A theology from reading the Bible

A strict etymological definition of theology means the study of God. That can be a little misleading because it is not like biology, which is the study of life. What I mean by that is we can’t put God under a microscope for a closer look.

Everyone has a theology, that is, everyone has given some thought to the idea of God’s existence and what that means to him or her. Even an atheist has a theology, he believes there is no God, and that is a theology in a sense.

Since we can’t put God under a microscope, how does God reveal Himself to us? He reveals some of His attributes to us in Creation. The believer can gain an appreciation for God’s majesty and omnipotence in the wonders of nature. But we need the Scriptures to give us a fuller revelation of God’s nature and will.

It is in the Bible that men inspired by God give us the clearest picture of who He is. Sadly, though eighty-six percent of Christians claim to believe in God to be essential to their religious identity, less than half (42%) believe reading the Bible or other religious material is important to their Christian witness.

When Jesus was tempted and questioned about His teaching and practices He quoted the Scriptures as His reason for what He believed and did. It is inconceivable to me for someone to claim to be a follower of Christ, but does not believe in reading and studying the Scriptures as He did.

They must be getting their Christian theology from a mixture of hearsay and their imagination if they are not getting it from the Scriptures. If they don’t read the Bible they are opening themselves up to deception and confusion, not knowing what they believe or why.

Since “each one of us will give an account of himself to God,” Romans 14:12, we should not leave our spiritual welfare solely in the hands of others. Each of us needs to take responsibility for our own theology.

Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15.

I hope to finish my seminary work later this year, but my basic beliefs were forged during years of personal Bible study and prayer. Yesterday I read the last five chapters of Revelation finishing my fifty-first reading of the Bible, and today I have started reading through it again.

My dedication to reading the Word of God is not so I can be a whiz at Bible Trivia, but so I can be “a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” I welcome anyone who wishes to join me on Facebook as I begin reading through my Bible again.

Advertisements

Should Russell Moore be fired?

I had hoped that the rancor that had characterized the recent presidential campaign, and had caused political division among some Christian leaders was now, well, history. It seems I was overly optimistic.

Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. During Donald Trump’s campaign he was highly critical of Trump’s unrepentant admissions of immorality and apparent lack of any sign of Christian character while claiming to be one.

This past September in a New York Times op-ed, Moore suggests Trump’s claim of being a Christian is out of political expediency, that he has a mixed track record on the issues concerning evangelicals, and has a host of self-professed moral failings, saying, “To back Mr. Trump, these [evangelical] voters must repudiate everything they believe.”

Since Trump garnered 81% of the white evangelical vote Moore’s opponents say he is out of step with the denomination’s rank and file, and his past criticisms may become a roadblock to any future cooperation with the new administration.

To his credit Moore clarified his remarks by saying, “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighted the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.”

Moore is right. While several prominent Christian leaders bent over backwards to excuse Trump’s inconsistent claims to Christianity, Russell Moore held Trump accountable. Russell Moore did what any Christian, especially a leader of an ethics commission, should have done.

It seems to me there are leaders within the SBC that need to decide whether or not they want the denomination to devolve into a political party, or continue its vision of churches cooperating to fulfill the Great Commission of Christ. Jesus told us to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” not “Go and make political activists of all the nations.”

These same leaders will stand around befuddled as to how a nation that once commanded a Christian consensus has become a people the majority of which are unchurched with a disdain for organized religion. Could it be they have become overly involved in things the church was not called to do?

Like Russell Moore I believe a Christian citizen has a responsibility to weigh the political issues in the light of our biblical convictions, and then to vote our conscience, but politics for the Christian were never meant to supplant our primary calling to spread the Gospel.

We need to be reminded of Esau who sold his spiritual birthright to his brother Jacob for a single meal of stew and the Scriptures tell us, “Thus Esau despised his birthright,” Genesis 25:34.

Christians have been blessed with the only message that promises help for the present and hope for the future, we should not barter away our spiritual birthright to share the Gospel for a single meal of political stew.

Russell Moore’s opponents should leave him alone; we have bigger fish to catch.

