Are you tempted to toss the Bible?


There are some books I just can’t bother to read, let alone review. There are some blogs I can’t bother to read. There are some pastors I can’t bother to listen to. Sometimes these are people who would be considered on the same “team” as me, at least theologically. But many are, well, let’s say a bit more inventive in their approach to the Bible. They’re the people that say they’re trying to take the Bible seriously on any given subject, but routinely reimagine it what is being said.

And yes, there are certain people I have in mind. You probably have a few, too. (Perhaps they’re even some of the same people.)

Now, don’t get me wrong: I get the impulse. In fact, if I’m really being honest, I can say I’ve been guilty of it, too, and am probably still guilty of it in some areas of my life. As a new believer, I would say some pretty stupid and arrogant things during our Bible studies (both the ones I attended and the ones I led). And I can distinctly remember saying, on more than one occasion, “Well, that was just Paul’s opinion.”

Yes, that really did come out of my mouth. Now, before you stop reading, remember: I was a new believer. I believed the Bible was true. My problem was I just didn’t understand it.

Over time, I got a better sense of what was going on in the Bible, but challenging passages still present themselves. How do we deal with the Bible’s contention that Christians should not intentionally become romantically involved with non-believers? Or that marriage is strictly to be kept between one man and one woman? Or that we’re to forsake all—even our families—in order to follow Jesus?

Honestly, there are times when I can see why it’s tempting to adopt a more novel reading of some of these passages (or abandon them altogether). I mean, who really wants to tell the Christian woman with a non-believing boyfriend that they shouldn’t be dating? Who really enjoys the scorn that comes from being against every “reasonable” person in the West (at least of a socially progressive mindset) on issues of same-sex marriage and gender identity? Who looks forward to the awkward moments at get-togethers when family members’ eyes glaze over when you talk about what’s going on in your life?

And so the temptation comes to light. And far too many of us—whether willingly or out of sheer exhaustion—give in. We reinvent ourselves as “doubt-filled believers,” which too often seems like choosing to be blown about aimlessly by the wind. We try to maintain our identity as evangelicals, even as we saw off the branch upon which we sit. We try to do what we can to get along with everyone, but in the end please no one.

We’re too Christian for some, but not enough for others. You can’t win playing that game.

Which takes us back to the question: why is it so tempting to toss the Bible? Because it’s easier. The Bible is dangerous and obeying is it costly.

When “fighting the good fight,” it’s often us who take a beating. When running to “finish the race,” we hit a wall that’s almost impossible to push through as every muscle in our bodies screams for us to stop. But even then, we don’t give up. Personally, as tempting as it can be to give up, I’d rather, in as much as the Lord strengthens me, say with Paul:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Tossing the Bible might seems like the easy solution in our moments of weakness, but it’s a losing proposition. We may not want to be on the wrong side of anything, but if I had to choose, I’d rather not be on the wrong side of Jesus.

An earlier version of this article was published in 2014.

What makes us Christians?


What makes us Christians? In one sense, it is as simple as “confess[ing] with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9, HCSB). Confess and believe. That’s about it, at least as far as our response is concerned.

But that’s still not the full answer, since it doesn’t address the bigger issue behind the question of what makes us Christians—is it our merely confession, or is there something else?

There’s not a magic formula, any more than there’s a magic formula to blaspheming the Holy Spirit (despite what the kids on YouTube were doing a few years back). It’s not something you can plan or strategize into happening, though charlatans experts might tell you. It’s not something that you can schedule, despite what revivalism taught so many in the 1950s. It’s something you can earn or purchase or merit, either, despite what false religions and cults will tell you.

The answer is actually a lot simpler—and infinitely more complex–than any we might expect. It’s an answer I’m always thankful for whenever I get up in the morning and realize, “Yep, I actually do love and worship Jesus.” It’s something I’m grateful for whenever I get to read my Bible, when I get to teach kids at our church, and when I get to write a blog post. It’s the answer I’m grateful for, even when I drive past buildings promising a revival at 8:00 next Saturday.

