Tag Archives: bible

Jesus Came to Save Us from the Bible

I’m guest posting for Micha Boyett today, who happens to be one of my favorite bloggers AND has a fantastic new book coming out in a month. I’m writing on Micha’s blog about an unexpected lesson I learned about Jesus’ uneasy relationship with scripture while working on my new book Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus.

Here’s a preview:

Following the Bible’s teachings on the Sabbath can be exhausting.

Seeking the freedom of scripture can lead to bondage.

Drawing near to the teachings of scripture can lead us further from God.

This is the paradox Jesus faced in the Gospels. It’s a tension that runs throughout the many stories where ordinary people, experts in the law, and religious/political leaders rejected the allegedly “heretical” teachings of Jesus in favor of their take on the Law.

They had an air-tight systematic theology that was supposed to keep them from error. They never thought that their greatest barrier between themselves and God would be their reading of Scripture itself.


My Least Favorite Gospel Stories: The Unappealing Bread of Life

Gospel-stories-JesusDuring Lent we’re often disciplining ourselves to undertake challenges, to give up things we like, and to dig deeper into spirituality. I have some plans to cut back on my screen time, but I also wanted to give up something else: my comfort—particularly my comfortable theology.

As I worked on my book Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus, I had to confront one difficult gospel story after another. At one point I quipped that I was basically writing about all of my least favorite gospel stories. Then I thought: Why not spend some time working through a few of them during Lent?

This week I want to open the series with the story of Jesus and his statement in John 6 that he is the bread of life in Capernaum’s synagogue:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’” John 6:53-58, NIV

Am I the only person who has a hard time “swallowing” this teaching?

* * *

Jesus had a lot on the line when he advocated something that sounds a lot like cannibalism. He’d just multiplied bread in the wilderness for the 5,000 and then he followed that up by calming a storm in front of his followers. The people were practically ready to crown him king. His disciples were finally starting to catch on that that Jesus had something of the divine about him.

Things were starting to line up. Jesus’ popularity was starting to peak. The only thing that could ruin it now would be alienating the people.

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He shared a teaching that was so confusing, confounding, and flat out offensive that the crowds fled from him and even his disciples considered bailing on him.

As hard as Jesus is to understand in this passage, it’s equally confusing why he would alienate such a large number of people.

Christians today measure the success of pastors by how many people they attract, not how many they drive away.

As I’ve wrestled with this story, I’ve found that perhaps the place to start is with preceding stories. The people were prepared to make him king after witnessing his miracle. It’s possible that Jesus tried to make his popularity take a nose dive. At the very least, he knew that they were operating under assumptions that didn’t have the whole truth in mind.

Nevertheless, I wonder if Jesus could have gone a little easier on them.

* * *

Every time the disciples caught a glimpse of the true identity of Jesus, he ratcheted things up a notch. When Peter declared Jesus the Messiah, Jesus told him about his coming death and resurrection. When the disciples saw Jesus calm a storm, he dropped the bomb about eating the bread of life.

To a certain degree, Jesus was drawing a line in the sand. Who or what would they rely on and trust in?

It’s tough for us to capture the implications of bread for his audience. Bread made up a significant portion of many diets, especially among the poor. Grain was easily transported and stored. The Romans shipped in grain in order to keep the common people of their capital city fed. They even gave grain away sometimes because it was better to keep people satisfied with the status quo than for them to starve and rebel.

Bread was an essential part of daily life for many in Jesus’ audience. Without bread, many of them would starve.

Mixed with his contemporary situation, Jesus also called on the Exodus story where the Lord fed the people. In a very real sense, the people were depending on God alone for their daily bread.

At the center of this story is a message of dependence—who will we look to for our daily provisions and for life?

Much like the water of life that Jesus spoke of to the woman by the well in John 4, Jesus spoke in terms of consuming something in order to experience life. We don’t mind a metaphor about drinking living water, but once we start speaking of eating his body and blood, we’re entering into imagery that is hard to digest.

The people in Jesus’ audience relied on a variety of things to sustain themselves. They relied on hard work, political parties, and religious practices. They had fears and anxieties about the future. They wanted a Messiah to take care of their needs, but they were hardly in tune with what the Messiah wanted. If anything, they were ready to sprinkle a little bit of Messiah into their daily struggles, making life more peaceful, certain, and meaningful. They weren’t ready to completely rely on Jesus.

While we could say a lot about the images Jesus used in this story, especially how they relate to communion, I find it most helpful to look at this story with a big picture view. Jesus wanted them to “feed” on him—depending on him alone. He was, at the very least, giving his listeners clues about spiritual life, even if there are other implications we could discuss elsewhere.

They could not find life by observing the law, following a religious leader, or pursuing a political party. They could only find life by getting Jesus into their lives. This is a story about the life of Christ dwelling within us, seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Each day I have a list of things I need. I need to make money. I need to be praised. I need to be noticed. I need people to help me. As my list of needs grows, it’s clear that I’m missing out on the “bread of life.” And I can only find the sustaining life of Christ by welcoming Jesus into my life.

