Tag Archives: john macarthur

Twoness and Oneness: From Sermons by David Rudolph

So if we synthesize what Rudolph is saying this is what we get:

(1) ethnic prioritization is Biblical even though it results in non-ethnic members feeling like “second-class citizens” (to use Rudolph’s phrase);
(2) just as Yeshua’s mission excluded non-Jews, Tikvat Israel’s mission excludes non-Jews, seeking to build a community from within the Richmond JEWISH community.

-Peter Vest
“David Rudolph to Gentiles: ‘Like Yeshua, Our Mission is to Jews, not Gentiles'”
orthodoxmessianic.blogspot.com

I don’t often interact with Peter let alone comment on his blog. I especially hesitate to write about his content on my blog since this type of conversation often degrades into the unresolvable debates our little corner of cyberspace is known for. Religious arguments can get very ugly.

But in reading Peter’s commentary on David Rudolph and Rudolph’s congregation Tikvat Israel, I wanted to learn more about the source of Peter’s allegations. Unfortunately, he hadn’t posted a link to his source material. Fortunately, Peter was willing to provide it when I asked, so I clicked the link he gave me and started listening to Rabbi David Rudolph’s twenty-minute sermon called Our Mission.

I don’t know Rudolph except through his writing and editing. I read the book he and Joel Willitts co-created, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations and wrote a fairly large number of reviews of most of the different contributions to this book. Given that Rudolph’s co-editor and friend Joel Willitts is a Christian and that about half of the book’s contributors are Gentiles, it didn’t seem to me that Rudolph had some sort of bias against non-Jewish people.

Still, I was just slightly nervous about what I would hear when I clicked the “play” button on the recording. Actually, I didn’t find anything even slightly disturbing.

Is it OK to have a Chinese church?

That’s one of the questions Rudolph asked during his sermon. No one in his audience complained. I wouldn’t complain. I pass a Korean Christian Church every time I drive to the Meridian Public Library a few miles from my home. Often Christians who have a particular ethnic, national, and linguistic commonality will form churches on those platforms. I suppose I’d be welcome at the Korean church if I chose to go one Sunday, but likely I’d feel out-of-place since I don’t speak Korean and am not familiar with their cultural and ethnic practices. For the Koreans present however, it would be “home.”

Is it OK to have a Messianic Jewish congregation that has a mission specific to the local Jewish population? That’s just a bit more dicey, at least from the point of view of some Christians. I’ve attended the Reform/Conservative synagogue in my community and I wasn’t the only Gentile present (I suspect I wasn’t the only Jesus-believer present, but that’s beside the point), but I never lost the sense that this was a Jewish community. Nor would I, even in some moment of insanity, demand that the Rabbi be “inclusive” and adapt the synagogue to be more “Gentile-friendly.” In fact, that particular synagogue is already pretty inclusive, but as I said, it’s still Jewish.

Even the local Chabad synagogue will accept Gentiles, typically those who are married to Jews, although I’ve known some Christian Gentiles who have attended a number of the Rabbi’s classes. He’s OK with this on the principle of peace within the community, as long as the Gentiles don’t try to proselytize the Jews present.

But Messianic Judaism is unique in that it professes a faith in Yeshua, in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, a faith that is accessible to Jew and Gentile alike. Should Tikvat Israel’s mission be aimed generically at all human beings in the Richmond, Virginia area? Is it racism or bigotry to reach out only to the Jewish people in the vicinity? Is it racism or bigotry for the Korean Church in Meridian, Idaho to reach out only to the larger Korean community? Can the Korean church offer an environment that specifically meets the needs of the larger Korean community in a way that other churches could not?

No, it’s not racism and bigotry and yes, the Korean church can offer a specific and specialized environment that’s particularly friendly and adapted to Koreans. So it is with Jewish congregations, including Messianic Jewish congregations.

david_rudolphRudolph made a large number of what I considered convincing arguments about why it was OK for his congregation Tikvat Israel, to have a mission specific to the Jews in and around Richmond. For one thing, many Jews traditionally don’t feel comfortable in normative Christian churches, particularly those believing Jews who also practice Judaism as Jews, which many Christians don’t understand and which some Christians find offensive.

A Messianic Jewish congregation makes sense for Jews who are believers and who are observant Jews. Rudolph didn’t fail to acknowledge the Gentiles who attend Tikvat Israel as Gentiles who love the Jewish people and who desire to come alongside Messianic Jews within a Jewish context. Rudolph further said that if Gentile Christianity in general over the last nearly two-thousand years, had loved the Jewish people the way that the Gentiles in Tikvat Israel love the Jewish people, Jewish people wouldn’t have learned to be afraid of Christians and Church.

From an article Rudolph wrote, I know he believes in unity between believing Jews and Gentiles within a Messianic context and indeed, that believing Jews and Gentiles are interdependent. Based on many of the writings of the staff and contributors of the Messianic ministry First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), I have experienced and commented on that interdependence.

I performed a wider search and came across a larger listing of Rabbi David Rudolph’s sermons including one called “We Need Each Other” (on the “Sermons” page, scroll down until you see a heading called “Unity”).

