Tag Archives: bias

Broken Religious Community: The Flip Side to Hope and Chanukah

I’ve outgrown the furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling.
I’ve outgrown the snarling brimstone preaching that brokers in damnation.
I’ve outgrown the vile war rhetoric that continually demands an encroaching enemy.
I’ve outgrown the expectation that my faith is the sole property of a political party.
I’ve outgrown violent bigotry and xenophobia disguised as Biblical obedience.
I’ve outgrown God wrapped in a flag and soaked in rabid nationalism.
I’ve outgrown the incessant attacks on the Gay, Muslim, and Atheist communities.
I’ve outgrown theology as a hammer always looking for a nail.
I’ve outgrown the cramped, creaky, rusting box that God never belonged in anyway.

Most of all though, I’ve outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.

John Pavlovitz
“My Emancipation From American Christianity”
John Pavlovitz: Stuff That Needs To Be Said

At today’s meeting of the Cincinnati City Council law and public safety committee, Council Member Chris Seelbach “will propose an ordinance that would impose a $200-a-day fine on a therapist or counselor practicing the therapy that aims to “change” lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people from their sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to Cincinnati.com.

According to the article it will likely be a done deal on Wednesday of this week. Seelbach is confident that he has the necessary votes both to make it out of committee tonight and to pass it as law on Wednesday. Although a few states have passed similar laws, no major city has done so, and Cincinnati.com is exultant in claiming that Cincinnati is leading the way in such wickedness.

Why “wickedness”? Because this law is nothing less than a denial of the biblical doctrine of sanctification, threatening fines of $73,000 per year to a counselor that uses 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to help those caught in sin: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Joseph Bayly
“Providing biblical counsel to homosexual youth soon illegal in Cincy…”
(originally titled “Quoting Bible illegal in Cincinnati starting this Wednesday…”)
Christ Church

christians-vs-gaysThese two Pastors represent the opposite end of the scale along the single topic of homosexuality, specifically as applied to the presence of representatives of the LGBTQ community in the Church.

I’ve written my opinions about Pastor Pavlovitz before, particularly about the absence of the requirement of repentance, which was Jesus’s (Rav Yeshua’s) central message, relative to what he has “outgrown,” so I won’t belabor my points regarding his opinions.

As far as Pastor Bayly is concerned, he wildly misrepresents the pending law he objects to so strongly. You can click on the link to his blog post (and in my quoting him, I included a link to his source material so you can acquire further context) to see the specifics, but in short, The City of Cincinnati has proposed a law that would make it a crime for mental health professionals (religious or otherwise) to provide conversion therapy, also called “reparative therapy” or any other therapeutic model designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, to anyone under the age of 18 (it would not be illegal to offer such therapy to adults).

Pastor Bayly states that the law specifically forbids Christian counselors from quoting the Bible, as if that’s the law’s main thrust. However, according to the news article he’s citing:

Passage apparently would make Cincinnati the first major U.S. city to ban reparative or conversion therapy. The Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT organization in Denver that tracks legislation nationwide on reparative therapy, has no record of a city passing an ordinance that would ban the practice.

And the reason Cincinnati is making such a move is because:

Nearly a year after the death by suicide of local transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, Cincinnati again stands to become a national leader in LGBT rights, with debate scheduled Monday on a measure that would ban reparative or conversion therapy for LGBT youth.

The law, as far as I can tell, does not make it illegal to offer conversion therapy to anyone age 18 or older and does not, in general, make it illegal for Christian counselors to quote from the Bible. If it passes, it would make it illegal to offer or apply conversion therapy to anyone under the age of 18 (and presumably identifying as part of the LGBTQ community). Also as far as I can tell, there are already ethical standards in place in the various psychiatric, psychological, social work, and counseling bodies that provide state licensing for mental health professionals designed to inhibit or forbid the use of conversion therapy, so in addition to professional censure for unethical behavior (including possible lose of licensing), a therapist can also be fined by the city for violating the proposed law.

conversion therapy
Photo: soc.ucsb.edu

I’m not writing all this to complain about what Cincinnati is proposing, about the matter of the use or lack of use of conversion therapy, or to support or oppose the LGBTQ community. I’m writing this because both Pastor Pavlovitz and Pastor Bayly, from my point of view, seem to be paying more attention to their personal priorities than they are to the issues at hand, and particularly, the teaching of our Rav.