As much as people used to depend on bread for life, so too must we depend on Jesus.

After receiving mountains of bread, they thought they had everything they needed. However, Jesus intended his statement about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” he was pointing them away from such a short-sited perspective.

They needed to find the life of God, and that life wasn’t imparted through bread in the wilderness. The life of God comes only to those who have Jesus living within them.

Do you have a least favorite Gospel story?

Share your story in the comments or write a post and share the link below.

Learn more about the Unfollowers in this story.

Why Obamacare Isn’t Paving the Way for the Antichrist

This is one of those blog posts that really shouldn’t have to be written.

Good News of Revelation addressing end times prophecyThere is yet another book about the book of Revelation that has risen from the sea (so to speak). It is full of speculation about current events and completely unwarranted biblical interpretation, adding additional confusion to the way well-meaning Christians read the book of Revelation and think about the end times. And just as I’m nearing the release of my co-authored book with Dr. Larry Helyer entitled The Good News of Revelation, I can’t resist writing about someone who differs with us so profoundly.

During an interview with the Christian Post, pastor Robert Jeffress associated the actions of President Obama with the antichrist in his book Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today, adding headline grabbing speculation that will surely help his book sales and win adulation from conservative pundits.

Obamacare paving the way for the antichrist, you say? We MUST know more.

Early in the interview, Jeffress tried to strike a conciliatory, reasonable tone. He used the word “if” in relation to the rapture, even if he gives the impression that he completely buys it. He comes across as a sincere believer who cares about evangelism and fighting the lures of materialism that draw us away from God.

This guy just wants to save the lost, right? He can’t be all that bad…

So far so good, but halfway through the first page of the interview, Jeffress finally tips his hand regarding his interpretation of Revelation and general worldview. He shares:

“We’re not going to prevent the ultimate destruction of this world, but I think we can delay it by pushing back against the evil that’s in the world. And the reason we want to push back, and give this world more time, is so that we have an opportunity to share the Gospel with more people.”

Ah, so there are two huge assumptions he’s making:

1. Revelation predicts the future destruction of our world.

2. God’s plan can be manipulated by our actions against evil (such as Democrats).

It’s nice that he wants more people to hear the Gospel. I do too. However, I also want the people who hear the gospel to learn accurate information about God.

“Accept Jesus before God blows the earth up!” Isn’t the most biblically accurate or effective line for an evangelist.

Shocker, right?

I suspect Jeffress also wants to take the Bible seriously, but in this case sincerity cannot compensate for accurate or responsible biblical interpretation. There are some very good reasons to reject his two assumptions about Revelation.

Revelation Doesn’t Predict the Destruction of the World

Yes, there are plagues, bowls of wrath, and horsemen galloping through the pages of Revelation. And yes, it sure looks like the world gets blown up and put back together. Even Peter predicted that the earth would be destroyed. Looks like an open and shut case, right?

Well, not so fast.

For starters, Revelation is a work of apocalyptic literature that doesn’t quite predict the future in ways we would expect. While it surely speaks to God’s future judgment and the restoration of the earth, it was written to seven suffering churches in Asia Minor. These are the Christians we often forget about when we jump right into forecasts and prophecies of the future.

Apocalyptic literature pulls back the curtain on spiritual events, so to speak, revealing the ongoing battle between good and evil. It offered an explanation to the burning questions suffering Christians were surely asking: If God is all-powerful, why does it look like Rome is winning? Will God ever defeat evil? When will God recognize our faithfulness and punish those who do evil?

We need to replace our timelines with a series of scenes or portraits that aren’t necessarily in chronological order.

The plagues, bowls of wrath, and even the visions of the antichrist provided a spiritual picture of present and future spiritual struggles. To a certain degree, the visions of Revelation are still taking place among us. And they will continue until the return of Christ.

The apparent “destruction” of the world is far more likely a dramatic recreation, a purifying with fire. In other words, God’s new creation will not take place after an unprecedented act of violence from God. The violent destruction of God’s creation, no matter how stained it is with sin, doesn’t fit with the Kingdom of God narrative where God is moving into this world and reading the fire of judgment as a refining process makes far more sense with the overall picture of scripture.

So while we can say that a new creation and restoration is coming and that it will look far different from anything we can imagine, Revelation hardly guarantees the destruction of the earth.

As to Jeffress’ second point…

Jesus Did Not Put America In Charge of the End Times

Jeffress’ second point assumes that evil must reach a certain peak before Jesus will return. It’s a Noah’s ark kind of theology—evil must become completely pervasive before God will intervene in the world. As such, God’s plan hinges on whether Christians, especially American Christians who can vote against Democrats, can uphold a moral standard in America and preach the Gospel to the lost.

It feels good to be so important. Gosh, God is watching you and me to see what he should do next.

