and the Military, it brought Dan Trabue out for the first time. Anyone who has followed this blog for any time at all (along with its comments) would likely recognize that name. Dan and I have had many lively conversations -- most of them friendly. I always enjoyed a good dialog with Von, too. He sometimes disagreed, sometimes agreed, and sometimes expanded on what I had said, so all of those conversations were generally friendly. Other commenters kept coming back, and I appreciated them. I now actually have a personal friendship with Dan of The Bumbling Genius. I have always read and enjoyed Neil's blog and appreciate his comments. New commenters include people I don't at all know. I've enjoyed hearing from Ruth from time to time and Sherry (who doesn't apparently blog, but always has fun things to say). Starflyer started up (whom I do know) and I finally figured out who "srp" is. And there are a whole bunch of you out there that I'm not naming by name but greatly appreciate when you leave me a comment. (Please don't feel slighted that my addled old brain can't call your name to immediate remembrance.) All comments are read and appreciated. Some of you have really encouraged me. Some of you have made me think (and rethink). I really appreciate those. I'm encouraged that, despite posts on such hot topics as "same-sex marriage", "Homosexuals", and the obviously dangerous theme of "Are you sure you want to go there?", I've had nothing I'd classify as "hate mail", either in comment or email form. I don't know if that's because I'm not widely read or that I'm just such a lovable guy that ... okay, never mind the latter. But I'm not complaining. Whatever the reason, I'm glad not to deal with that.

I don't really have any way of gauging, in the end, whether or not I've actually approached my goal. It was not simply my goal to have a forum in which to vent my ideas. It was my hope that people would benefit from it. Maybe they'd be challenged. Maybe they'd be encouraged. Some benefit. I can't know if that is happening, but I pray that it is. So I'll press on to Year 4 and see where this takes us.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Smoke

We've all heard it, I'm sure. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" (1 Cor 6:19). It's the common verse thrown at you used to argue against smoking cigarettes. It is a wholly illogical argument, but certainly the most common.

Why do I call it illogical? On two grounds. First, the text doesn't support it. What is Paul writing about? "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Cor 6:18). The topic is about joining with prostitutes (v 16), about how sexual immorality is a sin committed against the body (v 18). Why should you not sin against the body? "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" The text is about sex sins, not smoking. Second, if the reader was to stretch it out -- "Yeah, well, maybe, but still, if your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, you should treat it like a temple" -- it would need to go places you never intended it to go. What would it take to treat your body "like a temple"? Well, it would need purity. No smoking? Yeah, sure. But no Twinkies, either. No fatty foods, no artificial preservatives, no processed foods. Stop eating those horrid hamburgers. Do you have any notion of what they do to you? You had better start an exercise program and take a lot of vitamins. And, look, while we're at it, are you aware of the damage done to your body simply by living in a city? There is pollution, noise, and stress. Look, if you're going to treat your body like a temple, you had better move to someplace pure where there is clean air and no automobiles and only clean, pure food and ... no place you can imagine at all.

No, I don't think you can use that verse as a "thou shalt not smoke tobacco" command. It is out of context and makes no sense.

Now, having cleared that up for you all, how about if you help me out? The rest of the passage reads like this:
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19-20).
So, what do we have? What does it mean to "glorify God in your body"? We know he's not talking about "eat right and exercise." We know he's not telling you, "Buy a home gym and really get buffed up." We know he's not urging women to buy the best possible clothes. We're not talking about external matters. I suppose the hint is in the context -- avoid sexual immorality. But what does he really mean when he says, "glorify God in your body"? I ask because it seems more than the negative "avoid sexual immorality". It seems like a positive "glorify God in your body". I'd like to hear your take on that. What positive things can we do to glorify God in our bodies? It's Sunday. Come up with something.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Target Audience

Some time ago I had a cup of coffee with a reader of my blog who happens to live quite near me. (We've repeated it more than once. He's a neat brother in Christ and I enjoy the conversations.) He blogs, too, and during this conversation he shared with me that he had a hard time determining his target audience.