Rudolph’s sermon was focused on the following piece of scripture:

…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace…

Ephesians 2:15 (NASB)

By odd coincidence, in reviewing some commentary by Pastor John MacArthur, I came across the following statement which seems to apply to the current circumstance:

Because the Bible would never tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church.That is the one thing that the Apostle Paul spent the last months of his ministry trying to resolve,trying to get those two together; and when he wrote Ephesians, he said, “The middle wall is…what?…broken down and they two have become one new man.” And my own belief is that it is ludicrous to have a Messianic Jewish temple, as much as it would be to have announced out here that this is the Grace Community Gentile church. Now, how do you think that would sit with Jewish people? They would say one thing. They’re anti-Semitic. See? There’s no reason for that.

Rudolph quoted well-known American biblical scholar Harold Hoehner as saying something similar (I’m copying this quote from an audio recording, so the accuracy of the quote here is only as good as my notes):

Paul referred to a whole new race that is raceless. Not Jewish or Gentile, but a body of Christians who make up the Church.

This is much like how MacArthur and my own Pastor see Ephesians 2 in particular and the identity of “the Church” in general.

0 RInterestingly enough, Rudolph once had a very lengthy conversation with Dr. Hoehner on Ephesians 2:15, and it should be noted here that Rudolph referred to Hoehner in very complementary ways and called him a “man of God.”

Rudolph suggested alternative ways to read this passage. I won’t go into all the details. You can listen to the twenty-five minute sermon yourself, since I provided the link. Briefly though, Rudolph felt that what was torn down was a specific set of ordinances that inhibited Jews from associating with Gentiles, particularly in relation to the Temple.

However, Rudolph emphasized that the body of Messiah is a single body made up of Jewish and Gentile members who remain Jewish and Gentile, much as how Paul described the Messianic body in Ephesians 5:21-33 and referenced Genesis 2:24 where one man and one woman both became “one flesh” and yet remained distinctly one man and one woman. The married “one flesh” does not delete or replace the man and woman any more than the body of Messiah, “the Church” replaces or deletes the identities or uniqueness of the Jews and Gentiles in the body.

We become what in Hebrew is called (forgive my faulty transliteration) “Besar Echad,” one flesh, a composite unity.

At the end of his sermon (and I’m skipping over quite a bit of content), Rudolph asked how Tikvat Israel’s “twoness” and “oneness” is expressed. The “twoness” is what you’d expect if you have any sort of familiarity with the more “conservative” forms of Messianic Judaism. Jewish people in Messianic Judaism and specifically at Tikvat Israel, should remain Jewish and not assimilate into Gentile Christianity. In fact, they should endeavor to become even more observant as Jews. The Gentiles in the congregation should not try to pretend to be Jewish but to come alongside their Jewish co-participants, and support and love the Jewish people and Israel.

The “oneness” exists most obviously at the “macro” level or the overarching expression of Messianic Judaism, but it can also be observed on the “micro” level of the Tikvat Israel community. In that community you have two peoples who are of one mind and one spirit, all working together to build a community for Yeshua with a mission to reach out to the larger Jewish community. To the degree that there are Gentiles present, then it should be obvious that Gentiles are also reached by and respond to this mission, but that is part of the interdependence of Jews and Gentiles within the Messianic body.

To understand the concept of Jewish/Gentile interdependence within the Messianic Jewish community, see my commentary on articles appearing in Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book. The relevant reviews are An Exercise in Wholeness and Interdependence or Collapse.

Rudolph summed up the point of his sermon with the four words of its title: We Need Each Other. The congregation of Jews and Gentiles broke out in spontaneous applause.

I don’t find anything bigoted, racist, or exclusionary about how David Rudolph describes Tikvat Israel. I do understand why Messianic Judaism needs to reach out primarily or even exclusively to the larger Jewish population. Reading the sermons of John MacArthur makes me appreciate how “dangerous” and even “hostile” many Christian venues are to Jewish believers who have chosen not to assimilate into a Gentile Christian lifestyle but who continue to be a part of the larger Jewish community, a part of national Israel, and to be loyal to their covenant connection to Hashem and Moshiach through the observance of the mitzvot.

jewish-davening-by-waterI’ve seen how important it is for my wife to be a part of the local Jewish community, especially since she was not raised in an observant Jewish home. It’s taken a lot of courage and struggle for her to even walk through the doors of a synagogue let alone become a functioning member. This is something that most Christians would never understand but something Jewish people comprehend all too well.

Here’s something else:

Many non-Jews, and increasingly many Jews as well, find Judaism’s stress on endogamy to be racist. That’s nonsense. Membership in the Jewish people is open to any human being who is willing to take on the same commitment as those who stood at Sinai. Judaism does not sanctify gene pools but rather commitment to a mission.

One need not be Jewish to serve God. Judaism is unique among major monotheistic religions in not viewing eternal reward as contingent on becoming Jewish. Yet Jews have always believed that they were chosen for a unique mission.

-Jonathan Rosenblum
“Yair Netanyahu and His Non-Jewish Girlfriend”
Aish.com

Most non-Jews are unconscious of the critical mission required to maintain the tiny population of Jews worldwide rather than let the Jewish people fall into extinction due to assimilation. This is an even more vital and difficult mission in the Messianic Jewish movement with its continual struggle to maintain Jewish distinctiveness in the face of overwhelming Christian (including Gentile Hebrew Roots) pressure to either make Messianic groups more “Gentile-friendly” by de-emphasizing Jewish identity or by demanding that all Jewish identity also belongs to the “Messianic Gentile.” While Rosenblum is unlikely to be Messianic, his assessment of the needs of the Jewish community is spot on and applies very well to Rabbi Rudolph’s mission and message.