Unfortunately for American exceptionalism, that narrative runs smack into the throne of God in Revelation. All eyes are on God and what will happen next. The martyrs crying out for justice aren’t saying, “How long American Christians? How long?” They’re addressing their pleas to God.

The sovereign, unknowable plan of God for our world is unmistakable in Revelation. God is sitting on the throne and everyone is looking to God, worshipping God, and waiting on God’s commands. We get a clear picture that God and the angels of God are moving together according to a greater plan to bring justice and restoration to our world, and there is nothing the Christians on earth can do about it.

In fact, we get the sense that the Christians in Revelation are telling God to get moving. If they were suffering persecution and struggling with the rise of false teachers, we can understand a little bit of the tension they faced.

At the center of Revelation is the dramatic scene where a woman gives birth to a child while a dragon waits to devour the child (Revelation 12). The child triumphs over the dragon, but that doesn’t stop the dragon from making war against the woman—most likely standing in for the people of God.

This drama in Revelation takes us away from a chronological prediction of the future, rather, John was once again revealing the spiritual realities behind the times of his audience, and most likely for our times as well. The battle between Christ and Satan culminated in the defeat of Satan through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but the church will still face trouble until the final return of Christ.

There is nothing we can add to the war against evil. Christ has already won and is sitting on the throne. While we play a role in advancing his kingdom by sharing the Gospel, healing those who suffer, and bringing justice to our world, there isn’t a divine scale in heaven that is tipping back and forth based on our actions that nervous little angels are watching as they pace back and forth.

Revelation is about worshipping the all-conquering Christ, not rallying conservative Americans to take back their country for God in order to stall the end times.

I wish I could end my response to Jeffress here, but his interview only goes downhill…


Obama’s Opening Act to the Antichrist

To be fair, Jeffress suggested that George W. Bush’s surveillance programs will surely play into the plans of the antichrist, but he reserved his most salacious remarks for president Obama. I’m going to quote extensively from the interview so that it’s clear I’m not taking him out of context:

“I want to be very clear, I am not claiming that President Obama is the Antichrist. In fact, I’m absolutely certain he is not the Antichrist. The reason I can say that is the Bible indicates the Antichrist will have higher poll numbers. But I do believe that the president is paving the way for a future world dictator.

The Bible says the seven years of history before the coming of Christ will be characterized by this world dictator that we commonly call the Antichrist. He will usurp people’s basic freedoms, such as speech, worship and commerce. He will launch an attack against God’s people. And he will seek to change God’s moral law, according to Daniel 7:25. And he will be able to accomplish all of these things with little to no opposition – at least at the beginning.”

He conveniently overlooks the Anti-Christ breeding ground of Europe and, gasp, Canada when he shares,

“How will the Antichrist be able to usurp such freedom without any opposition. And my answer is that people will have been conditioned to the giving up of their rights long before this final dictator comes. And I think you see that in President Obama.

You have to agree, whether you’re for or against Obamacare, that the president has successfully seized control of one-sixth of the nation’s economy, causing people to give up basic freedoms, like the freedom of the choice of a doctor and a health care provider.”

Besides his grossly irresponsible claims about Obamacare dictating one’s choice of a doctor, I mean healthcare companies already have a lot of power over who our doctors will be and which treatments we can receive (to say nothing of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions), Jeffress deftly grafts today’s American politics with his conspiracy theories about the end times and the identity of the antichrist. Once again, he provides an American-centric reading of the end times that aligns conservative politics with the will of God.

Oh, and since you’re wondering, the gays are also adding their fair share of bricks to the Antichrist’s road to world domination. Of course they are!

But hey, let’s give the gays a break for a minute because we have bigger fish to fry if Obama and Bush have indeed been preparing us for the antichrist. Let’s keep in mind that Jeffress isn’t talking about the war in Syria that has claimed the lives of thousands, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria or Pakistan, or the ongoing suffering of Christians in countries such as China. No, warfare and bloodshed aren’t the clues we’re looking for with the end times. We really need to just focus on U.S. domestic policy that imitates every other prosperous western nation by providing health care for its citizens through taxes.

Is it getting hot in here, of is that just the presence of Satan in the democratic party?

Even if this embarrassingly American-centric take on world events isn’t enough to discredit the interpretation offered by Jeffress, the Bible itself should do the trick. Let’s take a quick look at the Bible.

For starters, Daniel and Revelation never mention an Anti-Christ rising.

Daniel has this to say in chapter 7:

“He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.”

This section of Daniel is another example of highly symbolic apocalyptic literature written for Jewish exiles and Jews who returned to Israel under foreign rule. There is nothing here suggesting that the beast is the antichrist or that this chapter can be inserted into any kind of timetable with Revelation. If anything, it is referring to the Greek rulers of Israel who brutally persecuted Jewish believers, desecrated the temples, and tried to rid the land of Jewish culture altogether.