Now, I have to be honest. I hadn't spent a great deal of time thinking about exactly to whom I was writing. But his words keep echoing around in my head. Some of the lengthy dialogues I've had with some commenters has forced me to think it through even further. To whom am I writing? Now, I'm not suggesting that this would limit my readership. However, if I could pin down my target audience, perhaps it would help my readers understand me better. You know, something like this: "Well, I don't agree with his view, but I know he's writing to a different audience than me, so I shouldn't be surprised that we don't agree." Something like that.

So I finally have a grasp on who my target audience is. I have vague hopes that anyone can read what I write, understand it, and benefit from it. That, of course, is vague. But when I write, there really is, in the back of my head, a small audience in mind. It's not just "Christians" in general. I'm thinking of a select group of people who share certain values and beliefs. I aim what I write at people who believe in a core set of values that includes the belief that the Bible really is the Word of God, inerrant, the sole source on matters of faith and practice. When I write I don't think in terms of convincing people who do not think that is true. I think in terms of people who agree and might have missed "this" or "that" possible truth therein. I write from this perspective: "You and I agree that God breathed the words of Scripture in such a way that they are true, without error. You and I agree that we need to live our lives in accordance with those words. So ... I wonder if you've ever seen this?"

Like I said, anyone is free to read. I think I've made that abundantly clear. But maybe, just maybe, those of you who read my blog and don't agree with that basic set of beliefs can begin to understand why you don't agree with me at times. It might change your questions. Hopefully it will improve your understanding. Well, I can hope, can't I?

Friday, July 17, 2009

What Women Wear

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness (1 Tim 2:9-10).
I seem to be the odd-man-out on the topic of women wearing gold. Not to worry. I'm not surprised. I'm kind of used to it. They all tell me that this, indeed, is a very clear statement about what women should and should not wear. "Yes!" they assure me, "Paul was making a fashion statement in the middle of the passage on men praying and women not exceeding their authority." (Of course, most will also assure me that the whole thing about women and authority is also no longer an actual command, so we are free to toss that one.)

I seem to have a somewhat unique take on the passage. Here's what I see. I see Paul saying, "I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing. What kind of clothing am I talking about? No, no, I'm not talking about braids or gold or garments. I'm talking about the clothing of character. Women should be best known for modesty and discretion, for godliness and good works." To me that's all that makes sense.

I suggested in a comment section that if Paul was actually making a fashion call here, it would seem to me that it's a call to nudity. "Don't wear anything!" Of course, I intended that as hyperbole, but then I came across Peter's parallel and was surprised to find the very same thing. Speaking to wives he says:
Your adornment must not be external -- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on clothing; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:3-4).
The King James Version inserts "fine" in front of "clothing" and the New American Standard inserts "merely" in front of "external", but neither word appears in the actual text.

So what do we see? First, we see that Peter and Paul are in agreement, whatever they are saying. Women should adorn themselves with godliness. What else? Well, if we are looking at an agreement between Peter and Paul in making a fashion statement, then what exactly has Peter said? "Do not adorn yourself externally with braids or jewelry or clothing." My hyperbole from Paul becomes genuine text from Peter. So ... are we to conclude that Peter and Paul were commanding women to go about without clothing, or is it possible that the ever-popular "This passage clearly says women shouldn't wear gold" is perhaps not right at all? Is it remotely possible that both Paul and Peter were simply telling women "Adorn yourselves with godliness" in contrast to "outward appearance"?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Democracy Kills

I am generally a fan of democracy. It has its difficulties as does any human government, but I think it has the least difficulties. So don't understand this to hear me say that I'm against democracy. That having been said, there are, in my view, applications of democracy that can be ... fatal.

According to the New York Times, "The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to open the door to consecrate more bishops who are openly gay." There has been, until now, a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops in an apparent attempt to calm the conservative side of the Anglican Communion. They voted to end that moratorium.

According to the article, the delegates "characterized the action not as an overturning of the moratorium, but as simply an honest assertion of 'who we are.'" You see, in their church organization, the function of the delegates is to be a "democratic decision-making" structure. In other words, the delegates of this convention for the Episcopal Church vote on what the Church believes, and they do so based on whatever their members want them to vote. Since the Episcopal Church has "has hundreds of openly gay laypeople, priests and deacons", then obviously you vote to do what they want.

Most of the Times article is about intrachurch relationships. Will this create a rift between conservative Anglicans and liberal? Of course it will. But that's not my major concern. No one seems to have noticed, here, but I don't find anything in my Bible about the Church being a democracy. From beginning to end, the Bible represents the people of God (genuine followers of God) as determining what they should believe and do by asking God, not by popular vote. "Vote" has nothing to do with "morally upright" or "correct".

In the article, they quote David Virtue, editor of VirtueOnline.org, a conservative Web site as saying, “The orthodox are finished.” In the case of the Episcopal Church, he's right. When "truth" is determined in the church by vote ... when democracy determines polity, practice, and doctrine ... then democracy has killed that church. Stay tuned for more death and decay.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Innocent Blood

A popular assertion that has been raised multiple times in the dialogues from some of my posts is the claim that "The Bible forbids the shedding of innocent blood." It is complete, clear, overt, undeniable. I think that most any Christian who would read that claim would likely simply nod his/her head and agree. The subsequent claim, then, is that "There must be 'innocent blood' for this command to be valid." And that was what brought me up short. You see, if there is genuine innocence, then we have some very hard conclusions to deal with. First, of course, we'd need to deny the historically orthodox view of Original Sin. Okay, fine. If we must, we must. But, second, we'd have to admit that Paul was wrong when he said, "There is none righteous" because, well, there is. So either he was in error or he didn't actually mean what he said. Then there's the whole issue of abortion. Frankly, I'd have to back off my opposition to abortion. I mean, if 2 million babies a year are being sent straight to heaven, it's frankly the biggest gain for Christ of all time. If some 40 million children were saved since 1973 without having to evangelize them, how could that be a bad thing? I mean, I doubt you'll find such large numbers among the living in the last 36 years turning to Christ.

So I decided to see what my Bible says. Are there actually commands forbidding the shedding of innocent blood? Or are we, once again, taking other people's word for it? As it turns out, there are.

The phrase "innocent blood" is first seen in Deut 19. The command is pretty straightforward: "So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance" (Deut 19:10). Well, folks, there you have it, plain and simple. The Bible forbids the shedding of innocent blood. Toss out Reformed Theology, rethink Paul's nonsense in Rom 3, and let's leave those poor abortionists alone, okay?

Now wait a minute. Before we start anything radical, there is a standard rule of thumb that you need to follow. It is so standard and so important that it can often be found repeated: "Context, context, context." What is the context of this command? Is it clear and out of the blue like "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination" (and therefore simply meant in a straightforward, face-value way) or is there context that explains what it means?

As it turns out, there is very clear context. The topic at hand (starting in verse 1) is the establishment of what was called "the cities of refuge". God commanded Israel that when they took over Canaan they were to "set aside three cities for yourself in the midst of your land" (Deut 19:2). The purpose of these three special places was this: "So that any manslayer may flee there" (Deut 19:3). A manslayer? Yes, someone who "kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously" (Deut 19:4). Someone, then, guilty of manslaughter, not murder. What was the problem? "Otherwise the avenger of blood might pursue the manslayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, because the way is long, and take his life, though he was not deserving of death" (Deut 19:6). "Innocent blood", then, has very clear context. It is someone "not deserving of death".

Notice that this phrase, "innocent blood", does not convey that the person was sinless. It doesn't suggest in the least that this person had never sinned or that he was not currently guilty of sin. And we all know that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23), so in God's terms there was actually no one who was of "innocent blood" since all are "deserving of death". This, then, was a law given to humans to prevent humans from putting to death people whom humans had no right to put to death. They may have violated God's law (Cosmic Treason) and deserved God's righteous judgment, but that wasn't an option given to Man. Humans were only given the option to enforce the penalties that God allowed for the crimes that God allowed, and if someone had not committed the crime for which they were being sentenced to death, they were classified as "innocent blood".

The theme goes throughout the Old Testament. In 1 Sam 19:5, Jonathan argues with his father, Saul, against killing David who had done nothing to Saul -- "innocent blood". David, then, was innocent of the accusations of treason against Saul ... not wholly "innocent blood". A common use of the phrase "innocent blood" was when people sacrificed their children to Molech. It wasn't a statement that these children (of whatever age) were guiltless. It was a statement that they were "not deserving of death" at the hands of those who killed them. In Deut 21 (and others) "innocent blood" references anyone who is murdered ... "not deserving of death".

There is a theme here. It is absolutely true that God forbids the shedding of innocent blood. No doubt. But "innocent blood" in this context (in every context I could find) was not a reference to sinlessness, but a reference to people who were killed by willful human beings and didn't deserve to be killed by willful human beings. It was a differentiator from people who were killed by human beings because they deserved to be killed (as in the case of God's commands regarding the death penalty in certain cases). Of those, God repeatedly says, "Their bloodguiltiness is upon them." Then guilt or innocence of blood simply referenced the right of humans ordained by God to execute someone. If they were guilty of a God-given violation, they were "bloodguilty". If they were not (even though they were all guilty of sin), they were "innocent blood".

Context, context, context. We often hear things that we take completely out of context and leave it lie. You know, things like "Judge not" because we've been told it so long that we just don't look anymore. The Bible is not to be read out of context. The Bible, if it is the Word of God, is to be read in the context of the entire Bible. If "innocent blood" means what the context appears to say it means, then we don't have a contradiction of Scripture (absolving God from error), of historical orthodoxy (absolving the Church from error), or the ramifications that would follow. Something to think about.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Integrity

As everyone knows, Al Gore is the high priest of the temple of Global Warming. By that I mean that he is the leading spokesman, the loudest voice, the one you think of first when you think of the topic. Most know, however, about the other side of the story. While Mr. Gore travels about the country in private jets and large SUVs to warn us about our "carbon footprint", his house is consuming 20 times the national average of natural gas and more energy in one month than the average American household in one year. There is a term for this: "Inconsistency". That is, while on one hand Mr. Gore is stumping to get all of us to save the planet by decreasing our consumption of fossil fuels, he continues a consumption of fossil fuels far beyond the average person he is chiding. "Oh," he says, "it's okay. You see, I'm paying other people to plant trees and such to offset my carbon footprint." But, Mr. Vice President, wouldn't it be more productive to decrease your own consumption and pay someone to plant trees?" You see, Mr. Gore is inconsistent. He preaches one thing but lives another. The upshot is one has to wonder if he actually believes what he preaches. Personally, it seems to me that until Mr. Gore levels the house he owns (not sells -- that would just mean someone else would consume all that energy), moves into a "green" home, travels in "green" transportation, and shows up at his speaking engagements in a Prius or, better yet, an electric car, I'm going to be hard-pressed to believe his yells of "Fire!" He is inconsistent, and for me it destroys his message.

There is a portion of American Christianity that is hard at work trying to convince the rest of American Christianity that the primary job of the Church is to feed the poor. Okay, that's limited, but they're really interested in the social gospel, not the Gospel. They will point to passages like this: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God ... But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full" (Luke 6:20, 24). They ignore the fact that this does not say, "Help feed the poor" and use it to point out that poor people are important and rich people are ... wrong. The main problem is that the vast majority of those who are arguing that the poor are heaven-bound simply because they're poor and the rich are damned (no, sorry, they don't make that argument -- that would be too judgmental, too consistent) losers are themselves not poor nor willing to head that way. Indeed, they are generally middle-class Americans, among the richest people on the planet. Now, if they genuinely believed that poor folk were inheritors of the kingdom of God, why is it that they aren't striving to become poor folk? They're perfectly happy urging others to surrender their worldly goods so these poor folk will no longer be poor (which, if you believed that the poor would inherit the kingdom of God, would be a bad thing, right?), but they don't actually plan to become one of the walking poor themselves. They are inconsistent, and for me it destroys their message.

Every good Christian knows this fabulous verse. In fact, likely all I have to tell you is the reference and you'll be able to quote it: Romans 8:28. That's right. "God works all things together for good to those who love Him." Great verse. Wonderful promise. It's not a contract; it's a promise. God does it. It doesn't require anything of you. God does it. How easy can it be? And yet, every good Christian would likely have to admit if he was to be honest that when unpleasant events occur, our first response is not "Wow! I wonder what good God is going to work this into! I can hardly wait to see!" We know that we are commanded to "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2) , but we don't, do we? Some better than others, for sure, but as a whole we're just not so good at this. You see, we are inconsistent, and for me it destroys the message.

"Consistency" is the concept I've been waving, but there is another term, a better term. If you took basic math in high school, you learned the term, "integer". An integer is a whole number. It has no fractions, no decimals. It is one number. It isn't a part of another number. If you take the number 1.5, for instance, it's midway between 1 and 2. It is, in a sense, part of two numbers. Integers are whole numbers in themselves. The word is also the source of our word and concept, "integrity". Integrity is technically "The quality or condition of being whole or undivided." You have integrity when your entire life is whole ... undivided. When your life and your beliefs and your words all line up, you are a whole, you are consistent, you have integrity. That's why there's no plural for the word. It references only one.

What about you? Are you a person of integrity? Does your life match what you say you believe? Does your life match what you say? Are you consistent in what you preach and what you do? If not, are you aiming for it? Are you aware that a lack of integrity goes a long way to destroying the message? Something to think about.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Challenge of Contradictions

Biblical proof that a true believer can lose his or her salvation (feel free to skim this for now):
"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!'" (Matt 7:19-23).

"All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt 10:22).

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:9-13).

"The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:46).

Then He told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down'" (Luke 13:6-9).

To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:1-6).

But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off (Rom 11:20-22).

No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor 9:27).

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation -- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Col 1:21-23).

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:18-20).

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons (1 Tim 4:1).

But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast (Heb 3:6).

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first (Heb 3:12-14).

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace (Heb 6:4-6).

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-31).

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (2 Peter 2:20-22).

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position (2 Peter 3:17).

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2:24).

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and His angels (Rev 3:5).

And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Rev 22:19).
Biblical proof that a true believer cannot lose his or her salvation (again, you can skim this for the moment):
If the LORD delights in a man's way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand. For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones. They will be protected forever (Psa 37:23-28).

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14-16).

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24).

"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day. For My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:37-40)

"You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:26-30).

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever (John 14:16).

Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with Him in his resurrection...Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him (Rom 6:3-5, 8).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all -- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:28-39).

...for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Rom 14:4).

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful (I Cor 1:7-9).

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession -- to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:13-14).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8-9).

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30).

... being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

... who has saved us and called us to a holy life -- not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Tim 1:9).

... but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:24-25).

"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Heb 8:12).

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:11-12).

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Heb 13:5-6).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade -- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

We know that anyone born of God does not practice sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him (1 John 5:18).

To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy-to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (Jude 24-25).
Okay, there are two lists here. (I'm sure there are more on both sides, but these are substantive lists, I think.) So, here's your assignment, if you dare. Your job is to make these two lists fit each other. There are rules. You can't discard passages because they don't fit your view. You can't place extra weight on passages just because they fit your view. You have to read these passages with equal simplicity. That is (for instance), if you're going to read "imagery" into one group because they just don't fit, then you'll need to read "imagery" into your favorites as well. In other words, as far as you possibly can, take them all at face value. And keep in mind that these passages have been in the Bible for as long as it has been written, and believers have concluded that there are no genuine contradictions, which suggests that my challenge is possible to achieve. (Hint: Go from the explicit to the implicit. Something that may be implied could be untrue if it goes against something that is explicitly stated in Scripture.)

You see, it is my belief that more often than not you (Christians in general) have taken the passages that agree with your view and concluded that your view is right, but you have not ever examined all the other passages that contradict your view to see how they agree. The view you end up with should be a view that agrees with all of these Scriptures, not discounting, minimizing, or glossing over some. If you're a person who takes your Bible seriously, I would hope that you would seriously consider taking up this assignment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Interpreting the Bible

It's called "hermeneutics", and it's the method by which we interpret the Bible. Any text, actually, but used most often in terms of the Bible. There are a variety of approaches applied to interpreting the Bible.