The answer? It’s the Holy Spirit who makes it happen. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it this way in Revival:

What makes us Christians? The work of regeneration; the Holy Spirit of God doing a work down in the very depths of the personality, and putting there a new principle of life, something absolutely new, so that there is the ‘new man’. Now that, always, is a doctrine that comes out in every period of revival and of reawakening. And that is how you get, invariably at such times, these remarkable and dramatic changes. Men who had been utterly hopeless, and who had been abandoned even by their dearest relatives and friends; men who had even abandoned themselves, feeling that nothing could be done for them, feeling utterly hopeless, feeling rejected of all people and of God: suddenly this work takes place, and they find themselves new creatures with an entirely new outlook on living, and anxious to live a new kind of life. Regeneration. It stands out in the story and in the history of every revival that has ever taken place in the long history of the Christian Church. In other words, everything about a revival emphasises the activity of this sovereign God. He is intervening. He is working. He is doing things. And this is shown very plainly by the results and the effects of the work of regeneration. (57)

Christians can’t be Christians if there is no regeneration—if the Holy Spirit isn’t actively making dead people live, if he’s not breathing new life into those who would believe. This is impossible to schedule, manipulate, or fabricate. We can’t make it happen, no matter how hard we try.

So revival doesn’t start with us. But we can pray that we would see him work among us. That he will bring the dead among us to life. That he will give people the desire to confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts. That he will help us see that, as John puts it in his gospel, all this happens “not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, HCSB).

And then we can celebrate.

Ingratitude is madness


Whenever some new scandal erupts—particularly if it’s of a political nature—I’m not terribly surprised. Grieved, yes. Frustrated, sometimes. Surprised, no. Why? Because, whether it’s a politician getting caught doing something he or she shouldn’t have been,[1. See every politician, ever.] attempts to remove the ability for doctors to act in accordance with their consciences,[2. Something that is happening right now here in Canada.] or companies attempting to make gender irrelevant through ever-increasing options,[3. Thanks, Facebook.] it’s just the old story of ingratitude playing out, once again. For it was in spite of all God had done and all the blessings he had given them that Adam and Eve turned their backs and sinned against him. And this, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us, is what every single person who has not truly turned to Christ continues to do every moment.

Consider all that God has done:

It is God who was given you life. It is God who saw to it that you should be born into a family with loved ones who would care of you and look after you. It is God who ordained marriage. It is God who ordained the family. It is God who ordained the state. It is God the Father who sends the rain. It is God who gives the sun. It is God who fructifies the crops in the field and gives us food… It is God in his beneficence who does all this. (The Gospel in Genesis, 39)

All of this—all of life—comes from God. They are good gifts from him. We take, we employ, and we enjoy his gifts—but we fail to give thanks to God for them. We even has the audacity to employ his gifts in our attempts to deny and discredit him! He even gave us the greatest gift of all—sending his only son, Jesus, to humble himself, go to the cross and die so that we might be forgiven and redeemed. Yet “men spat in his face. They still do” (40).

In spite of all that God had done for them, [Adam and Eve] believed the lie and men and women still believe the lie. They have looked at Calvary, they have looked at the cross, and they have said, “It’s not true. God is against us.” The God who did this is against us? There is only one thing to say about that. It is madness, my friends. (40)

Jones was—and is—absolutely correct. It is utter madness to say this God is against us. This God who gives us life and breath and all things; this God who did not spare his only son for us. And yet, there will be many who enter our churches believing this to be so. Men, women and children who are beguiled and blinded. Terrifyingly, some of them will enter the pulpit or walk onstage. They will continue to walk in ingratitude, denying and decrying the Lord. And it will go on this way until God puts an end to this madness. Until he opens their eyes and removes their blinders. Pray that today would be the day.

“Just believe” & other nonsense you hear in the movies


I’m a sucker for cult TV shows—y’know, the ones constantly living on the bubble, that no matter how great they are can’t seem to find an audience, either because of network interference or… well, network interference is probably the majority of the reason.