I’ve already mentioned that I’ve commented at length regarding Pastor Pavlovitz. And in response to my comment to Pastor Bayly on his blog, he stated:

“Except that, again, it has nothing to do with quoting the Bible or scripture. It has everything to do with the use of a particular type of psychotherapy”

Wrong. I changed the title, but you are just wrong about what the law says. It doesn’t limit it to a particular type of psychotherapy. Here is the applicable text from the law, which I finally have:

““Conversion therapy” means any treatment that aims to change sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual or to convert an individual who identifies with a gender other than the gender assigned at birth to the originally assigned gender.”

So tell me again, would a counselor be able to quote that verse?

He’s focusing on using Bible quotes during the course of conversion therapy with minors rather than on the fact that if the law passes, he wouldn’t be able to legally offer such a therapeutic model to minor children in the first place. He changed the original title of his blog post since I had pointed out it was misleading (and I wasn’t the only one), but he didn’t seem to “get it”. He can provide multiple counseling techniques to treat a wide variety of emotional and mental disorders. He can even quote the Bible in doing so. He can even offer conversion therapy. He just can’t offer it to minors.

A commentator on Bayly’s blog post had this to say to me:

Well James, I guess you seem to think that a Christian is to follow every law that is contrary to the written Word of God. I guess Peter and John thought differently and spent time in jail telling the “law makers” that they would obey God rather then man.

Actually, depending on how you interpret the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul), maybe we should obey civil law:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

Romans 13:1-2 (NASB)

justiceI know that New Testament scholar Mark Nanos interprets this passage as specifically directing non-Jewish believers in synagogues to obey the authority of the synagogue leaders, but more widely, the passage is understood as a directive for believers to be compliant with the laws of the nations in which we live.

Of course, this is problematic under specific circumstances. Consider those Christians who concealed Jews from their Nazi executioners during the Holocaust. The matter of obeying or disobeying civil and penal codes is certainly complex, though I don’t think it gives us license to break any law we feel like just because.

However, the person I quoted above was comparing apples and oranges.

When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Acts 5:27-29

Peter wasn’t flaunting civil law in a diaspora nation or rebelling against the Roman Empire, he was engaging in a disagreement on whether or not to accept the revelation of the coming of Messiah in Rav Yeshua with Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem. Further, the priesthood was compromised in those days and not truly representative, in many cases, of the authority of Hashem. He wasn’t issuing a blanket statement that gives modern Christians the right to disobey any law if we believe it violates the imperatives of our faith. Christian counselors can’t simply kidnap teenage gay people and compel them to admit their sin of homosexual sex, then repent, receive forgiveness, and live happily ever after.

I know that Pastor Bayly and his supporters feel their rights are being trod upon by this particular law, and that they are being inhibited from following Biblical instructions, specifically those issued in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, however, when he misrepresents the nature of his objections, as he did with the original blog title as well as in parts of his content, and then continues to support that misrepresentation when it is pointed out to him, he not only damages the credibility of Christians and their/our faith to the general public, he desecrates the Name of Hashem (my opinion, of course).

Adding all this up, both Pastor Pavlovitz and Pastor Bayly, who together represent a large number if not the vast majority of churches in America, drive me nuts. This is largely the reason that I stopped attending a local church and have no interest in formal Christian community (I do have other reasons, though).

But it doesn’t stop there:

For this, he is subject to a very harsh bio in the Jewish Telegraph Agency, as if Thalasinos himself were the murderer, rather than the victim. The post attracted a host of hostile comments from Orthodox Jews against the very concept of a Messianic Jew, trying to argue we are all fraudsters. Meanwhile, Jewish-born Messianic Jews are pointing out that Thalasinos wasn’t born Jewish. Anti-missionary Bat Zion Susskind-Sacks wants to assure us that Thalasinos himself never claimed to be Jewish, and never claimed to convert.

“Let Nicholas Thalasinos’ family mourn in peace”
Rosh Pina Project

Photo: L.A. Times

A Chabad Rabbi states in the comments section of the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) article:

So JTA is now faling for the missionary line? messianic Jew is a cover for “Christians trying to convert Jews to Christianity”. I have nobeef with christians, but if you believe in Jesus, you are a Christian, not a “Messianic Jew”. The fact that Jesus was Jewish is meaningless, so was Karl Marx and Meyer Lansky, and it does not bestow truth on their persona.

Further, some Jewish commentators on this blog post also spend a great deal of time lambasting Thalasinos for his faith and how he chose to express it.

For the record, I probably wouldn’t have agreed with at least some of Thalasinos’s beliefs, but the point is moot. The man is dead. He was murdered in a terrorist attack that took the lives of 14 people. As the folks over at the Rosh Pina Project state, let his family grieve in peace. How does it further the mission of God for human beings to repair our broken world by continuing, in our own various ways, to break it further?

Do you see why I have a problem with religious people, and why I have, for the most part, lost my faith in them?

If you happen to attend a church, synagogue, or other religious community that is filled with loving, caring people, and your Pastor or Rabbi isn’t crazy or misguided or fueled by his/her personal agenda disguised as “sound doctrine,” then I’m happy for you. But it makes my skin crawl to imagine myself sitting in a pew in either Pastor Pavlovitz’s and Pastor Bayly’s church, or for that matter, being a Gentile in that particular Chabad Rabbi’s synagogue, and being judged because I don’t conform to their particular interpretation of the intent and purpose God has for human beings, both Jews and non-Jews.

Which is why I would never enter those churches and why I’ve accepted I have no place in Jewish community either.

My wife and daughter attended the local Chabad Chanukah menorah lighting at the statehouse last night. My wife and daughter are Jewish and I’m glad they went. They’re Jewish. They need to be in Jewish community. I wasn’t invited, which is fine, even though I’m sure there were a lot of non-Jews present for the event (this is Idaho…there are only about 1,500 Jews in the entire state). There are just some places I don’t belong.

After they got home and lit our own little hanukkiyah (both of them, actually), I found myself staring at my computer monitor and pondering all of this. I have a lot of reasons for not being part of religious community, and I’ve written about them at length in various blog posts, but now I have another reason. A lot of religious communities and their leaders are either plain nuts, disingenuous, misguided, or have some sort of ax to grind, usually from the pulpit and/or in the blogosphere.

Granted, there is no such thing as a perfect congregation where everyone loves each other and even the disenfranchised outliers such as myself are tolerated if not accepted and given a voice. I know that.

abandoned churchBut it’s not a matter of religious community just being imperfect. A lot of them can be downright arrogant and even hostile given the provocation.

I used to think I could go to church and even be a small part of healing the rift between current Christian doctrine on things like Judaism and the Torah and how I understand God’s plan of redemption for Israel, even though I was afraid of church at the same time.

I was wrong.

I suppose it’s mainly my problem, since the churches and other institutions I’ve mentioned don’t seem to have a problem with themselves. I’ll never be a good Christian if it means espousing specific moral, social, and political viewpoints.

Many/most religious communities aren’t just imperfect, they’re broken. I only hope Messiah comes back in time to heal at least some of us.

End rant.

For Now We See Through A Bible Darkly

John MacArthurWhen Jesus came, everything changed, everything changed.… He didn’t just want to clean up the people’s attitudes as they gave their sacrifices, He obliterated the sacrificial system because He brought an end to Judaism with all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the Temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“Understanding the Sabbath,” September 20, 2009, posted on the Grace to You blog.
As quoted in Lois Tverberg’s blog post Test Your “Jesus Theories” in the Book of Acts

One of the folks who commented on a recent blog post of mine mentioned that Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots blogger Judah Himango had written a particularly illuminating article recently, based on Tverberg’s November 2013 commentary. I finished reading Judah’s write-up, suitably impressed, and clicked the link to his source material.

I really thought I was done with John MacArthur after my final series of reviews on First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) book Gifts of the Spirit. But seeing that Tverberg had quoted MacArthur on her blog, I had to find the original sermon and see the quote in context.

It didn’t make me happy.

As you can probably tell from the above-quoted paragraph, in one fell swoop, MacArthur kills the Torah, the Temple, and Judaism (if not the Jewish people) and summarily replaces them with Gentile Christianity in a lecture I could characterize as one of the more noteworthy flowers in the garden of supersessionism.