And just to be safe, let’s take a look at what Revelation has to say about the antichrist…

Well, not much! We only have another beast rising out of the sea (ho, hum) to meet the dragon—I would presume that Jeffress would identify the dragon as Satan and the beast once again as the antichrist. So, even if we want to turn Revelation into a chronology of the end times, it’s shockingly silent on the antichrist.

Rather, the beast rising from the sea is most likely a symbol of the Roman government and any other government that follows in Rome’s footsteps by oppressing its citizens and attacking God’s people. The description of the beast most likely refers to the seven hills of Rome: “The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.”

The beast also correlates with Rome in that Caesar was worshipped as God and Rome had conquered the known world to John and his contemporaries. “It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” The point is that Satan had empowered Rome, the beast, to attack God’s people, but those who ally themselves with Rome/the beast, will not be saved by God. The beast most likely stands in for any world government that demands our allegiance over God, and therefore we can say that there will be other beasts, but we should be very careful to allow our political ideology to influence who we accuse of being in league with the beast.

Nevertheless, the beast isn’t necessarily the same as the antichrist, so the burden of proof is on Jeffress for this one. The antichrist is only mentioned in John’s epistles. Here’s a quick survey:

1 John 2:18

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.

1 John 2:22

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.

1 John 4:3

but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

2 John 1:7

I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.


Who is the Antichrist? It sure looks like there’s a spirit of the Antichrist in the world and there are many antichrists among us. The problem isn’t that we should fear an antichrist to come. The problem is that we’re already working against a spirit of the antichrist in our world, and there will be times when people will embody that spirit in opposition to us.

It’s flat out irresponsible to suggest that the American political system plays such a significant role in the plans of God. While followers of Jesus are called to work for justice in our nation, to share the Gospel, and to wait for the return of Christ, such speculation that ignores the historical context of Revelation only obscures the meaning of scripture and confines our perspective within the American experience.


This Isn’t Over

I understand that I’m reacting to an interview with Jeffress about a much longer book. There may be some points he’d like to clarify within the pages of his book. That’s fair. I encourage people wrestling with this topic to read his book and give him a fair hearing.

However, I’ve grown up learning about the rapture, the tribulation, the antichrist, the one world government, and everything else Jeffress offers in his book. I know what he’s offering, and I don’t want it. I’ve taken time to read Jewish literature from the time of Revelation and worked on The Good News of Revelation with Dr. Larry Helyer, a life-long New Testament scholar. If anything, I hope that we have provided an alternative interpretation of Revelation that is worthy of consideration.

I’m certain that interpreters of Revelation will continue to speculate about the implications of the American political system for Bible prophecy just like Jeffress.

Today, I’m declaring that I’m tired of such irresponsible readings of Revelation. There are plausible, biblically grounded alternatives out there. Our book is just one of many. It’s my hope and prayer that Christians across America will learn to read Revelation with new eyes so that they can see the message of encouragement and hope about the justice and peace of God’s coming Kingdom. That is the good news of Revelation.


Learn more about the original meaning of Revelation and how it applies to us today:

The Good News of Revelation by Dr. Larry Helyer and Ed Cyzewski (kindle version is coming soon!).


Suggested Reading

Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael J. Gorman

The Apocalyptic Imagination by James Collins

Revelation for Everyone by NT Wright

Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation by Darrell W. Johnson


All scripture citations are from the NIV at BibleGateway.

The Myth of Apolitical Jesus

politics-JesusSilly liberals! Jesus wasn’t political! Do you read about him protesting outside of Pilate’s fortress? Did he sign petitions for Herod? Did he work to pass legislation protecting Israel’s streams, lakes, and underground water supply? Was Jesus concerned with fair wages for farm workers? Did he advocate for an 8-hour work week?

Let’s see… no, no, no, no, and… NO.

Jesus wasn’t political. Jesus didn’t concern himself with big government. Jesus advocated for personal responsibility. Jesus wanted people to strap on their sandals themselves and get to work!


The 33 A.D. Election in Israel

My little caricature here is over the top, but it’s not too far from what I hear sometimes in discussions with my fellow Christians about Jesus and politics. I hear that Jesus wasn’t political, that he worked outside the system, and that he was primarily concerned with the Kingdom of God.

There’s something true about all of that. I won’t dispute what we find in the Bible. I can’t point to a super secret passage that we’ve all been overlooking where Jesus lobbied for better insurance protection for fishermen. Jesus never ran for office, campaigned for new laws, voted in elections, or organized protests outside of the palaces of his rulers.

Fine. I’ll concede that point.

The big problem is that we take this observation and take it as the once and for all time blueprint for political engagement as followers of Jesus. The application is flawed because Jesus lived in a completely different time from our own.

Want to protest the personal decisions of king Herod? Ask John the Baptist how that worked out for him.

Care to propose a new law to Pilate? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind adding another person to his collection of crosses outside the city gate.

Want to vote in an election? How about just trying to not get speared by the occupying Roman army?

Jesus lived in the midst of a military occupation that installed puppet kings and governors who couldn’t care less about the plight of the people under their rule so long as the people didn’t rebel, continued to produce food for their storehouses, and paid their taxes.