Chuck was one of those shows that took Emily and me by surprise when we discovered it on DVD. But years before that, we found a show called Firefly. The brainchild of Joss Whedon, this show was set in the far-off future mashing up Star Wars, westerns and a touch of Star Trek, with one of the central conceits being, “What if the Federation were the bad guys?”

Not surprisingly, the show didn’t last long on TV, but eventually developed such a rabid fanbase that a movie was released in 2005, Serenity. Last night, Emily and I were watching the movie on Netflix, and I was surprised at how well it holds up in terms of its aesthetic and overall storytelling… but there’s this one scene that absolutely ruins the movie for me.

At a pivotal moment in the film, the lead character, Mal (played by the perpetually-smarmy Nathan Fillion) is with Shepherd Book, a Christian (ish) preacher, who is moments away from death due to the machinations of the film’s villain, The Operative—a devout believer in “a better world, a world without sin.” And so, Book, with his final breath, tells Mal, “I don’t care what you believe—just believe.”[1. By the way, should I have put a spoiler alert on this? Or maybe trigger-warning?]

This is the key to defeating The Operative.

It’s intense. It’s dramatic. And it’s complete nonsense.

But, of course, you likely already know that.

The problem, obviously, is not with the idea of belief, but it’s what are we being asked to believe in. This is the common problem we see in so many movies and TV shows, including those where an apparently “Christian” preacher appears. Either he’s a proxy for a belief in morality as the key to happiness, or the spread of ‘murican values, or he’s some sort of pathetic Oprah-in-disguise-wannabe-hippie.[2. You can thank Emily for that last line.]

We’re told to look to ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to follow our instincts. We are constantly encouraged to look inward, but fail to realize that it’s looking inward that’s the cause of so many of our problems. As Rob Gordon famously said, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have [expletive] for brains.”

This is why “just believe” or believing in belief or listening to our hearts and all the other nonsense we hear is just that—nonsense. And secretly, I think we all know it. We’ve seen it not work time and again, but we keep running back to it, hoping that this time it might be different.

This vain hope isn’t what the Bible calls us to. This false belief isn’t what Christianity is rooted in. We don’t belief in believe, as though that were somehow possible. We don’t believe in being good, despite what some preachers might tell you. We don’t believe in listening to our hearts, because we know how prone to wander they are. Instead, we believe in something sure and trustworthy.

We believe that God created all that is. We believe God is so far above us and yet so intimately near us. We believe in the promises of God and we believe He keeps His Word. We believe Christ truly rescues us from our sin through His death and resurrection. We believe that a day is coming when God will transform this world into a new and better one, one free from sin and death forevermore. And we believe this really does change everything in a person’s life.

That’s what Christians believe in. That’s what everyone needs to believe in.

But we don’t believe in belief, and neither should you. That’s just a road to nowhere.

Sad but not strange


photo: iStock

It is sad that Jesus finds it necessary to exhort the followers closest to him to believe his words, and therefore to believe that he is himself the revelation of the Father. Sad, indeed; but not strange. Is not our own unbelief proof enough of the commonness of unbelief? Even after we have been assured of God’s love for us again and again, of his sovereign pleasure to bless his people with what he judges good for them, do we not retreat to practical skepticism when difficult circumstances seem to call in question his goodness or his power?

Jesus’ first disciples in John 14 are experiencing difficulties of several kinds. They are perhaps intellectually slow to believe the daring claim on Jesus’ lips, made repeatedly, that he is in the Father and the Father in him. Worse, they are bound up emotionally as well as intellectually as they wrestle with talk about death, betrayal, Jesus’ departure, their inability to follow him at present, and the like. What they need more than anything else is to believe Jesus, to believe that what he is saying is true. If only they believe, then the uncertainties surrounding these other large matters will be swallowed up by confidence that Jesus is none other than the revelation of the Father. There is no belief more basic to spiritual triumph than that.

D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus