why we (desperately) need the Bible

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

If you are a Christian, you believe in the Bible. Whether or not you have read it yourself, you believe that it is true and that it is authored by God. Christianity has nothing to stand on – no source – if it does not have that.

You may intellectually agree that the Bible is true, but you may not personally and wholeheartedly agree that the Bible is desperately necessary, in your life, in your church. People who desperately depend on the Bible in that way are rare, even in Christian circles.

Part of the reason for this is that the Bible is difficult to understand. Part of the reason is that most people have not been taught either to treasure or understand the Bible properly. The most profound reason, however, is that bent, that perversion, in our humanity which reaches to our core: self-reliance, above relying on God.

Christian doctrine says that the whole world is in a state of brokenness and fallenness. We were whole, and exalted, in Eden. Now we are broken and fallen: our instincts and intuitions are bent towards evil and foolishness and away from good and godliness, towards Self and Satan and away from God. Our intuitive ideas about how to live, think, and relate are distorted versions of the truth. In other words, they are lies.

One thing every Christians learns is, “I cannot trust myself.” Learning to distrust yourself – your own perceptions, inclinations, desires, and opinions – is the flip side of learning to trust God. Fundamentally, you cannot do both.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Trusting God means depending on him. Depending on him means depending on his revelation to inform and define who you are and how you live, comprehensively.

The reality is that as humans beyond Eden, we need to re-learn how to be human, in every part of our humanity. We need to be re-taught, by God, in scripture.

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:8-9

Consider the alternative. The alternative, individually or collectively, is making it up as we go along. It is placing our faith most essentially in our own ability to perceive reality, make choices, think correctly, and define God. If everything we do and are and think about God does not come directly from the truth he has defined, given in the Bible, we are making shots in the dark like the rest of our race, shots in the dark which are inherently inclined away from the truth.

Truth comes to us not only from the doctrinal statements and explicit directives of scripture. It comes from the stories and parables, too. It comes from how things are said, from what is included and left out, from the flow of the narrative, from the repeated cycles of God and man interacting, portrayed in individuals’ lives. Truth comes from all the genres of biblical literature, from the outright statement of James, John, Peter, and Paul, to the subtler presuppositions of the Israelite poets. Truth comes from the framework of thought which undergirds all of scripture.

Absorbing the paradigms of the Bible into our thinking causes us to think in new categories, and ask new, better questions. It guards us from our tendency to take on the roles of both beasts and gods and instead demonstrates to our minds and hearts, in a thousand ways, how to be authentically human.

And that is our goal: to be human, really and truly, participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) while maintaining our honored, blessed role as servants and sons of the transcendent God, after the pattern of the Heavenly Man (1 Corinthians 15:49). Only scripture elucidates redeemed humanity and how it behaves.

Even more: scripture tells us about God himself. It is not theology – man making statements about God. It is doctrine – God making statements about himself, for man to believe. God gave us doctrine the way he did intentionally, that is, in the voices of particular cultures and people. The expressed truth itself is absolutely universal, but the phrases themselves are limiting. We are not at liberty to embellish, stretch, or “improve on” the statements of scripture, especially in light of the original point about our inclinations toward falsehood and foolishness.

Credit must be given where credit is due. The power of the Bible to change lives and communities is the Holy Spirit of God, speaking the words through the writers, persuading hardened hearts of the words’ truth, and granting the grace needed for people to convert the words to actions in the human sphere. So the glory is God’s, and the benefit is ours, and the necessity is desperate.

Read it, and keep on with it, without giving up. Let it change your categories of thought as well as how you behave. Discuss it with people who love it. Hear it preached by preachers who preach nothing more or less than the Word in its purity. Feed on it and feast on it, dive into it and absorb it. The Spirit will not leave you untouched. He will pierce you, crush you, build you, change you. He will recreate you.

The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… Colossians 3:17

What do you think? I want to know, especially on this one!