I was still going to resist writing about all of this. After all, Judah covered the issues brought up by Tverberg’s blog and expanded on them in a way that would make anything else I had to say on the subject redundant. And I’m sure most cessationists and anyone else who thinks John MacArthur is “the cat’s meow” probably believes by now that I have nothing better to do with my time than to endlessly bash MacArthur, using my blog as a blunt instrument.

I wouldn’t have even put my fingers on the keyboard over all of this if I hadn’t read the following:

In 1982:

“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.”

– Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage. The policy was changed in 2000.

In 1823:

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

– Rev. Richard Furman, first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention.

In the 16th Century:

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

– Martin Luther in “Table Talk” on a heliocentric solar system.

Rachel Held EvansI took these quotes (there are plenty more where they came from) from an article called “The Bible was ‘clear’ …” by Rachel Held Evans.

Here’s part of the commentary summarizing these quotes of various religious, social, political, and scientific opinions, all based on scripture (emph. below is Evans’):

Of course, for every Christian who appealed to Scripture to oppose abolition, integration, women’s suffrage, and the acceptance of a heliocentric solar system, there were Christians who appealed to Scripture to support those things too.

But these quotes should serve as a humbling reminder that rhetorical claims to the Bible’s clarity on a subject do not automatically make it so. One need not discount the inspiration and authority of Scripture to hold one’s interpretations of Scripture with an open hand.

We like to characterize the people in the quotes above as having used Scripture to their own advantage. But I find it both frightening and humbling to note that, often, the way we make the distinction between those who loved Scripture and those who used Scripture is hindsight.

So maybe let’s use that phrase—“the Bible is clear”— a bit more sparingly.

Now let’s compare that to how MacArthur summed up his 2009 sermon on “Understanding the Sabbath”:

Father, we thank You for a wonderful day. We thank You for the consistency of Your truth. We thank You for the Word which opens up our understanding to all things. We’re so unendingly thrilled at the glorious truth of Scripture that comes clear and unmistakable to us. (emph. mine)

I know that MacArthur is big proponent of sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Bible and, based on that, he believes that any and all conclusions at which he arrives must be air tight and iron clad because after all, it’s not him, it’s what scripture says, right?

But as Rachel Held Evans so aptly illustrated, lots and lots of people have depended on sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Bible over the long centuries of Church history, and in many cases (such as the “fact” that the Bible supports everything in the heavens orbiting Earth), they were wrong. They were also doing what so many of us in the body of faith do today: use the Bible to support whatever theological, social, political, scientific, or other important ax we have to grind, and after we sharpen the ax, we use it to chop down whoever or whatever we stand in opposition against.

Coffee and BibleNo, I’m not saying that we can’t rely on the Bible, but I am saying that given a good enough reason, we can all go off half-cocked and make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. To be fair, most of us are unconscious to our own process and as such, we actually believe we are being unbiased, unprejudicial, non-bigoted, and completely objective.

More’s the pity.

It’s one thing to constantly investigate yourself and your opinions to verify and re-verify that what you believe isn’t too heavily colored by whatever filters you happen to be wearing over your eyes (and we all wear some), and it’s another thing to be so sure that you aren’t wearing any filters at all, that any of your opinions, because they’re “based on the Bible” must be the truth because “the Bible is clear” on the subject.

Usually, “the Bible is clear” when we “discover” it says something that exactly maps to some long-held belief that provides us comfort and confirms our own identity and convictions. We don’t like it when the Bible contradicts us and says something clearly that we don’t want to be true. Maybe that’s the real litmus test of Biblical interpretation, when we let what the Bible says show us what we need to believe rather than the other way around.

John MacArthur and Struggling with Biblical Sufficiency, Part 2

doveThis is a continuation of yesterday’s “meditation” on John MacArthur and “Chapter 1: Embracing the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture” from his book Think Biblically: Recovering a Christian Worldview. If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 before continuing here.

In addressing Luke 16:27-31, MacArthur says:

The rich man’s perspective is the same view of many today who always seem to demand some kind of supernatural affirmation of spiritual truth. They imagine that the straightforward statements of Scripture and the power of the Gospel alone are not sufficient. But the Lord, through the words of the parable, argued otherwise and said that even though He Himself would rise from the dead, miracles are not necessary for the Gospel to do its work in changing lives. Why? Because the Word of God through the inspiration and illumination of the Holy Spirit is powerful enough — it is all-sufficient in what it teaches about redemption and sanctification.