While I expect men like MacArthur to be relatively “clueless” to this process, many Gentile Hebrew Roots practitioners, even if they have some familiarity with their local Jewish communities, operate on the same belief that, to use MacArthur’s words, “the Bible would never tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church.” Both Fundamentalist Christianity and Gentile Hebrew Roots (yes, I know I’m generalizing) demand the elimination of Jewish uniqueness either by forming “one church/congregation” of one homogenous “non-racial” group, or they play the “racism” card. There can be no “twoness” only “oneness,” no matter what the cost to the continued distinctiveness and even the continued existence of the Jewish people.

I’m sorry if something Rudolph said in a sermon seems distasteful to some non-Jewish (and even a few Jewish) people. Rudolph says he wants to do what Paul tried to do; break down specific barriers that prevent Jewish and Gentile fellowship within the body of Messiah, but all the while, first going to the Jew because of the covenant connection between Hashem and the Jewish people, and only afterward, also going to the Gentile with the good news of the Messiah, that all human beings can be reconciled to God without surrendering their nationality or identity, which includes Jewish nationality and identity, as well as what each of us possesses as people of the nations who are called by His Name.

Read more in Oneness, Twoness, and Three Converts.

A Brief Introduction to Tent Builders

The church is the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah.

The church is fundamentally good but the church needs to change.

-Boaz Michael
from a short video introducing his
Tent Builders Seminar

I have inserted the link to the YouTube video at the bottom of this page, so you can see Boaz’s entire presentation below. It’s not quite seven minutes long, so it won’t take much of your time to review.

I’m writing this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I received a DVD in the mail from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) that contains an eighty-two minute “sampler” of Boaz’s eight-hour Tent Builders Conference, which he presented in various venues across North America (registration is now closed so I assume there’ll be no additional conferences).

This is, or was, the training companion piece to Boaz’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile, which I most recently reviewed last October 6th and October 10th.

I haven’t had a chance to view the DVD yet, but I feel it’s necessary because in spite of all of my efforts and my reading and re-reading of Boaz’s book, something’s still wrong.

I’ve gotten this sense of “wrongness” most recently from writing the first part of my review on MacArthur’s sermon series From Judaism to Jesus. If you’ve read that review, you know that I’m appalled and dismayed at MacArthur’s approach not only to the early Messianic Jews of the apostolic era, but to their modern-day counterparts, the Messianic Jews of the twenty-first century.

Boaz MichaelI’ve already read the second part of MacArthur’s three-part series and have written the review (it will appear online next Sunday morning). I can’t say my opinion of John MacArthur or any of his perspectives on Judaism has improved. More’s the pity, because Pastor MacArthur is one of the significant voices if not “the voice” of the modern Evangelical Fundamentalist movement in Christianity today. He’s been writing and preaching for over forty years and even though I had never heard of him before  last year, his name is practically a household word among the members of many churches.

I wanted to view the Tent Builders DVD sampler but only have the ability to currently hear Boaz’s brief introductory video on YouTube. He describes Tent Builders as a missionary effort which provides a purpose in which each Christian can participate. The “mission field,” so to speak, is the Church. Christians in the church or “Messianic Gentiles” who have left the church, can find in Tent Builders, a path back, a path that can lead to teaching that the church must see itself in partnership with Israel, not in competition with or as a replacement for Israel.

Another question that comes in…in relationship to something that’s happening in our current church scene today is explain why we have Messianic Jewish temples. What is the need for them? Are you familiar with this? Recently, there has been a…a…a surge of Messianic Jewish temples.

But what’s happened is, I think that many well-meaning Christian people, evangelical people, are catering more to a sociological minority movement than they are to the Word of God. Because the Bible would never tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church.That is the one thing that the Apostle Paul spent the last months of his ministry trying to resolve…

Dr. Feinberg said to me one day, he says, “I don’t know why everybody thinks because we’re Jewish Christians, we’re something special. We’re not.” Something special to God. Something marvelous to be Jewish, but not something for which you deserve an entire church all to yourselves. And now they have Christian bar mitzvahs. What is a Christian bar mitzvah?…You know, there were some people who filled out applications to go to Talbot Seminary, and they applied because they wanted to become Christian rabbis. Dr. Feinberg said to me, “What is a Christian rabbi?” They’re out of their mind. They think a church wants a Christian rabbi? They think a synagogue wants a Christian rabbi? No, neither want either.

So you know what they do? They start their own Messianic temple. Some of these dear people really mean well; and I…I pray God that they’ll win people to Christ; but that isn’t what it’s all about.That’s, in a sense, Judaizing. I don’t see any need for that at all. I praise God for the Jewish people in our…in our church. All you have to do is read Acts chapter 13, and you read about the five pastors there. Some of ’em were Jews. Some of ’em were Gentiles. Some of ’em were white. Some of ’em were black. Read it, Acts 13. They all pastor the same church. We don’t have the Grace Community Irish-American Church. Don’t see the point.

-John MacArthur
“Bible Questions and Answers, Part 5”
Grace to You: Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time
scribd.com

Well, tact isn’t exactly one of MacArthur’s strong suits but beyond that, he obviously has definite, though incredibly uninformed opinions about Messianic Judaism. Do you think a few Tent Builders graduates in his church are going to make much headway?

In the video I’m referencing, Boaz does say that the goal is to find receptive churches who may have never considered the Messianic perspective on the good news of Jesus Christ and help them understand what it is to partner with Israel. The implication is that not all churches are going to be receptive based on a variety of factors, not the least of which is the doctrine of the church and how married they are, especially the Pastoral staff and Board of Directors, to said-doctrine.

Boaz says it’s important, even vital to change the church for the sake of Israel.

But what can one person do?

Tent BuildersYes, I did hear Boaz’s “pep talk” in the brief video, how easy it is to get discouraged, how we can be part of the hope for the future in summoning the Messianic Age.

Either God introduced me to a brick wall I’m incapable of breaching in any respect, or He put me in a situation I should be very capable of managing, but instead, I’ve managed to fail.

True, I’m not in John MacArthur’s congregation, but his thoughts, opinions, and presence are written all over the walls of the church I do attend.

How important is it to you that your children follow in your footsteps as Jews and that they marry Jews? If it is important, then you have to realize that you are their role model. Your love of Judaism and things Jewish is what will communicate to your children. You can’t legislate feelings — they are felt and internalized. When Jews came to America and found the difficulties facing them in living Jewishly, the lament was often heard, “Oy, it’s tough to be a Jew!” If it’s tough to be a Jew, then why would your child want to be Jewish? You have to feel the joy, the meaning, the beauty in being a Jew — it’s GREAT to be a Jew! Then you have hope with your kids.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

MacArthur would never understand in a million years that even as a Christian husband and father, it is very important for me that my Children live as Jews. I’ve really dropped the ball on this one, especially when my kids were growing up. If I knew twenty-five years ago what I know now, the course of my life and their lives would be very different, but in a universe created by God, you don’t get “do overs”. There are no time machines, and I can’t send radio waves back to the past to talk to my younger self.

Boaz called the church “the biggest stumbling block for the people of Israel to see the true message, the redemptive message of the Messiah,” but the church, or at least MacArthur’s version of it, is also a stumbling block for me. If he were the only example of what it is to be a Christian when I was about to come to faith nearly twenty years ago, I’d have dropped Christianity like an angry rattlesnake.

Boaz said that if there is not a healthy Messianic community available to a “Messianic Gentile,” they should join a church for the sake of fellowship. After all, the mission of Tent Builders only works in the context of relationship.

But given men like MacArthur and the Calvinistic and supersessionistic shroud he has cast over church worship and teaching, what am I supposed to do with that relationship now? I’m hoping Boaz’s DVD has some answers.

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 1

Coming to the 18th chapter of Acts, I’ve entitled this particular message, “From Judaism to Jesus.” The story of the book of Acts has proven to us to be a study in transitions. I want to belabor the point for a moment, because I think it’s important for you to understand that.

The book of Acts, written by Luke, describing the early years of the church after its beginning, is really a book of transitions. It’s a book of beginnings. In a sense, it’s the genesis of the New Covenant. It’s all of the beginnings as the church begins to find itself and form itself and sever itself from Judaism. It was particularly a time of transition for the Jews of the early church. The old things of Judaism faded out very slowly, slowly, and the new gradually phased in.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us the theology of the transition, or the theology of the change from Judaism to Jesus. He very clearly lays it out. He says, for example, that Moses and David and Joshua and Aaron and all of the priests and all of those great characters of Judaism have all been replaced, as it were, by Jesus. He goes beyond that, and he says that the laws and the ceremonies and the rituals and the patterns of the Old Testament have given way to a whole grace kind of life. No longer are you ruled by externals but you’re ruled by the Spirit within.

God’s people, Israel, have given way to God’s people, the church. The system of multiple sacrifices has given way to the one final sacrifice. All the way through Hebrews, as we studied it some months ago, we saw the tremendous viewpoint of the New Covenant as it means the old is set aside. The writer of the book of Hebrews even says, “The old decays and fades away.”

John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 1: Paul in Transition”
Commentary on Acts 18:18-23, January 13, 1974
GTY.org

As Borowsky has already said, Christian scholars, educational organizations, and other groups are already changing their own assumptions which previously provided for the continuation of supersessionism and attempting to pass down their knowledge to the church. But how well is that knowledge being passed down to the families who worship in their churches every Sunday?

The answer is, not very well. This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian. Human nature tends to lead us on the path of least resistance in whatever activities we may find ourselves, including how we understand God and the Bible. While believers may go to church diligently, attend Sunday school classes, participate in mid-week Bible studies and the like, most won’t “go the extra mile” and actively pursue the latest research in New Testament studies, fresh understanding of Scripture, and become involved in interfaith activities. Most people get to a certain level in their lives, whether it is in marriage, at work, or in their faith, and then they’ll plateau and just stay there.

James Pyles
“Origin of Supersessionism in the Church:
Part 4: “Leaving Supersessionism Behind”
Messiah Journal, December 2012/Issue 112
First Fruits of Zion

When I wrote, “This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian,” perhaps I should have clarified that this can include the individual Christian Pastors and teachers, particularly those who either don’t keep up with the latest developments in Biblical scholarship or who choose to discard them in favor of centuries old Christian tradition.

I’ve been encouraged to take a look at some of the sermons of various Christian Pastors including John MacArthur. But where to start? In terms of MacArthur’s recorded messages, at the Grace to You website, if you go to the Sermons page, you’ll see a list of sermons that goes all the way back to 1969. Assuming that MacArthur’s messages were recorded for every Sunday spanning from 1969 to today, that’s a lot of material. How should I choose something representative?

I decided to do a search on a topic that is of particular interest to me. What is John MacArthur’s opinion of Messianic Judaism?

I don’t know. The search didn’t turn up any sermons that specific, but I did come across a three-part series called “From Judaism to Jesus.”