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one year of blogging

I started this blog one year ago today, on February 16, 2011. At that time I picked two specific verses of scripture to guide and restrict my writing:
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth. Hosea 6:3
I am boring; Jesus is fascinating. I am disappointing; Jesus never fails. Therefore I did not want this to be a confessional blog. I was convinced that a blog about Jesus, a blog that proclaims Jesus as Lord, would be, in every way, more interesting, stimulating, and helpful than a blog about myself, that proclaims myself as myself.
The name “pressing on” comes from a verse in Hosea’s book which speaks of pressing on to know God, knowing that he will not withdraw from us if we seek him. He will surely come. His coming is like morning’s light and morning’s dew: certain, life-giving, and awe-inspiring.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. James 4:8
I am convinced that scripture, every part of it, shows us the way to God. Therefore I have done my best to saturate this blog with the Bible, believing it to be the useful words of God to humanity. Undoubtedly I have written a number of posts that “flopped”; equally beyond doubt is that the inherent power of scripture, which is in every post, has saved me from total failure.
The 5 most popular posts this year have been:
Jesus once said, summing up the message of one of his parables,
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. Luke 16:10
This blog is a very little thing. I trust that if I can be faithful in this, God will show me how to be faithful in other things, as he calls me to do them. You too, be encouraged – with real courage, that changes your attitude – to know that your monotonous faithfulness in the little things is precious to God, and that in the Lord your work is never in vain.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58
Thank you for reading, and especially for commenting. No doubt many who read this blog are much wiser than me, and I really appreciate your input.
P.S. Soon, I hope to follow-up this blog’s first post with another outline of the gospel, from another vantage point. Be on the lookout for that.

understanding the Bible: an introduction

Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24-25

The Bible is the Christian’s greatest resource on this pilgrim journey. Anyone who wants a mature faith and an enduring love must get to know it well. Many people struggle with reading the Bible, though, and understandably so – it is a complex and ancient document (usually the oldest in anyone’s library). When thoughtfully approached, however, it is accessible to anyone.

Often, people read the Bible in order to:

  • get inspired
  • be a better person
  • find solutions to their problems
  • find the right rules to follow
  • discover hidden, mystical meaning behind every word
  • know everything God says about ____
  • get material for the next moral/theological debate
  • find nice sounding verses to post as Facebook statuses
  • feed their ego
  • stifle their guilt

Although each of these approaches contain some truth (except the last two), they totally miss the main point. Inevitably they lead to discouragement, confusion, and boredom.

1. Read the Bible on its own terms.
The Bible is absolutely not an encyclopedia, a self-help book for modern problems, a book of systematic theology, or an entertaining and easy-to-follow storybook. If you try to force it to be something it’s not, you will be quickly disappointed.

The Bible is a story about how God has redeemed, is redeeming, and will redeem his people and his world. It’s main subject matter is God interacting with humans in history; it’s main purpose is for humans to know God; it’s main message is the gospel of grace; and it’s main character is Jesus Christ (John 1:45, 5:46, 8:56, 12:41, Luke 24:27) .

2. Ask questions.
The key to understanding the Bible, therefore, is to understand how each of its parts contributes to this whole. Part of this is asking questions of every text, such as:

  • How does this passage relate to what comes immediately before and after it?
  • How does this passage fit into the overall story of the Bible?
  • What are the themes of this passage?
  • Why did the author write this?
  • What does this passage say about the character of God?
  • What does this passage say about the gospel and the work of Christ?
  • What does this passage say about humans? sinners? Christians?
  • What does this mean for me and how can I apply this to my life?

Use the resources provided by 2,000 years of church history and an Internet connection. In our day, scriptural insights and commentaries from the world’s greatest thinkers and saints are instantly available to anyone with a few clicks and couple bucks. Bible study has never been easier. My personal favorite resource is biblegateway.com and its ESV Bible cross-references (e.g. Hebrews 4:12).

3. Conform yourself to the Word; don’t try to conform the Word to you.
Watch out for reading the Bible with purely modern eyes, expecting Middle Eastern culture from thousands of years ago to match up with the values and standards of 21st century American culture. Also beware of reading your theological/philosophical assumptions into a text, or of stretching a text beyond what it is really saying in order for it to say what you want it to say. The purpose of the Bible is defeated if we become its authority.

The Word of God is amazing because it is both informing and transforming. It reveals God to us, and reveals us to ourselves. We have a faith, and a gospel, because God in his grace gave us a book. Not only does the Word inform the mind, but it transforms the heart. The Holy Spirit uses it to change us from the inside out by confronting us with our sin, teaching us God’s ways, and assuring us of his steady love. God, sin, love, gospel – there is in fact nothing more precious, more important or relevant to you and your life than God’s Word and its message, whether you realize it or not.

4. Pray
Paul says that the things of God must be spiritually discerned. The “natural man,” “human wisdom,” and the “spirit of this world” are unable to accept or understand the spiritual truths of God (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). Therefore, ask the Holy Spirit for his help, constantly. Pray without ceasing. He will not refuse (Luke 11:11-13, James 1:5).

I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation… How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:99, 103

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

Simon Peter answered [Jesus], “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68