There was no voting, no representation, and no way to express political will outside of hosting a rebellion—a surprisingly common tactic around the time of Jesus. In fact, everyone feared that Jesus was on the brink of launching a rebellion.

Jesus wasn’t involved in political activity like us today because that simply wasn’t an option.

Whether Jesus involved himself in activities that intentionally subverted the political systems of his time is a point that’s up for debate.

I think it’s quite possible that he took jabs at the power of Rome through his teaching to walk the extra mile with a Roman soldier’s pack as a way of countering abuses of power with an act of generosity. His comment about faith moving mountains may have referred to a power greater than Herod’s desert fortress that was built with mounds of earth and rock that formed a small mountain.

Jesus also took his shots at the Jewish authorities who were a blend of civil and religious power. When he overturned tables in the temple, he was acting out against the powers of his time.

However, we once again don’t have a modern equivalent for something like the Sanhedrin.


What Does Jesus Teach Us About Politics Today?

I’m often struck by the way Jesus invited a wide variety of political viewpoints into his camp of followers. There were working class, uneducated fishermen, revolutionaries, and tax collectors. The latter two may have had some sharp exchanges at times, but we never read anything about that.

There is an inescapable spirit of inclusiveness with Jesus, but nailing down a particular path forward for political engagement is frustrating. I don’t think we can make a compelling case for Jesus as a small government conservative or as a big government liberal.

The political system back then is so different from modern democracies that we’re left with a jumble of hypothetical scenarios.

This touches on a bigger issue of Biblical interpretation: How do we apply the Bible’s teachings in a different time to our daily decisions today?

While I don’t think we can use the Bible to create a political action plan that is beyond dispute, we should certainly use the Bible to inform the ways we vote, legislate, and govern. The challenge will be figuring out how to apply something like “Loving our neighbors as ourselves” to governing.

However, we could wander in confusion or we could use this lack of specificity as an invitation to let the Holy Spirit guide our imaginations. How is the Spirit leading you to love your neighbors?

You may be lead away from politics completely.

You may love your neighbors through a nonprofit organization.

You may work to pass fair laws for prisoners.

You may advocate for better environmental protection.

You may work within or outside of the government to end human trafficking.

You may take to the streets on your own to help anyone you can find.

I don’t see one political action plan from the Bible. I see Jesus advancing the Kingdom of God and welcoming people of every persuasion into his camp.

Christianity today can be big enough for all of us, whether we believe in big or small governments.

My bigger question is whether you’re being faithful to the lead of the Spirit as you love your neighbors.

I’ll support anyone who loves Jesus and is helping their neighbors inside or outside of the government. I just don’t buy that Jesus was apolitical. Jesus was most likely more political than we realize, but he also lived in a time when true political engagement was all but impossible for a common peasant from a no-name fishing community.

We can’t make one-to-one comparisons between the politics of Jesus and our politics today.

In one sense, that is a very, very good thing. We are free to serve others in the best, Spirit-led ways possible.

Postscript: My thanks to Zack Hunt whose blog post sparked a series of comments that helped inspire this post.

Millennials Need to Know Church MUST be Boring and Irrelevant

Millennial Prefers Coffee to BibleWay to go Millennials. You’ve destroyed Christianity.

That’s right: destroyed. You could have been content to sit in our churches keeping quiet and playing along, but now you’ve ruined Christianity by making church all about you.

Me, me, me, that’s all I ever hear from Millennials.

Church isn’t about what you want. It’s about what the older generations want. How could you be so selfish?

Millennials complain:

Oh, the sermon is too long! Why won’t you serve us communion???

That’s what all of the edgy, new fangled churches are doing these days.

Look, we’re committed to teaching the Bible. We’re not going to waste our time on a new innovation like serving communion every week.

We stick to our traditions, not some hip fad that you heard about in Brooklyn.

Oh, are you hungry? Eat a snack before church.

But that’s not the end of what I hear from millennials trying to destroy the church.

We want to go serve the poor?

Well isn’t that the cool and “relevant” thing to do? Looking to get a merit badge for Jesus? Want to stay in Awanna?

Look, we’ve got VBS and mission trips. Don’t like the looks of that? Why don’t you Instagram us a picture of you and your friends making sad faces.

Oh, you want to talk about the Kingdom of God instead of politics? Got an oversensitive BS meter, have we?

That’s just typical Millennial, self-centered nonsense that is code for: “Vote for Obama.” I’m so sick of Millennials supporting politicians who are just going to give them handouts.

Waaaa!!!! I can’t afford to pay off $80,000 in student loans!

Waaaa!!!! I need healthcare because I can’t find a job!

Waaaa!!!! My drinking water is polluted from natural gas fracking!

True American Christians recognize that our country is blessed by God. Not feeling blessed? Then you’re probably just an ungrateful socialist.

