biblical illiteracy and the United States

Scot McKnight has a most interesting post on the Bible’s place in the founding of the United States, and in US political, presidential rhetoric. If you read this, and stop there, you would do well.

My thought is on the great loss of being biblically illiterate, though if you’re into US politics heavy, you will still do better to read Scot’s post. Just a bit long, but well worth it.

The Bible is such an important document in the founding and fabric of the United States, though that’s a complex topic by itself, and I’m in no way suggesting that the United States was meant by its founding documents to be a Christian nation. Only that the Bible certainly significantly contributed to what the United States was and at least to a significant extent still is. But to get back to my own point for this post, I think it would be good and wise for those becoming citizens to have to read a shortened version of the Bible, maybe kind of like a Reader’s Digest condensed version, which would help people understand something of the values and structure on which this nation was founded and built.

We don’t do well as Christians to not be people of the Book. Yes, Christ is our center, who brings us into the life of the Triune God, and is the Savior and Lord of the entire world. But that faith, while centered on the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus, is found in scripture, in God’s written word. To say God’s written word opens up plenty of misunderstanding, but it is sufficient for now to say that the fulfillment of it all is in Jesus. But to understand that fulfillment and what it means from cover to cover, we need to read and reread and become steeped in the entire Book. And like a friend reminded me, the Bible itself is complex. A simple, child-like faith opens one up to the beauty and power found in its pages. But it can leave one gasping and grasping for answers. The Holy Spirit is our help together as we read scripture, meditate on it, and if you wish, commit some of it to memory. But there’s no doubt that we’ll be stretched in the process, which surely is part of the point of scripture, God’s written word.

But we’ve fallen on hard times when it comes to actual knowledge of the Bible. People still buy it evidently, but there are other ways to occupy time now, many. We’ve maybe read it through once, or at least heard large parts of it read, some of that over and over again. So we think we have it, that we really don’t need to read it at all. I hear that we need to do it, not read it. Well, I believe we need to both hear and obey God through it. We need an interactive relationship with God through scripture, and we need to come to it again and again to let its truth break through to us and soak in our bones over time. All of it, not just the precious promise parts of it, but the hard and seemingly mundane in it. The Bible mirrors real life, right to its very depths. But with the one good news for the world in Jesus.

Whatever we are doing, or out and about, we in Jesus, let’s lead the way in serious study and contemplation of scripture.Yes, certainly hoping the better for the United States and all nations on earth. But committed above all to what is mandated in scripture as followers of Jesus.

 

 

black history month, why it’s important, and what our witness ought to be

February in the United States and Canada is designated Black History Month (October in the United Kingdom). It is important to remember the history of African-Americans, whose recent ancestors were stolen, enslaved, and all too often killed. It is a great error to see this as being “politically correct.” We need to recognize the achievements of those in our family who are African in their origin, as well as the difficulties and evils they encountered, more or less front and center at one time, but now often much more hidden, yet just as real. An example of what is especially a hidden, subtle form of racism is the part of the story in the film Hidden Figures, which wasn’t told.

At the heart of the outcome of the gospel is the destruction of all divisions within humanity, while celebrating the differences through God’s creation (see the book of Revelation, in which every tribe and nation in all their diversity worship God together). The fact that the church seems to make either little or nothing of this at all seems to me to be a grave mistake which needs prayer and correction. The good news of God in Jesus and through his death means a completely open access to God, and also to each other in the sense of living out our oneness as one family in him. There is only one human race, and the difference in ethnicities among us enhance humanity. We need each other, every part of the whole of the one family of humanity.

This should be fulfilled in Jesus, in which through the new birth and new creation, we are all one in him, in all our differences. The best witness of a church in that regard is to include different ethnicities on the staff, particularly in positions of leadership, certainly including the pastoral. The world needs that witness, and we actually need this as well, to break down the sin of racism, which is the hidden elephant in still too many places. When we overlook the hidden, or not so hidden racism among those around us, we can inadvertently make a place for it in our hearts, while never wanting to. We excuse something for which there is no excuse, and which brings grave harm to humanity, and is an affront to God, and above all grieves the heart of God.

So let’s do something if we haven’t yet, before this month ends, to both remember and celebrate our black brothers and sisters. And let’s pray that this can somehow be worked into our lives on a practical level so that we can enter more fully into the salvation which is ours through the good news in Jesus our Lord.

when all seems lost (in this world)

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11

It is hard to put one’s finger on exactly what is going on in the world, the trajectory and back and forth, ebb and flow of it all. A well written history is indeed fascinating. I remember early on finding that especially so with American history, and especially that of the United States. We really can’t be sure where that is going all the time, and it seems like inevitably a mixed bag of good and bad. There is no doubt that we hope and pray for the good of peoples and nations, naturally first of all, our own nation, but not excluding any peoples, or nations.