-MacArthur, pg 27

To the degree that the Bible records numerous miracles of God (Moses, the Reed Sea, millions of Israelites walk on dry land but the pursuing Egyptians drown under thousands of tons of water…that sort of thing), apparently they have their uses, but I do agree that miracles alone will not insure faith. If they did, then millions of Israelites wouldn’t have struggled in their trust of God and been condemned to die in the desert after a forty year walk.

Setting that aside, I still have a hard time figuring out what MacArthur believes about the Holy Spirit. Most Christians I talk to pray to God that the Spirit will give them wisdom and understanding in their studies of Scripture, but it almost sounds like MacArthur believes that once the Spirit was done inspiring the Bible’s writers, it split the scene, leaving the book behind and saying, “This is all you need…see you in the next life.”

I know that’s a little harsh and MacArthur, as a self-proclaimed Evangelical, probably does believe in a supernatural God and that there are certain supernatural mysteries we don’t understand right now. But in focusing on the sufficiency of the Bible, I kept getting the feeling that MacArthur was leaving the actual influence of God in our lives out of the equation. I got the feeling from MacArthur that the power of God’s Spirit was only found in the pages of the Bible. If that’s so, why pray? Just read.

I personally don’t think that anyone comes to God without His direct intervention in our experiences. I believe this is true of me. I don’t believe that some human being thumping a Bible and quoting its eloquent words convinced me to become a Christian. I know from my own story that a series of extremely unlikely events occurred over six to twelve months that finally convinced me God was involved in my life.

I had resisted the Word and Will of God for forty years and He finally convinced me…but I didn’t start actually reading the Bible until I was already going to church, and I promise you that I had no idea what I was reading for the first several years. In many ways, I’m still wrestling with God and struggling with the Bible. MacArthur makes it seem as if the Bible were as easy to comprehend and absorb as the latest best-selling fiction novel on the market. For me, the Bible is like living within a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma (to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous statement about Russia). It contains many wondrous things of God, but they are only revealed during the journey of a lifetime.

MacArthur spends the second half of his chapter supporting the sufficiency of the Bible from the point of view of the Torah and the Prophets. He presents a pretty good illustration of Jewish devotion to Torah. I was amazed because everything I know about him (which admittedly, isn’t that much) tells me that as a dispensationalist, he believes the Torah “goes away” after Jesus and is no longer “sufficient” for the Jewish believer.

In quoting the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9), MacArthur says:

That was a simple way to summarize the myriad commands God had given Moses. But the law of God — His revealed Word — was and is the one resource for life and godliness. Everywhere they went, the children of God were always to meditate on and apply the words of the living God. Those words were to occupy their attention as a source and centerpiece of everything. For His people, that is still God’s design for life.

ibid, pg 28

simhat-torahMacArthur uses the past and present tense about the sufficiency of Torah twice in the previous paragraph, but I’m not sure he realizes the implications. He’s trying to transfer how he sees the Israelites of the past being devoted to Torah across history to the modern-day Christians and the Bible without explaining that normative Protestant Christianity generally dismisses the vast majority of the Torah.

On page 29, MacArthur says “the law” is the Hebrew word “Torah” (yeah, I know), “which basically means divine teaching (emph. mine). In quoting Psalm 19:7 (“The law of the Lord is perfect”), he says that “perfect” can also mean “whole,” “complete,” or “sufficient.” He actually quotes from Psalm 19:7-9 which is part of the Shabbat liturgy in most synagogues, and those words are amazingly beautiful to me.

For pages and pages and pages, MacArthur cites a stream of examples from Judaism about the perfection of Torah, that it is “reviving,” “restoring,” “transforming,” “converting,” and “refreshing.” He speaks of Torah “making the simple one, wise.” He speaks of David praising the “precepts,” meaning divine principles, statutes, and guidelines.” At one point (Pg 31), he states:

The result of applying Scripture’s principles, obeying its precepts, and walking in its pathways is true joy — “rejoicing the heart.”

I wonder if he realized that from a Jewish point of view, it is the performance of the mitzvot, the commandments such as charity, hospitality, and compassion, that “rejoices the heart?” What MacArthur is praising isn’t just the sufficiency of the Bible, but the Jewish worldview (not Christian worldview) of the sufficiency of the Torah, the mitzvot and, for a Jew, the traditions.