The Bible as folklore

This view approaches the Bible as a collection of tales told around the campfire. No, I'm exaggerating, but the idea is that over time people passed on stories to entertain, to explain, to instruct, and so on. These were largely oral stories. They obviously would change with the repeating, and in time it would become nearly impossible to tell which stories were somewhat accurate and which ones were fables made up to make a point. Eventually, however, people started writing these stories down to preserve them over time and now we have them in book form. There is no real way to tell what is accurate, inaccurate, fable, or myth. But they do make a nice set of stories.

The Bible as a teaching tool

This view is somewhat similar to the "folklore" approach, but with a little more ... reverence. This idea says that the Bible is a compilation of teachings for the instruction of the believer. The compilation includes legend and allegory and folklore and anecdotal pieces, but the purpose of the book is to teach. Therein lies the difference between this and "folklore". In folklore, that which is passed on is a gathering of fiction and fact (and, of course, modified fact) just to connect with the past. As a teaching tool, however, the Bible would be viewed as having a purpose -- to teach. Studying the Bible from this view would require the student to find the lessons. The actual stories and words are simply the medium. What you're really looking for is "What is it trying to teach me?" Whether or not there was a Creation or even a Jesus, you could on one hand dismiss the content as fabrication while, on the other hand, still finding it a valuable teaching tool for principles of living.

The Bible as a history book

Here is a somewhat "higher" approach. The assumption is that genuine history was trying to be passed along. As in folklore, it was likely history that has been ... modified with the telling, but it is, by and large, intended to be an adequate historical accounting. The view is to the history of Judeo-Christian religious thought over time.

In this view, the authors are simply humans with a goal to pass on the history of the religion. If they made mistakes, it was just to make a point. If they added information (such as "This is attributed to Paul") that wasn't accurate, it was simply to make the point. Some of the material is made up ... to make the point. Some is borrowed from other cultures ... to make the point. Some is entirely accurate. The goal, however, is simply to trace the history of the Judeo-Christian religion. As such, they may be historically inaccurate, but are spiritually significant.


The Bible as the Word of God

This approach takes the Bible literally. It is important to understand the term "literally". It doesn't mean "word for word at plain face value." That's unfair to any writing. It means "as written". The Bible contains poetry that should be read as poetry and historical narrative that should be read as historical narrative and proverbial texts that should be read as proverbs and doctrinal passages intended for doctrine and so on. The underlying approach of this view is that the Bible is "God-breathed". That would mean that humans wrote it (injecting their own personalities, word choices, etc.), but God superintended it making sure it said what He intended. In this view, then, the only possible errors would be copy errors as opposed to factual errors. The content is taken as written and assumed to be true as written.

What does this look like?

Examine, for a moment, how these approaches handle various events. How about Creation? In the Word of God approach, that story says that God created the known universe and all that is in it. (Various people differ over the meaning of words like "days", but in the literal approach, God created it all.) In the historical approach, God created all that is, but there's no reason He couldn't have done so by, say, evolution. The point is that God was part of the original history. As a teaching tool, it wouldn't matter at all if God actually created the known universe. What is important is that from the beginning of time (whatever that means) God has been active. The text is likely myth intended to teach us that. In the folklore view, it doesn't matter. It's the same as any other ancient culture's story of where things came from. The American Indians have their stories. The Bible has its story. It's just stories.

How about the parting of the Red Sea? The Word of God view would say, "God parted the Red Sea just like it says. A genuine miracle." The historical approach would say, "There wasn't likely a miracle involved. Maybe a wind blew the water off the Reed Sea or some other natural phenomenon. The point is that God watched over Israel in history." The teaching tool approach would say, "It doesn't really matter whether anything like it even remotely occurred. It just tells us that God is watching over us." And the folklore version would dismiss it as a very thrilling fairy tale, good for the movies, perhaps, but not much else.

Well, that's the (extremely) short version. There is obviously a whole lot more that goes into biblical interpretation, and it obviously makes a huge difference if you approach this book as a divine book or not. Perhaps, though, you can begin to see that your premise of interpretation will have a massive effect on your understanding of the Bible.