The title alone is provocative because it full-out states that Judaism has nothing to do with the Jewish Messiah, as if Judaism and the Messiah are mutually exclusive terms. That seems not only inaccurate but a little crazy. The Jewish people from ancient days have been longing for the coming of the Messiah as the savior and deliverer of Israel, as the King of the Jewish nation, and as the Monarch who would place Israel at the head of all the nations and inaugurate an age of world-wide peace.

So how could there be a “transition” from Judaism to Jesus as if Jesus was an entirely new and unanticipated “thing” in the plan of God?

John MacArthurAccording to John MacArthur, Jesus replaced Judaism. This is classic supersessionism, also known as fulfillment theology and replacement theology. I’ve been assured that MacArthur is not anti-Semitic, but I don’t know what else to call someone who advocates a theology that in part has resulted in every persecution and pogrom that has ever victimized the Jewish people, culminating in the worst of all atrocities, the Holocaust.

In part one of MacArthur’s sermon series, he invokes the Epistle to the Hebrews to support his position. The primary reason I’m reviewing D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is to see an alternate interpretation of this book of the New Testament, one that more accurately portrays the intent of the anonymous author toward his Jewish audience and that flows more evenly with the letters of Paul, which I believe also have been misunderstood, and which I believe, when correctly interpreted, offer messages of hope and good news to the Jewish people and to the normative Judaisms of his day (and for Judaism today) and only then also offer good news to the people of the nations as well.

MacArthur and other supersessionists like him, have put the cart before the horse and say that Paul, as well as the writer of the Book of Hebrews, offered “good news” to the Gentiles that grace had replaced the Law, and that if the Jews wanted a piece of it, they had to dismantle Judaism and leave its broken pieces behind them in the dirt, boarding the train to Heaven with Jesus in their new identities as goyishe Christians.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

You may remember this quote from my blog post Prologue to the Irony of Galatians. The traditional view of Paul and the mainstream historical interpretation of the message of the New Testament may seem totally benign and all but unquestionable to the Church, both across time and in the present, but the damage it has done to collective Jewry over the last twenty centuries has been incalculable.

Of course, men like MacArthur would counter that consequence aside, if how he preaches the “good news” is an accurate interpretation of the scriptures, he can only tell the truth of the Word of God. He can’t help how it’s been misused.

But he fails to ask himself the question (and frankly, I understand why) if he and the Church’s traditions and “ritual” interpretations of scripture are accurate. After all, these traditional interpretations of the Bible are based on the earliest writings of the “Church fathers” in the first few centuries of the common era, who unswervingly sought to distance the newly minted Gentile Christian “Church” from anything related to Jewish people, Judaism, and the Jewish nation that had been razed by the Romans and left wandering the diaspora without King, Temple, or Priesthood.

mj112The basic understanding of the writings of the Epistles has changed only somewhat for many Christians since the time of the Church fathers and the later Councils such as Nicaea, and for many Protestants, the core of Biblical interpretation has changed hardly at all in the five hundred years since the Reformation.

In the last part of my “Origin of Supersessionism in the Church” series for Messiah Journal, I wrote an optimistic message of how the Church was leaving behind this dark set of chapters from its past. Shocked out of apathy by Shoah, Christianity was seeking a way to reconcile with the Jewish people, and even in some cases, embracing the Jewish Roots of the faith. But that optimism may have been misplaced. I wrote it long before I read John MacArthur’s opinion on what Judaism means to Christianity today:

It was ordained of God. It’s a way of life, a point of pride, a divine institution, and it doesn’t die easily. We see that even today. Jewish people who come to Jesus Christ, if they’ve been involved in any depth of Judaism, and certainly Orthodox Judaism or Conservative Judaism in some cases, they become Christians, but it’s very difficult for them to break with all of those traditions. They very often hang on to those things.

Dr. Feinberg himself expressed to me that this is one of the tragedies or one of the problems the church has to deal with, and that is allowing the Jews to become a full part of the body of Christ. Very often, they themselves resist that. The statistics are staggering when you think that in LA there are multiple tens of thousands of Jewish believers and a few hundred of them are involved in local churches.

So it’s very difficult for the transition from Judaism to Jesus. The church needs to do everything it can to stretch out its arms of love to incorporate them in every way and at the same time allow those old institutions to die out.

It amazes me that MacArthur, in the same breath, can complain about how most believing Jews don’t join the local church and also make “from Judaism to Jesus” the key phrase of his diatribe.

Am I being too harsh in calling MacArthur’s sermon a diatribe, “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something”? Maybe. I don’t think (I’m trying to be fair) that MacArthur meant to attack the Jewish people in general and Jewish believers in particular, but imagine how all this sounds to Jewish people.

How does this sound?

In the character of the book of Acts, the church is born, and Judaism in God’s eyes is a dead issue…

I personally know Jewish people who are deeply involved in religious and cultural Judaism who are also disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and not only do they not see Judaism and faith in Moshiach as mutually exclusive, they see their devotion to the Messiah as the logical and ultimate extension of their Jewish faith and Jewish identity.

John MacArthur would take that all away and replace it with a pale shadow of the richness of a Jew kneeling before the King of Israel in homage, devotion, and in celebration that Messiah, Son of David, has come and will one day return to restore all that has been lost, bringing the world to perfection in the coming Messianic Age.

It’s funny, because MacArthur saw this vision as well, he simply rejected it out of hand.