So it’s not like we don’t care what is happening in the world. It’s more about expectations. We as Christians believe that God is indeed Sovereign over the nations, that somehow “God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year.” And that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in the place of ultimate rule and authority, somehow that rule flowing in and through the church as his Body in the world, through the gospel, from the Father by the Spirit. But what we see is at best incomplete, and at worst seems incoherent and subject to forces which begin to make all too much sense in terms which are not helpful, and even evil. As in all of life in this world, it’s not simply a matter of good and evil, since there seems to be an admixture of both as people like Abraham Lincoln knew all too well.

The answer that we in Jesus need to dwell on, which is not just for us, but for the world, has already been mentioned in this post. It is the rule of King Jesus through his body the church, a rule which is solely through the gospel, the good news in and of him. Again, there is much good that can happen since humankind is made in the image of God, albeit with undercurrents and waves of evil present. But the only sure-fire hope for the world is in Jesus through the gospel. And that gospel certainly pertains to the present life, but is also about the life to come. In fact, strangely enough, it brings something of the life to come into the present through the new creation in Jesus.

For us who believe in that hope in Jesus, which by the way means nothing less than a faith which simply anticipates and waits for the completion of God fulfilling his promises, that means we don’t settle into even the best this world has to offer. We are in a sense strangers and foreigners here, because we point to the only salvation in Jesus alone. A salvation not just in terms of the individual, though certainly about that as well, but for the entire world, and every aspect of it. A hope that seems planted in human hearts until all of that seems more or less lost. The hope for what the Bible calls shalom, which not only means justice, but goodness manifested in human flourishing along with the flourishing of all creation.

We pray for good, and against evil in the world, in the nations and governments. But our hope and expectation is in none of that. It is only in the Lord Jesus through the gospel, the good news in and about him. That is the one political reality and salvation we hold on to, both for the present world, as well as that to come. And in which we in Jesus have begun to live even now. Meant not only for us, but for the world in and through Jesus.

losing love

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24

It is easy to lose heart in more ways than one. We in the United States live in a society which is practically at war with each other. I don’t think close to actual physical arms, though there may be small fringes that aspire to that. But given the political divide, and deep divisions that come with that, we tend to see everything in stark black and white, and from that tend toward an apocalyptic attitude. Nothing new in American history, by the way, at least in various ways. And it seems to me to be a human tendency.

Jesus’s words quoted above are in the context of end times. We all know that everything must end some time. The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple did take place not long after Jesus’s words, within that generation. Oftentimes there is at least the threatened impending of something important that seems evident in the horizon.

We are to be aware of all of this as followers of Jesus. And we are to hold on to our priorities: the gospel, and the life that comes out of that. The good news in Jesus certainly brings with it both grace and truth. And the nonnegotiable that comes out of that seems to me to be a Calvary, cross-shaped kind of love, a love for one’s enemies, as well as the hard work of maintaining love amongst ourselves.

The one who endures to the end will be saved, Jesus said. So to hold on to love and truth, or truth and love requires endurance on our part, persevering in the faith which makes love and hope possible, though any of the three can be helpful to the others. But most basic is holding on to faith in the faith out of which a special kind of love flows, which is able to break through all the divisions of hate, and even systems of evil, though sometimes at great personal cost.

In this day and time we need to hold on to love and then truth. It is most basic in our relationships, in listening to each other, in respect even when we don’t agree. And above all for us in Jesus, our focus on helping others find him, so that we can look past what differences we may have, to that. And maintaining love with each other which is grounded in nothing less than the gospel, in Jesus himself. A big part of our calling in him now until the end.

going on in spite of whatever, by faith

By faith we understand (Hebrews 11), yet at the same time our faith is based on the faith, having roots in Jesus’s resurrection in history, which in an American court of law would surely pass muster in being accepted as true beyond any reasonable doubt. That latter point would be debated by some, but for those who have faith, it is a powerful reason to believe, and has moved more than one skeptic to faith. And the witness of God’s Holy Spirit to us helps us through the inevitable bumps and roadblocks in our journey of faith, along the way.

There are times when we are at a loss, maybe rather off our feet, or perhaps wobbly in our own personal faith, even if we may be doing well concerning the faith itself. Or this could well apply to us when we do have some genuine doubt or at least question in regard to the faith in general. By faith we proceed, even when we don’t know where we’re going (Hebrews 11, again).

That means that while we may not feel altogether inside, indeed we may be rather disheveled, or even quite a bit so, we go on the best we can, by faith, certainly an act of faith, itself. And rather defiant of whatever troubles us, in a way, but more like an entrustment of that concern to God, who certainly can take care of whatever problem it is, and no matter what, promises us the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

The devil’s strategy is to get us to grovel in the dust, and perhaps even eventually abandon faith altogether. Or at least to sideline us, so that our faith is not effective for ourselves or anyone else. But it’s a great opportunity, in the face of such opposition, to simply proceed in all of our weakness, by faith finding God’s ever present grace in Jesus. And we will, no doubt, if we simply go on by faith. God will keep all of his promises to us in Christ Jesus.

review of *Black Triangle*, by Patrick Davis

Black Triangle, by Patrick Davis

Usually when I do a book review I know the author- at least as an online friend. This is especially the case with this author who actually is married to my youngest sister. I respect him as a good brother in the Lord, exemplary in his life of faith. And a true friend. And I found out that he is an exceptional writer. Ordinarily I don’t read novels (to my loss). But I finally got around to reading his at least twice (maybe also in the distant past). That this is historical fiction helped and that it touched on the explorations and conquest of Spain into the new world caught my attention since I was once an avid reader of that part of early American history.

The book has much to commend. Yes, it is very well written. A movie could easily be made out of it, not having to add between the lines, because the book is quite detailed. I think for some readers that could get a bit daunting since so many asides are given. But the thrust of the narrative I think is sufficient to make up for that. Nevertheless I counted it a good exercise in making me a better reader. I also found myself at a loss over some of the language, a good example being nautical terms and phraseology. Perhaps the book could have provided a glossary or footnotes. However that would break up the flow of reading. Probably best that it didn’t. My reading in such places reminded me of some of my Bible reading in which even to this day I’m more or less dense, for example the layout of the temple and priestly practice. I found that the essence of the story was not missed by simply reading on, trying to understand as much as possible what I was unsure of. This was not throughout the entire book, but here and there, military terms and phraseology being perhaps the other prime example. Of course one does have recourse to the Internet. Still I do not see this as a major issue in reading the book. And in fact I counted it as a good education. There is no doubt that the author spent considerable time in research as is the case in many novels, and in fact, he told me that was the case.

Now to the story itself. The focus is on one Hernandez Pizzaro (who is a historical figure) and his venture in tearing himself away from his home in Spain on the farm against his parents’ wishes under the influence of his Uncle, Captain Martinez Pizzaro, in pursuit of “the Grand Pizarro Military Tradition.” And we find that he’s in pursuit of something more which no matter how many times he may achieve it, could never be satisfied. A black cloud of guilt hung over him since at the age of nine he had watched his eight year old brother, Francisco drown, Hernando unable to swim himself so that all he could do at the time was to run to his father. He vowed to his dead brother never to let that happen again, death being preferable to that. So we find a troubled young man with great promise, ability and heart, but unable to do what was expected in the very thing he excelled in due to this darkness with which he struggled most any and every day.

The gospel is interestingly and adeptly woven into the story and from within and many would say -the author included- in spite of a Roman Catholic Church religious perspective. The story showed that the gospel is powerful enough to penetrate even through a religion whose ritual is often without a living faith, yet in itself carries something of the seeds of that faith, whatever errors may be present (for the author –and myself– transubstantiation being one such belief: the teaching that the bread and wine become the actual physical/material body and blood of our Lord).

Romance is in the story as well as Hernandez finds that he and Nahuaxica, the daughter of an Aztec high priest share a strong mutual attraction. That along with some good, lasting friendships is a pleasant part of what is often a less than pleasant experience, graphically told throughout the book: the aspect of conquest by the Spaniards in their exploration of the New World, what they called New Spain (Cuba) and beyond. What also stood out to me, encouraging as well as instructive was how Hernandez and another man of the military expedition come to respect each other with some degree of friendship whereas once they were nearly enemies.

In the story two other historical figures are prominent, the leader of the Spanish military expedition, Captain Hernando Cortes and Montezuma, ruler of the Aztecs. The whole idea of claiming the new world for Spain as well as bringing Christianity and the gospel to “the heathen” in a peace backed by the edge of a sword, not to mention a penchant especially on the part of some (sea Captain Gonzalo Serrao being the prime example in the story of that) for material wealth which the Aztecs had in abundance in their gold- makes one cringe. The reality of what the Aztecs did in regularly sacrificing humans to all kinds of gods on the top of grand pyramids, something practiced by other peoples in that land as well, points to the idea of something of the depravity and evil the Spaniards were facing, not to gloss over their own evil.

War is brutal, awful and nothing to glorify in and of itself, as Hernando Pizzaro soon found out. How he is at long at last even in the midst of that set free from his deep darkness of guilt is fascinating. And in the twist and turns of a narrative that is not predictable at all. The way the story is told, one almost feels like they’ve been a part of it. What I see over and over again is grace, grace and more of God’s grace in spite of what the “Christians” were doing. And in a context which reminds us of the need to try to understand in full the complete historical narrative insofar as that’s possible. There is no doubt that for all the evil the Spanish did in their military expedition against the Aztec nation, they were to stop arguably a greater evil, the sacrifice of humans to strengthen and appease “gods”- young and old humans alike- some from their own people, many from other peoples of their land. A zeal for tearing down the idols with a hate for the deplorable practice is prominent, seen in Captain Cortes himself.

Again the gospel, the power of God for salvation is wonderfully woven into the story. I also identified with what Hernandez Pizzaro did and what he needed to do instead, which the gospel wonderfully set him free to do, which actually spoke powerfully to me. Indeed Hernando Pizzaro’s spiritual journey is fascinating and so true to life.

I found reading the book an enriching experience. As one of the best reads, one is wise to read it slowly and thoughtfully. There are thirty-seven chapters, some nice breaks to gather one’s thoughts. But the story compels one to keep reading. So I commend this book as worthy in itself. I am grateful to have read it. Definitely enjoyable and so much more.

the myth of “the wrong (or right) side of history”

Yesterday I was listening to people talking about the news of the week, when I heard someone say confidently in regard to a controversial issue that there is a wrong side of history. I guess especially in political circles, but actually beyond that (doesn’t politics swallow up everything?), this is a popular saying. It may be popular, but that doesn’t make it apt.

Myths come from the stories we tell. The myth may be true or not. We live by them; they can give impetus as well as structure to our lives. And whether or not its basis is sound, it becomes true to us. So that we end up making judgments on a “truth” we take for granted, which may be based on a faulty premise of belief.

Instead of confidently applying such a notion, people ought to pause and step back and really examine what they are saying. “The wrong (or right) side of history” based on what? And just what might be the motivation behind the call?

It would be far better to simply talk about the differences as a matter of fact and sort out from that why they exist. Those who so confidently assert a side of history with equal confidence that they are on the right side of it are every bit as religious in their belief as the people of religion or faith they may be (and often are) ridiculing. For example the naturalists who claim that faith can’t be taken seriously as a truth claim are themselves making a statement of faith when they say that. People need to humbly step back and examine what they are saying. If they are going to be humble and therefore truthful.

Maybe we ought to reject this phrase and notion entirely. Is there an elite out there which knows just where history came from and where it is going, and in the light of that, how we should live? To sort out the morass even in the present of such claims (and counter claims from those who are equally confident), and the mind boggling complexities any serious historical study will uncover in the human enterprise, not to mention all the uncertainties which surround it, leaves us with a certainty that we can’t really be certain. Or at least whatever certainty we might have should be tempered with the knowledge of the limitations inherent in such an endeavor. Read the book of Ecclesiastes with this thought in view (one of my favorite go to books of the Bible, by the way).

We who hold to the faith that is in Jesus do believe there is rhyme and reason that is discovered soley in Jesus and God’s revelation in him. A revelation which ends up being nothing less than good news, which is what gospel means. And we bank our lives on that, indeed life itself, which includes the world. But we do so knowing that there’s so much we don’t know, that we really don’t undertand well or get at all. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV), “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

If people want to keep this phrase as a way that makes sense of the world for them, they need to admit and explain their basis for such confidence. Just as we ourselves who as the church profess to live in King Jesus will do in terms of God’s will made known in and through him.

The church has indeed often gottten it wrong in many places such as the slavery and racism of recent centuries. We are not foolproof and we ought to be an example in acknowledging that. But neither are we in a hopeless abyss.

God in the Person of the Son did step into history in becoming a human being to take the needed judgment that brings salvation on himself, so that humankind along with all creation can flourish in a God-breathed and ordered existence of love. The beginning of that we have received in the start of this new life. Of which we would say, “Come and see. And taste and follow.”