He also said:

If those who claim to follow Christ today were as excited about scriptural precepts as they are about the materialism of this world, the character of the church would be wholly different, and our testimony to the world would be consistent and potent.

Actually, I agree with him, but I’d have changed that sentence to say:

If those who claim to follow Christ today were as excited about scriptural precepts as religious Jews are excited about the Torah and the mitzvot, the character of the church would be wholly different, and our testimony to the world would be consistent and potent.

There were a bunch of other “nitpicky” things I noted about MacArthur’s chapter, but what impressed me the most (as you can probably tell) was how “Jewish” he seems to feel, at least sometimes, about the Bible. I think he’s right that anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian needs to be constantly reading and studying the Bible.

I’ve just started reading John W. Mauck’s book Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity, and Donald A. Hagner in the Foreword says in part:

Just as ministry is the work of the people and not the clergy (who are to equip the saints for ministry according to Eph. 4:11-12), so to the Bible is the book of all the people of God, not the domain of biblical scholars only. Indeed the writings that make up the Bible are meant to be studied by every Christian. The Word of God was written, after all, not to scholars but to the people of God in communities of faith.

I agree and find Professor Hagner’s statement to be wonderfully affirming and empowering. In a number of ways, I agree with MacArthur, but I think he overstates the matter of Biblical sufficiency to the point of being dogmatic and inflexible. It’s as if he leaves no room for discussion and basically says, “It’s my way or the highway.”

I seriously doubt that Moses and Paul had an identical worldview of the Word of God because the world around each of these men was very different. How Torah was understood and applied was based on who each of these men were and what they were trying to accomplish in accordance with their mission from God.

MacArthur, in championing the sufficiency of the Bible, failed to mention needing to understand the original languages of the Bible and especially needing to understand the original contexts, cultures, experiences, and lifetimes of each of the Bible’s authors in order to get a more accurate picture of what they, and God, were trying to say. He failed to mention that how we understand the Bible begins at the level of translation and that the same words and phrases of Scripture can be translated differently, even very differently by different people depending on their biases and worldviews. This is particularly true when comparing Evangelical Christianity and any of the streams of modern, normative Judaism and most pointedly, Messianic Judaism.

bible_read_meI think MacArthur is right though in that many churches have, for the most part, set the Bible aside as irrelevant or archaic and thus unable to reach the people who are trying to reach God in the twenty-first century. Although I seriously doubt MacArthur intended to give this impression, I think that the mass exodus from “the church” isn’t because it thumps too hard on the Bible but because “the church” all but ignores the Bible. I think this is why at least some Gentile Christians have been transitioning into the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, since both of these movements emphasize the study of and devotion to the Bible and specifically Torah.

If the church could learn one thing from the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, it is the continual reading and studying of the Bible, including reading the Bible as part of worship.

I’m not ready to take every book I’ve ever read except for the Bible, and toss them all into a giant campfire. I don’t think other sources of information are useless. If I want to learn something about a web-based technical support product or how online merchants can fight fraud, I’m not going to find the answers just by reading the Bible (OK, those are pretty far out examples and probably MacArthur wouldn’t expect to find them in the Bible, either, but I’m trying to make a point).

The Bible is the single most important and influential document ever written and the world would not know God without it, but we can learn a great deal by reading and studying other material as well. Learning more in the fields of history and archeology relative to Biblical times greatly enhances what we understand about the Bible itself. I disagree that we must throw all this other “stuff” under a bus in order to rightly state that we are seeking an encounter with God and pursuing a life of righteousness.

I also disagree that the Bible is a simple book. I will spend the rest of my life studying the Word of God, and I don’t expect, at the end of my days, to be hardly anymore enlightened about its mysteries than I am right now. May God grant me the wisdom and understanding to see Him and His will for me somewhere in the pages of His Word.

139 days.

John MacArthur and Struggling with Biblical Sufficiency, Part 1

think_biblicallyA truly Christian worldview begins with the conviction that God Himself has spoken in Scripture. As Christians, we are committed to the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God. We believe it is reliable and true from cover to cover, in every jot and tittle (cf. Matt 5:18). Scripture, therefore, is the standard by which we must test all other truth-claims. Unless that axiom dominates our perspective on all of life, we cannot legitimately claim to have embraced a Christian worldview.