It indicates the difficulty in his mind of seeing Christianity as a unit all its own composed of Jew and Gentile, but rather, they saw it as an extension of Judaism. It’s understandable, right, because Jesus was their Messiah? He was the fulfillment of Judaism.

burning-the-talmudMacArthur couldn’t have mapped out his theology more openly (and notice that he said Jesus was – past tense – the Jewish Messiah, not is). Instead of seeing Biblical history extending forward across the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings into the Apostolic scriptures and up through history to today, an extension of the original promises of God to Israel culminated in Messiah, he sees a total break in Biblical prophesy. The “extension” shatters at the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, and by the time Luke records the Acts of the Apostles, those promises have reformed into an entirely new and unanticipated entity. Jews are absorbed into the new thing called “the Church” where Jews and Gentiles are rendered as a completely homogenous mass, something like mixing the different ingredients for “Wonder Bread” into a bowl and baking it up in an oven. Once it’s fully baked, take out the loaf, slice it up, and each piece is pretty much like any other piece…

…anonymous and nutritionally deficient. Everything important has been bleached out.

You have to remember, then, that there was flux in the book of Acts, and that many of these Jewish people who are coming to Christ are finding it hard to get all the way over to the features of Christianity. Not only because of the strength of Judaism but watch this— Secondly, because all of the features of Christianity hadn’t been revealed yet. They really didn’t know what to substitute for it.

Christianity is a substitute for Judaism or rather, a replacement. As the missus would say, “Oy!”

In fact, the Romans considered Christianity a sect of Judaism. As they stood apart and looked at it, they just figured it’s a sect of Judaism. That’s how tightly tied it was.

I apologize, but there’s only one response to that last quote: Oh, duh!

To give you an idea of how entrenched he (the apostle Paul) was in Judaism, Galatians 1:13. He says, “You heard of my manner of life in time past in Judaism. Beyond measure I persecuted the church and wasted it. I profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation. More exceedingly zealous in the traditions of my fathers.” He says, “I was a Jew in every sense, even beyond the normal pattern of my fellows.”

Philippians 3:5. “Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the law, a Pharisee.” He was a superlegalist. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” He carried through every little nitpicking iota of the ceremonial legalist system. He was a Jew at the limit of Judaism’s capacities.

Yet he became a Christian. When he became a Christian, you can’t make a change even though the man’s heart was changed, and he was a new creation, the transformation of his person took time. I’ve always said, “You take a person with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition and get him saved, and you’ve got a Christian with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.”

MacArthur says that Paul was “entrenched” in Jewish tradition, but in reading MacArthur’s sermon, it’s more than abundantly clear that his own entrenchment in Christian interpretive tradition has blinded him to what the Bible is actually saying. MacArthur’s shooting all around the target but even after decades, he’s still missing it.

In the quote above, MacArthur unfavorably compares Judaism to having “a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.” He had to know how this would sound. I guess his audience didn’t mind. I know I would have, though. In fact, I do mind it right now.

So what am I supposed to learn from reading the sermons of Christian Pastors? What am I supposed to learn from reading John MacArthur’s sermons? Granted, he delivered this sermon over forty years ago, but based on his more recent sermons and commentaries, I have no reason to believe he’s changed his viewpoints on Jews and Judaism one bit.

If I’m being offered a choice between MacArthur’s version of Christianity and a more Judaic and Messianic perspective, based on part one of “From Judaism to Jesus,” I know which direction to go in.

The road

Addendum: In his sermon, MacArthur said that by Acts 2, God considered Judaism to be a dead issue. I just read that in 1942, Adolf Hitler said something quite similar and planned to create “a Museum of Judaism, to remember the dead Jewish religion, culture and people.” Go to the small article at Aish.com and find out how Hitler’s intent completely backfired and ended up “as a living testimony to the indestructibility of the Jewish people.” I think that speaks to Christian assumptions about the “death” of Judaism as well.

For more, go to Part 2 of my review.

How Far Can We Explore the Bible?

The Bible is not a book but a library. It abounds with a spectrum of complementary, contrasting, and conflicting views, preserved by different sources and traditions. Diversity is not anathema. The Talmud records that books like Ezekiel, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther made it into the canon of Hebrew Scripture after much dispute, because they often contain often large chunks of theologically objectionable material. The editors did not put a premium on consistency and uniformity, but rather on assembling clashing voices driven by a hunger for the holy. A tolerance for diverse opinion and practice is imbedded in the foundation text of Judaism and in the vast exegetical literature that it inspired.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Conceiving of God,” February 13, 1999
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Sounds kind of like how I relate to the Book of Hebrews and why I feel is it so problematic, but Schorsch’s commentary on the “theologically objectionable material” and its “clashing voices” in the “foundation text of Judaism” speaks to me of the whole Bible and especially those portions, like Hebrews, that “clash” with other portions. Perhaps that “clash” is deliberate (at least on God’s part) and exists not just to inform us, but to challenge us.

I must admit to being bothered by John MacArthur (yes, him again) and the Sufficiency of Scripture crew, because for them (as least as I read them), the Bible is to Christians what an auto repair manual is to a car mechanic.

You’ve probably heard of the “Bible” described by the acronym Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Cute. There’s even a song with that title.

But it’s incredibly reductionistic and highly limiting of the power and the depth of the Word of God, as if the record of God’s interaction with man is just a history book, as if God were describing the workings of an internal combustion engine, which a sufficiently skilled human being can completely disassemble, describe the role and function of each and every part, and then reassemble and start-up with relatively no creative effort at all.

God is just a machine and the Bible is the instruction manual.