But then you millennials start complaining that our worship songs aren’t good enough for you. You don’t want something flashy. You want “substance.” Our lattes aren’t what YOU want?

Listen, church isn’t a party.

If you’re not slightly bored and a little depressed, then something is most certainly wrong. You’re all so worried about everything in life being a grand old time that you never stopped to ask: “Does everyone else like going to church?”

No. We most certainly don’t. Does that stop us? Not at all. That’s because it’s not about us.

Church should be irrelevant, long, and boring. Why do you think we serve fancy coffee???

We like it just like that.

Remember, it’s not about us. Church is about God. And we’re so committed to making church all about God and not about us that we need to shun anyone who calls us into question.

We’ve made a lot of sacrifices to make the church what it is today. We didn’t just write cranky blog posts or complain on Facebook. We broke away from the churches who were doing it wrong, read the Bible, and figured out how to do church right.

We do church this way because we care about the Bible. Do millennials really care about the Bible?

I think millennials care more about blogs, being trendy, drinking coffee with friends, and getting their way.

They used to be welcome in our church, but now it seems they don’t want to be there any more.

Want to complain about the ways church isn’t appealing to you?


We’ll do one better. We’re going to change all of our services to 6 am and card everyone at the door. Born after 1980? Out!

Want to write about why millennials are leaving the church?

I’ll give you a reason: we don’t want to listen to you.

Stop making the church all about you, millennials. You don’t get to have an opinion.

Why I Hate the Word “Inerrancy”

Bible-psalm-inerrancyCulture isn’t supposed to get the last word on how we read the Bible. I believe that and try to put that into practice. Many Christians do as well.

However, many of these Christians unknowingly fight for a doctrine that, in every way, is a product of a culture’s influence on the way we read the Bible.

I’m talking about inerrancy.

If there’s one thing I don’t want to do with the Bible, it’s to let secular culture tell me how to read a divinely inspired document. I am 100% committed to listening to the guidance of the promised Holy Spirit. While I am aware of the influence of my culture on how I read the Bible, I want to let the Spirit speak through scripture rather than letting my culture determine what I can and cannot believe.

Inerrancy has unintentionally allowed the standards of our culture to determine how we use the Bible, creating a demand on scripture that would only make sense for a modern science or historian.

A few weeks ago my friend Zack Hunt wrote a post about inerrancy that got my wheels spinning: see the original post and the follow up post.

When I first saw his post, I hesitated to link to it because I have my own thoughts about inerrancy that I wanted to share with any link to his post. It’s one of those doctrines that’s so delicate and complicated, that I dare not let anyone read into my own story based on a link that I share.

Does Inerrancy = True?

The primary problem with inerrancy for me is that it has been equated with the truth of the Bible. If you’re not 100% on board with inerrancy’s terms and categories, then you’re a godless liberal who is “deceiving the sheep.”

I’m sure someone will offer to “pray” for you.

I completely affirm the truth and trustworthiness of the Bible, but the concept of inerrancy troubles me. It’s incredibly hard to have a conversation about the Bible in which I both affirm the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible and distance myself from the term that many equate WITH those concepts.

For many Christians, inerrancy is the only option if you’re going to accept the Bible as trustworthy. However, there are many traditions who affirm the teachings of scripture and view it as authoritative without affirming inerrancy.

In fact, I would argue that inerrancy came into being for the wrong reasons.

The Flawed Origins of Inerrancy

What we know of early church history is that the early Christians were trying to explain Jesus in a culture dominated in many ways by Greek categories. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Christianity to the Greeks was the idea that God would fully reside in a human body.

The incarnation was a non-starter that sent many Christians veering toward Gnosticism, a handy heresy that divided spirit and body into separate realms.

As Christian thinkers hammered out the nature of the incarnation, they used Greek words and ways of thinking, but they did not let Greek culture determine what they believed about God and the incarnation of Jesus.

In the 1800’s, the Enlightenment had challenged what many Christians believed, and a large part of Christian thinkers began to use the Enlightenment’s scientific categories for reading the Bible. Everything in the Bible had to be tested and proven, and if it could not be scientifically proven, then it was ditched.

We know that the Bible says it is God-breathed and useful for training us in righteousness, but it was hardly intended to be sliced and diced by the Enlightenment’s methods. We can look back in retrospect and see that the scientific approach was bound to rip the Bible apart. It’s a true document, but it’s also an ancient document that wasn’t designed to answer the questions of modern thinkers who imposed their own standards on it.

How could Christians demonstrate the supernatural origins and authority of the Bible in a scientific age?

Faith wasn’t going to cut it for the liberal Christians who dismissed the Bible as a series of myths invented by clever storytellers.

The Christians who called themselves fundamentalists arrived at a solution: the Bible could be proven divine since it was inerrant, completely without error. What other ancient document could boast such a thing?

Instead of pointing the doubters to Christ, the fundamentalists pointed them to the Bible.

By allowing the philosophy of the day to determine the way they spoke about the Bible, the Fundamentalists shifted Jesus away from his primary place as Lord of all and slipped the Bible above him. That’s why you’ll often find churches today who inadvertently affirm the trustworthiness of the Bible over the person of Jesus.

The Impossible Wager of Inerrancy

Inerrancy states that any kind of error in the Bible renders the entire book false and made up. If the entire Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then everything single verse must be 100% true and reliable.

The primary problem with inerrancy is that it has the wrong priorities. Rather than making Christ our one and only foundation, inerrancy makes an error-free Bible the one and only foundation of our faith.

The passion of Christians in their debates about inerrancy and the accuracy of the Bible testify to the consequences of this kind of thinking. Permitting one error in the Bible isn’t just annoying, it’s a disaster for the faith of many.

The impossibility of inerrancy is that we’re so far removed from the events described in the Bible and composition of each book and letter that we can’t possibly prove the truthfulness at the scientific level that inerrancy demands. I believe that the Bible is true, but not because of inerrancy or because I have 100% certainty about the events it describes.

My faith is built on the person of Christ, the only way, truth, and life, the only foundation for our faith, and the one central focus on the scriptures. Paul wrote, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 3:11.

I can’t point you to one verse in the Bible and say, “I know for certain that this is wrong.” At the same time, proving the “reliability” of the Bible according to the standards of inerrancy is a fruitless quest.

I’ll talk all day about the presence of Christ in my life and the ways that scripture has continually guided me to the truth, but I will not live as if my faith hinges on proving every little detail of the Bible. That’s simply not our goal.

The scriptures  point us toward the trustworthiness of Christ rather than the trustworthiness of their composition.

Inerrancy and Biblical Idolatry

I affirm the historical accuracy and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

I believe the writers of the Bible were truthful.

Could there be a discrepancy over the date of an Israelite king because a writer misunderstood how the rise and fall of kings were dated? (I spent a 3-hour class in seminary addressing this very issue.)

Rather than answering that question, I want to know if a detail like that really matters. If it does, then we need to ask why we think it matters.

Inerrancy demands this level of accuracy because it’s seeking a way to scientifically prove that the Bible is inspired by God.

I do not affirm the word inerrancy because it compromises the Christian faith to the standards of secular scientific thinking. It takes our devotion and worship away from Christ and substitutes a second-rate god that breeds fear and paranoia, threatening to crumble our faith in God with every scientific report, literary device, or historical discrepancy.

This second-rate god demands that we spend our lives worrying about the chronology of the Hebrew kings, the findings of archeology, the age of the earth, and the chronology of the gospels.

This second-rate god drives wedges between the people of God as we fight each other in the name of protecting this false “foundation” of our faith.

On its own, the Bible is incapable of giving life, peace, or healing. It only can give a fragile certainty that must be defended tooth and nail.

That we feel compelled to fight for this god suggests that we may have lost sight of the true foundation in scripture. Our faith rises and falls on the person of Christ alone. We trust that the Bible is true and reliable, but we don’t have to meet a modern, scientific standard in order for Christ to be Lord.

I hate the word inerrancy because it creates a super supernatural standard for truth that the Bible never set up.

I hate the word inerrancy because it clouds the ways that the Bible actually is true.

I hate the word inerrancy because it binds the Christian faith to a set of standards that were never intended for the people of God and that are completely foreign to the centuries of Christians who have gone before us.

I hate the word inerrancy because it has become a way to determine who’s in and who’s out, even though few actually understand what it means or where it came from.

I hate the word inerrancy because it provides a flimsy, easily combustible foundation for the people of God.

I hate the word inerrancy because it takes the focus of our faith away from Christ and places it in a book.

It’s time to stop fighting for inerrancy and to start living as if everything in the Bible is true.

When we see the words of scripture come true in our own lives, we’ll have all of the proof we need that the Bible is reliable.

The Consequences of Ignoring the Hard Parts of the Bible

joshua-bibleWhen I didn’t think about the hard parts of the Bible, I had a very simplistic view of God.

You could boil it down to the conflict between Job and his friends. A complex, mysterious God vs. a simplistic, almost mechanical God who operates according to strict rules. I had no way of processing the difficult parts of life, let alone to face the difficult parts of the Bible.

My fragile faith depended on simple explanations for everything. If I couldn’t explain part of the Bible, then I feared that I would lose the Bible. If I couldn’t explain the hard times in life, then I feared I would lose God.

Atheism isn’t necessarily caused by asking hard questions of the Bible. I came closest to losing my faith when I asked a hard question about God or the Bible and could only find an unrealistically simple answer.

God does not owe anyone an answer or an explanation for the parts of the Bible or life that we can’t understand. However, we do God no favors when we brush away unspeakable tragedy or troubling passages with an explanation that fails to truly grapple with the full testimony of scripture.

Answers that don’t work for me in the face of difficult passages/circumstances include:

God is holy.

God is sovereign.

God is all-powerful.