John MacArthur
“Chapter 1: Embracing the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture” (pg 21)
from Think Biblically: Recovering a Christian Worldview (ed. John MacArthur)

NOTE: I had a conversation with Pastor Randy last night (Monday) which amended a few things I understand about him and about MacArthur. This blog post and Part 2 which will be published tomorrow morning, were written before that encounter. I’ll post an update after the publication of Part 2.

I remember when I “discovered” the Bible contained internal inconsistencies that could not be “smoothed out” in any reasonable fashion. I remember when I realized that the different Gospel accounts of the timing of the death of Jesus didn’t match up. I remember hitting a wall, going into a tail spin, and experiencing a classic “crisis of faith.” It wasn’t pretty.

I eventually came out of it and retained my faith, but my view of the Bible has never been quite the same since. Yes, I believe it is the Word of God, His chronicle of the interactions between man and God, but I no longer believe that God literally spoke each word of the Bible in the ear of each of the Bible’s contributors as if He had dictated a series of letters to a series of secretaries (I guess I should say “administrative assistants” in this day and age). I believe that in some supernatural sense, God and the contributors became “partners” in the endeavor of composing what we have in our Bibles. It’s inspired by a Holy God but it contains the lived personalities and experiences of each person who did the actual writing.

Pastor Randy gave me the photocopied pages of this chapter written by MacArthur during last week’s Wednesday night meeting. I made the time last Friday to read the pages and found myself scribbling notes furiously in the margins and highlighting numerous sentences and paragraphs. Needless to say, I have some responses to MacArthur’s viewpoint about the Bible.

It might help before you continue, if you click the link of MacArthur’s name that I inserted above. It leads to his Wikipedia page and you can get a brief sketch of who he is, what he’s done, and what he believes about the Bible, Christianity and so on. That will provide the background for understanding his chapter and what I’m going to say about it.

Since we’re going to talk about the Bible being inerrant and sufficient, I suppose a few definitions are in order, via a bit of linkage: Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture (PDF).

First, something I agree with.

Christian bookstores are full of books offering advice drawn from sources other than the Bible on almost every conceivable subject — parenting, Christian manhood and womanhood, success and self-esteem, relationships, church growth, church leadership, ministry, philosophy, and so on. Various self-appointed experts who claim to have discovered some deep truth not revealed in Scripture have now become familiar fixtures on the evangelical landscape.

-MacArthur, pp 22-23

I almost never go into Christian bookstores anymore for exactly this reason. The products and marketing of said-products in Christian bookstores is little different from their secular counterparts. Oh, they are “dressed up” with “Christianese” terms and phrases to make them sound more “Biblical,” but the methods and techniques used to transmit information and often the information itself is strictly “Madison Avenue meets the Church.”

Also, many years ago, I attended a church that was all about selling itself. Dissatisfied with its image and how the church was growing, the board fired its Pastor and hired one who actually had a graduate degree in “Church Growth.” Interesting educational emphasis. The new Pastor came in with graphs and charts and statistics showing us how we needed to move locations, build a much larger facility with multi-purpose capacities, target an area of our valley that contained a specific demography of the population, and use other modern marketing techniques to attract a large influx of people “for the Lord.”

I couldn’t get out fast enough and I’ve never been back.

Oh, on top of all that, what MacArthur says about “various self-appointed experts who claim to have discovered some deep truth not revealed in Scripture” is spot on. For the better part of a decade, in one way or another, I was involved in the Hebrew Roots (One Law) movement. While most of the people I had regular fellowship with were good, well-grounded, honest, devoted disciples of Christ, the Hebrew Roots movement is totally unregulated and unrestricted, so just about anyone can pop up, put on a kippah and tallit, and call themselves a “Messianic Rabbi.” Then they get to sell their wares to whatever audience they can attract, based on the particular theological ax they’re grinding, and claim to have received some sort of “special anointment from the Lord” or “revelation of the end times.”

I’ve learned to beware of congregations that are run by “one-man shows” rather than being governed by a board based on a distributed leadership model.

If you can’t back up what you’re teaching with Scripture, then there’s a problem. But even then, lots and lots of stuff is taught that is supposedly based on Scripture, proving you can make the Bible say almost anything if you spin it fast enough.