OK, it’s probably kind of unfair of me to say that, but there seems to be so much more “encoded” in the Bible, not necessarily though some arcane mystic means by which we must enter into an extraordinary metaphysical process to pry loose, but that requires we look at the scriptures as more than a book and even more than a library. If we believe that “all scripture is God-breathed,” (2 Timothy 3:16) then we must allow for the “breath of God” to be experienced as we open its pages and immerse in its waters. In other words, there’s a lot more to the Bible than meets the eye.

Even MacArthur’s commentary on scriptural sufficiency heavily, actually almost exclusively, references Psalm 19 and Psalm 119, both lyrical monuments to the glory, wisdom, and righteousness of the Torah of Moses. MacArthur just removes these passages from their original context and reforms them to suit his purposes.

This is probably why I have problems sometimes in Sunday school class. I expect to dive into a bottomless ocean of Biblical mystery and find myself wading in the shallow end of a swimming pool.

I’m being unfair again, but frankly, the Bible can take us just as far as we want to go and then, even farther. But just how far is that?

You’ll get a good idea of what I’m talking about if you’ll read Part 1 and Part 2 of my review on Boaz Michael’s lecture Moses in Matthew:

The two-hour seminar introduced many of the typologies throughout Matthew to Yeshua’s “Moses-like” fulfillment. The Gospels are composed in a thoroughly Jewish manner and need to be understood within that context to fully see what and why things take place and are said. The Moses in Matthew seminars are currently being offered at various locations and if you have the opportunity to attend one of these seminars, definitely do it! I found myself not only intellectually engaged and enlightened, but spiritually encouraged by this discussion.

-Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
“Moses in Matthew”
Yinon Blog

Gateway to EdenI’ve written before about the implications of treating Matthew and the other gospels as Jewish literature rather than Christian documents about Jesus and admittedly, the former is where my heart lies. It’s also where my head goes when I want to know more, learn more, see more clearly the path of God as He walks (metaphorically speaking) from Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) across early creation, on the road down to Egypt with Jacob, on the road up to Sinai with Moses, across the path of the Judges and the Prophets, and into the time of the apostles and beyond.

Why should God be so “Jewish” up until the end of the “Old Testament” (Tanakh, Jewish Scriptures) and then abruptly exchange His tefillin (and in Jewish legend even Hashem lays tefillin) for a cross around His neck (again speaking metaphorically)? Why would God set fire to the Torah scroll and when the flames have died out and the embers have cooled, sweep away the ashes and set a good ol’ King James Bible on the bema…uh, pulpit in front of Him to read to the Christian faithful as He evicts the Jews not only out of paradise but out of significance, love, hope, mercy, and completely off of the path of eschatology?

You think I’m kidding?

When 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.

-John MacArthur
“Understanding the Sabbath”
Grace to You

In other words, according to MacArthur and Protestant tradition, God destroyed everything that made the Jewish people Jewish, the Temple, the Torah, everything that defines Judaism, everything that sustains Jews. If you destroy what gives a people their life, don’t you destroy the people too?

My Pastor encouraged me to listen to some Christian sermons, probably since so much of my information comes from Jewish sources. I’m not sure that was such a good idea and the experience doesn’t seem to be producing the result I think he hoped for.

Why am I rehashing stuff I’ve rehashed and reheated many times before? What new information can I hope to produce? What new insights do I think will appear?

I suppose it’s one way to continue on the journey I declared couple of months ago. Challenged to stop sitting on the fence, I decided to hop off but not on the side I think my Pastor and the Church desired of me.

I’ve also been meaning to write some sort of commentary on Tzvi Freeman’s and Yehuda Shurpin’s series Is Midrash for Real?.

MidrashNow I’ve done it. I bet I’ve crossed somebody’s line in the sand. On the other hand, how do you get further into understanding the meaning of creation unless you break a few barriers and blow past a few “Do Not Enter” signs?

In a comment on one of my blog posts, I quoted from an article written by Adrian Kent called Our quantum reality problem or When the deepest theory we have seems to undermine science itself, some kind of collapse looks inevitable. I did this to illustrate how difficult it is for us to quantify and operationalize our observations of the universe. Shouldn’t our exploration into the deepest parts of a Spiritually inspired Bible, a Bible that was just as much authored by the finger of God as the pen of man contain just as much, if not more, difficulty and even “bizarreness?”

If God is truly infinite and unknowable in an absolute sense and even a created universe is only explained (and still imperfectly explained) by the shifting colors and currents described by quantum mechanics, how can we expect to experience the Bible as merely equivalent to the owner’s manual of a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle?

I’m not necessarily advocating for treating midrash as in any way the same as the Bible, but I am saying that we need to stop limiting ourselves by limiting the Word of God and thus limiting God. We must be willing to admit that God is God and He is not quantifiable. Even referring to God as “He” is a convention, just as the Bible describes God as having arms, or as walking. These are just literary devices to allow us to conceptualize the unimaginable.

“To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous. Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.”

-Leto, pg 275
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert (1976)

The Bible, among its other functions, sets up a basic framework for our faith. The framework exists as an environment in which to explore what that faith means, to discover our identity as God has given it to us, and what that identity means in relation to other people and in a relationship between the created and the Creator.

pathThe danger in this exploration is to read into the Bible what God did not put there, but there’s an equal danger in believing we have already discovered everything God breathed into the scriptures. Oversimplifying the matter, Christianity seems to be in danger of doing the latter and Judaism risks the former, at least in their most extreme expressions.