Is it ever acceptable to lie for Jesus?

A writer in a recent article I read raised that question because of an incident in which he had been involved. He had been invited by a radio host to do a live interview and accepted. When he arrived there was a prominent Christian personality present and he soon learned the “interview” was an ambush to engage him in a debate.

When the session was over he asked the radio host and his opponent why they had deceived him and had not been honest about why he was invited. He said they told him “they believed that I wouldn’t have accepted their offer had I been told the truth. When I questioned them about the deception, I was told that since the debate was to further God’s wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable.”

I have not mentioned those involved because I was not there and do not know if the story itself is true, but let me say unequivocally that the rationalization that “to further God’s wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable,” in this situation is nothing less than reprehensible.

If we as Christians expect to be believed at any time, we must be honest at all times. The person who lies supposedly furthering “God’s wishes” is blatantly furthering nothing more than his own interests. God would never ask us to lie for Him; He doesn’t need that kind of help.

There are accounts in the Scriptures of saints and sinners who have lied, but not a single instance where it has been condoned or encouraged by our Father.

A notable case occurs in the beginning of the Exodus narrative, Exodus 1:8-22. Concerned that the Hebrew slave population may threaten the security of Egypt, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah to kill the Hebrew baby boys while being born.

When his orders are not followed the midwives are called to give an account. They told Pharaoh, “the Hebrew women…are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” This could not have been true in every case and was an obvious lie, but Pharaoh does not punish the midwives and God “established households for them.”

Did God bless the midwives for lying? That seems to be the case, but further reflection reveals the answer. The midwives “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”

God blessed them not because they lied, but because at the risk of their lives they honored Him and refused to kill those baby boys. In such extreme circumstances, if in our human frailty we lie, as any of us are apt to do, I think God is graciously understanding and forgiving.

But the thought that God is served by the use of deception is the gravest deception of all. In our conversations we are exhorted to speak “the truth in love,” Ephesians 4:15. Because if it’s not true; it’s not love.

Revisiting the Virgin Birth

When I wrote last week about Andy Stanley and the controversy he aroused over the Virgin Birth of Christ, I had already determined that unless another more compelling issue arose, I would readdress the matter again.

I still maintain that given the evangelistic context of Andy’s statement, “Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus,” he was not wrong. I do not know of any evangelistic strategy today that incorporates the birth narratives when witnessing to unbelievers, nor was it a strategy of the early church.

But in a completely different context, the Virgin Birth of Christ is one of the hinges on which the door of Atonement swings. Here’s why.

According to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament animal sacrifices could not be offered if they were blind, lame, or had a physical deformity of any kind. This requirement of an unblemished sacrifice presaged the coming of the Messiah who would need to be a sinless sacrifice for our sins.

Adam had been created in a state of innocence free of any inclination to sin. But when Eve and he ate the forbidden fruit sin altered their nature, and the Scriptures teach us that sin nature, the propensity to sin, was inherited by their offspring and each successive generation.

The Christ, the Greek word for Messiah, needed to be sinless in life and in birth to be an adequate sacrifice for our sin. Had Jesus been born from the union of Joseph and Mary, the human race would have been doomed. This is why her conception was “of the Holy Spirit” and why Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son: and he called His name Jesus,” Matthew 1:20, 25.

Without the Virgin Birth there could have been no Atonement, and without the Atonement there could have been no Christianity. But the sinless sacrifice of Christ was divinely orchestrated to meet the demands of a Holy God who requires an unblemished offering.

Understanding how Father God provided for our salvation is not necessary for us to secure it. He merely requires us to recognize we are sinners and trust in His grace and mercy provided by our Savior Jesus Christ.

This is why I said Andy had made a “very strong statement” in what he said, because in one sense the Virgin Birth is not an essential element of evangelism, but in a greater sense it is indispensable to our Atonement. It is not a necessary message for the unbeliever to believe: it is necessary for the atonement and a message to the believer of the extent Father God and God the Son went to secure our eternal well-being.

The Virgin Birth provided the necessary foundation so “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them,” 2 Corinthians 5:19.