I started writing this post with the goal of addressing difficult Bible passages like the conquest of Canaan where God essentially commanded the Israelites to commit war crimes. However, after reading about the unspeakable tragedy unfolding in the aftermath of tornadoes in Oklahoma, I’ve found the focus of this post widening a bit. Perhaps working through some of the difficulties in the Bible will help us as we grieve and process this tragedy as well.

A Complicated Picture of God

As I’ve been reading through the most disturbing passages in the Old Testament, I’ve seen the loving kindness, patience, and mercy of God come into tension with the justice, anger, and judgment of God. While God’s defining characteristics are love and patience, it’s a mistake to think they rule out his anger and justice.

There is sin and evil in this world, and God consistently makes it clear that he will not tolerate them forever. In fact, he will punish those who go too far down that road and never repent.

We don’t know how to measure God’s patience or his limits for dealing with evil. There aren’t formulas or clear guidelines. However, the stories in the Old Testament consistently show God giving time and warnings to people about their choices.

The Old Testament also shows that God is sometimes involved in natural phenomena, but isn’t intricately orchestrating every single thing that happens on earth. The “plan” of God is for people to obey him and to one day bring peace and justice to the earth.

When Jesus’ disciples thought that the Tower of Siloam fell on a group of people because they were wicked, he quickly rebuked them.

The Bible shows us that God is deeply invested and involved in our world. Sometimes we can understand the ways of God and sometimes we’re left confused and even disturbed by what we’ve just read. The story of the conquest of Canaan has been among the latter for me.

Why would God command his people to commit war crimes?

There are Two Ways to Ignore the Hard Parts of the Bible

I have found two ways to side step the difficult passages in the Bible.

I can avoid reading the hard parts of the Bible and settle for simple answers and explanations without digging deeper.

Or I can just rule out those passages as later additions, distortions, or myths.

There’s a part of me that wishes I could just rule out those passages.

The story of the conquest of Canaan is quite difficult to handle because I can certainly understand part of the story. The people of Canaan were doing some detestable things. They were killing children in order to worship their false gods. They prostituted women in the service of their gods as well. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, they attacked them.

The Canaanites weren’t powerless, innocent people. I can understand that God would desire to deliver justice and to end their evil actions.

However, when I encounter the story of the conquest of Canaan, I’m also hesitant to say that I understand why the Israelites were commanded to kill off all of the people in several towns. These are war crimes by our standards today, and it’s hard to reconcile that with God and a command for God’s people.

By confronting this story in all of its complexity, I have found that I don’t necessarily have to run from it or explain it away, even if there are still some aspects of it that I can’t quite resolve.

Jesus Makes More Sense

Some have argued that the “violent God” passages in the OT show that Jesus represents a radical change in direction. It’s almost borderline Marcionism, dividing the Gods of each testament. However, Jesus represents the culmination of God’s desires throughout the Old Testament.

There are far more passages in the OT that look ahead to Jesus, predicting a suffering servant, the triumph of God over evil, and the restoration of peace on earth. The matter of the OT isn’t that God is always violent. The picture is complex and difficult to piece together.

I’m all for discussing a variety of ways to interpret or classify a story in the OT. Modern history as we know it didn’t exist back then, so there could be some stories that function more mythically than we would suspect. However, I prefer to make my first move toward reconciling the narratives, laws, and prophecies of the OT based on the assumption that they happened as reported.

And while including a story like the conquest of Canaan puts us in a tight spot, I don’t think it necessarily ruins the whole Bible. We can look back through the ministry of Jesus and see God’s compassion and desire to save all nations. God himself was willing to come down and die for all people.

I can’t reconcile the conquest of Canaan with the radically different conquest of the cross, but there are so many significant stories, prophecies, and poems in the Old Testament that show us a loving, self-sacrificing God is far from a new innovation.

What Does the Bible Reveal to Us About God?

The full picture of the Bible shows us that God is just and holy, willing to punish those who persist in doing evil. However, God is patient, kind, and ready to forgive. God so badly wants to restore people to a relationship with himself, that he sacrificed himself to defeat the grip of evil on us, dwelling among us today through the Holy Spirit.

God chooses to live among us in a world where there is evil, pain, and conflict. While God will one day judge evil and restore peace to this world, things are not yet as God or any of us would want them to be.

I can’t understand everything about the past judgments of God, but I can see that God has taken action against evil on the cross, paying a price that few of us would ever want to pay.

A Complicated Bible for a Complicated World

Avoiding the hard passages of the Bible altered my understanding of God and didn’t prepare me for the complications of life.

If all we have is an easily understood, easily explained, neat and tidy Bible, then it’s not much good in a world that is confusing, mysterious, and extremely messed up.

I’m less and less convinced that the Bible exists to give us straight answers. If that was the purpose of the Bible, then it does a bad job of it.

Rather, the Bible comforts, questions, and disrupts us. We can see that our troubles today are nothing new and that people have been seeking out God for thousands of years, asking questions, making requests, and finding hope in the presence of God.