Somewhere there is a middle ground, a straddling path, a place where we can tether one foot in the pages of paper and ink and let the other one begin to stride among clouds. Even commentaries such as D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series (now, as I write this, at thirty-nine recordings and still counting) is just slightly slipping away from the Bible as a repair manual and entering the Bible as the barest beginning of an exploration into the hem of the garments of God.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Hebrews 5:12 (NASB)

If you think you have attained absolute knowledge of God and His Word, interestingly enough, you may still be dining on Gerber’s and have missed a few other culinary opportunities. The Bible contains an unending adventure of epicurean delights at the edge of uncertainty and I intend on tasting some delicacies.

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” -H.L. Mencken

Hallelujah!

Beloved of the soul, Compassionate Father, draw Your servant to Your Will; then Your servant will hurry like a hart to bow before Your majesty; to him Your friendship will be sweeter than the dripping of the honeycomb and any taste.

Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe, my soul pines for your love. Please, O God, heal her now by showing her the pleasantness of Your radiance; then she will be strengthened and healed, and eternal gladness will be hers.

Yedid Nefesh, as quoted from the Siddur

Recently, a friend of mine leant me his copy of a book called Smith Wigglesworth: Apostle of Faith, written by Stanley Howard Frodsham. It’s a short biography of an early Pentecostal evangelist and faith healer who operated in the early to mid-twentieth century.

In reading this book, you’d think that Wigglesworth was a walking, talking, healing vendor. It seems that whoever he encountered in any circumstance, even among crowds of thousands and tens of thousands, he could heal just about anyone of anything with a mere touch. Some of the stories are beyond fantastic, such as a man who had no feet being touched by Wigglesworth and then told to go to a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes. It wasn’t until this man put his stumps into a pair of shoes that his feet miraculously grew back in a few seconds.

I have to admit, while reading the book (I consumed most of it in a single setting), I wasn’t feeling too good and I was reflecting on my own various (though minor) physical discomforts, and wishing that one such person did exist who, through a mighty apprehension of faith, could heal any human deformity, discomfort, and disease.

But it wasn’t the “healing miracles” that impressed me. Assuming that his biographer was accurate and truthful. What I admired about Wigglesworth was his faith and dedication to God. According to the book, he wasn’t in it for the money and never amassed great wealth in the manner you see many televangelists do today. In fact, he tended to (but not always) shun the rich who wanted his healing and gravitate to the poor and the desperate. Of course, Wigglesworth grew up in poverty and hardship and it’s likely he identified with those he helped.

Supposedly, the only book he read was the Bible, which while laudable also seems extreme (as an avid reader, I rather believe that books are good, depending on the material). He also said that while feelings were unreliable, a simple believing faith in God and daily devotional reading of the Bible was necessary. Not exactly the picture you get of Pentecostals from some of their critics.

My friend leant me this book, which was a gift to him from one of his daughters, before he’d even read it himself, because of my recent blog post on healing faith. I think he’s trying to tell me that I’ve limited the “gifts of the spirit,” and if I’m to believe everything written about Wigglesworth, I must be doing so in the extreme.

white-pigeon-kotelBut as I continued reading, while I didn’t always subscribe to the various miraculous claims attributed to Wigglesworth, his love of God and unswerving faith and devotion to the Lord of Heaven did touch me. In the world of the blogosphere, it’s easy to get into your head and forget your soul, as if faith and a life dedicated to God were a mere intellectual exercise, an academic pursuit.

While men like John MacArthur may seek to purge any sort of emotional attachment one might have to God from the realm of the Christian faithful, I don’t think we can truly experience faith as an intellectual pursuit alone. I was reading my morning prayers, which today included Yedid Nefesh, and was particularly taken by the passion of this song. It speaks of a man who longs for God as a deer might pant for water, nearly dying of thirst, begging for even a drop of what returns life, not just to the body but to the soul.

How can someone turn to God, broken in spirit, humbled before Majesty, covered in iniquity, and not feel anything? How can we turn to God at all if we don’t believe He is the lover of our souls?

That’s what impressed me about Wigglesworth.

Although, I wouldn’t give Frodsham’s book as high praise as I find on Amazon, I can see what the other readers are attracted to. While it would be of great benefit today if such healing miracles were available to us through one faithful man of God, it’s not, in my opinion, Wigglesworth’s most defining characteristic, nor the focus of what we should desire.

In fact, I just read a story of a Jewish man who drew ever closer to God in faithfulness, even when he was not cured.

I said in my previous blog post that it is the healing of the sick and injured spirit we should seek above all else. The healing miracles of Jesus and the apostles were used to bring the sick of heart to faith by healing their bodies. Wigglesworth seemed to do something similar, but it is faith, belief, devotion, love and duty to God that is important…for Wigglesworth just didn’t have a believing faith, he acted for the benefit of countless others, that is the crux of who we are as disciples of the Master.

While I was reading, my wife was doing some paperwork and listening to an Israeli Jewish singer named Liel Kolet. Kolet was singing Leonard Cohen’s signature chart “Hallelujah”, which I found myself (softly) singing to myself as I was driving to do an errand later last evening. When I got back home after talking to God, I visited YouTube and listened to Kolet’s interpretation of the song, but found Cohen’s to have more heart. The words weren’t exactly what I was thinking about or feeling, but somewhere between the lyrics and the music, I found my faith rejuvenated.

I can thank Wigglesworth, Frodsham, Leonard Cohen, and especially my friend Tom for that.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

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.