Which brings me to MacArthur’s quoting from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647 CE):

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” (emph. mine)

-ibid, pg 22

It’s that “may be deduced from Scripture” part that makes things a little hazy. What MacArthur calls “deduced” could, in theory, be just about anything depending, again, on how hard and fast you spin the Bible. I know MacArthur probably had Judaism in mind when he mentioned “traditions of men”, leveraging the classic Christian view of all Pharisees making stuff up out of whole cloth and that the Rabbis being the direct inheritors of traditions and hypocrisy.

BiblicallyBut to be fair to the Rabbinic sages, they believe that they are actually “deducing” stuff from the Torah (Bible) in order to make the contents applicable to different generations and different circumstances (apparently) not anticipated by the literal text (using microwave ovens and driving cars on Shabbat comes to mind). According to MacArthur, this would be against the rules and that the Bible does anticipate all contingencies, circumstances, and technological advances. The Bible is sufficient. End of story.

Let’s drill down into a specific example using an issue that MacArthur definitely has strong feelings about.

Scripture reveals the deepest thoughts and intentions of the human heart, so that “all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Thus, the Bible can do what psychoanalysis can never do. It is sufficient to penetrate and lay bare the deepest part of a person’s soul. (emph. mine)

-ibid pg 27

Never mind that psychoanalysis, a therapeutic model based on the theories of Sigmund Freud that, to the best of my knowledge, is no longer practiced due to the amount of time it takes (years), the sheer expense of the treatment, and the fact that insurance companies don’t cover the costs involved. I think MacArthur probably means psychotherapy, but let’s continue.

He is also an advocate of Nouthetic Counseling, which stresses the Bible as a sufficient tool for counseling people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. MacArthur rejects psychological theories and techniques, considering psychology and psychiatry as contrary to the Bible…MacArthur criticises “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he claims “Such a thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes is nonexistent.” Concerning people who consult secular mental health professionals, MacArthur believes “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

MacArthur has argued that “True psychology (i.e. “the study of the soul”) can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have the resources for understanding and transforming the soul. The secular discipline of psychology is based on godless assumptions and evolutionary foundations and is capable of dealing with people only superficially and only on the temporal level… Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based. Like theistic evolution, Christian psychology is an attempt to harmonize two inherently contradictory systems of thought. Modern psychology and the Bible cannot be blended without serious compromise to or utter abandonment of the principle of Scripture’s sufficiency…. ”

His stance has caused several controversies, the most notable of which was the first time an employee of an evangelical church had ever been sued for malpractice. The case failed to come to trial because a judge ruled the case as having insufficient evidence.

Wikipedia: MacArthur on Psychology

Wikipedia doesn’t give a clear picture of MacArthur’s education, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include psychology, psychiatry, social work, or similar disciplines. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Counseling with fifteen years of post-graduate clinical experience (before switching careers) and I have a little bit of an understanding of mental illness and its treatment. I can tell you that it is quite possible to provide successful treatment of a variety of disorders without consulting the Bible. This isn’t to say that I find the Bible useless in addressing our emotional and spiritual woes (and the Bible is uniquely able to address our spiritual hurts), but I know that I and many, many other mental health practitioners have successfully alleviated the painful struggles of countless men, women, and children who were suffering from depression and anxiety related symptoms.

Phobias are a perfect example and they can be treated with rationally based desensitization techniques that gradually enable the person who can’t even think about driving, getting in an elevator, or whatever without breaking out in a cold sweat, to do the very thing that formerly caused them to experience fear and dread.

john-macarthurGranted, it’s not a perfect tool, but even medicine “isn’t an exact science” (I remember the first time I heard a doctor tell me that, and it came as quite a shock). Nothing works perfectly all the time, but to do nothing at all would not only be immoral and unethical, but terribly cruel. Although MacArthur doesn’t speak about psychopharmacology, I suspect he’s against it, and that is even worse. Depression, for example, is very treatable using various medications and many depressions have a clear physiological basis. And let’s not get started on psychotic disorders which cannot be addressed without medication therapy. You can’t “talk” a person out of hallucinations.

I could spend all day on this one disagreement, but there are other issues to discuss, which I’ll get to in Part 2 of this article in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

140 days.