Saving the Bible From Ourselves by Glenn R. Paauw A Review

 

Author

Glenn R. Paauw is a graduate of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, where he studied Theology and Philosophy. He is the vice president, global Bible engagement, at Biblica and a senior fellow at the Institute for Bible Reading.

 

Thesis

Paauw was prompted to write Saving the Bible From Ourselves by research that showed while the average American household has four Bibles (and the average Christian home has ten) there is an increasing Biblical illiteracy. We have lots of Bibles, but no one seems to know what its message is. The cause of this seems to be a tendency toward isolated people reading

isolated verses. In this book, Paauw advocates a return to reading large passages in community.

 

Synopsis

The book is organized into 14 chapters, really seven couplets, in which Paauw describes an aspect of the problem, followed by a proposed solution.  In Chapters 1 and 2, we see the contrast between the “Complicated Bible” and the “Elegant Bible.” By complicated here, Paauw is referring to the manner in which the text on the page is cluttered and chopped with chapter and verse numbers, which have only been in use for the last 500 years, as well as chapter headings, cross references, and notes. An elegant Bible would simply have the text laid out to be read in a more natural reading. (I can tell you that for me, reading a Bible with all those notes and references is like a hound dog with ADD trying to heard squirrels.)

In chapters 3 and 4, Paauw addresses one of my pet peeves when he compares the Snacking Bible with the Feasting Bible. When we isolate verses, we tend to see them as bearing meaning in isolation. As a result, there is a whole cottage industry of putting verses on coffee cups and cross-stitched pillows, etc. There you can see verses like Jeremiah 29:11, “‘ For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Nice, right? So if verses are stand-alone ideas from the Word of God, why do we never see a coffee cup with Deuteronomy 28:65? “The LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” The point is that verse numbers were added to aid with research. They are not part of the text, and have caused some confusion. (Though I could imagine a bumper sticker with Numbers 21:16, “From there they continued on to Beer.”) As the author points out, using the Bible like this is like snacking on what Philip Yancy called, “Scripture McNuggets.” Rather, Paauw advocates reading large portions, whole books when possible. In this way, we feast, rather than snack. Moreover, such feasting leads to greater understanding of the text.

In chapters 5 and 6, Paauw argues that rather than seeing every single event in the Bible as a direct intervention from God, recognizing that the world is itself a direct intervention of God, and the realm in which he dwells with us and that the events are history that we need not look for the most outlandish understanding. An example he gives is how as a fourth-grader he was shocked to learn that the rainbow was probably not created after the Flood, but rather was already a thing, and God used that as a reminder of his covenant.

In chapters 7 and 8, Paauw challenges the idea that the Bible is a theological treatise, or a “how-to” manual. Rather it is an ongoing story, our story and His, and should be read as such. This is not to say that we cannot derive theology from it. We can and we should. However, when we lose the story, we lose the meaning. In chapter 9, we are encouraged to see how this would look in our lives.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paauw contrasts the “Otherworldly Bible” with the “Earthly Bible.” Here, he rejects the tendency to see Christianity as a means of escaping the evil physical realm to the heavenly one in favor of seeing our mission as redeeming the world God created.

In 12 and 13, he makes the case for reading in community by differentiating “My Private Bible” from the “Synagogue Bible.” Finally, in 14 and 15, the author laments the loss of beauty in the pages of the Bible where there once could be found bright, colorful illustrations, as well as beautiful script on high quality media.

 

Analysis

I find much of what Paauw says here compelling. As I mentioned above, the isolation of verses out of context, or “verse jacking,”[1] is a pet peeve of mine. I am a strong advocate of, as Greg Koukl teaches, “Never read a Bible verse.” That is, never read A Bible verse. The method of reading promoted here will avoid many of the pitfalls from isolating verses. Moreover, I have begun to read Books of the Bible, which is an edition of the NIV without chapter and verse numbers, as well as some other interesting features. I can tell you that my ADD is much less active in this text. I suppose it could be argue that Paauw’s book is a written infomercial for Books of the Bible, but that’s okay.

While I tend to agree with Paauw’s view that salvation entails far more involvement with the redemption of the created order than most Christians seem to think, I think that when he claims that the idea of gaining heaven or avoiding hell as a way to invoke urgency offers a false dichotomy. Scripture does seem to paint a clear picture of judgment. It seems reasonable to think in terms of both/and. We are saved to work for the redemption of the world and go to be with the Lord until the ultimate redemption, the resurrection.

 

Even if you find you don’t agree with all of Paauw’s conclusion, you will agree with me that the book is worth the read. It is accessible for readers at a high school level or higher.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The author cites, “The highly-descriptive and provocative term “verse jacking” was coined by my colleague John Dunham in “High Fructose Scripture,” Leadership Journal (online), June 5, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ le/ 2007/ june-online-only/ high-fructose-scripture.html.”

 

 

Enoch Primordial by Brian Godawa: a Review

Brian Godawa is an accomplished screenwriter and author. In addition to books on film and worldview, and the role of mythology, he has written several series of novels in the fantasy genre. One such series is The Chronicles of the Nephilim. Enoch Primordial is the second of this series.

Like the rest of the series, Enoch Primordial combines the biblical narratives of Genesis with apocryphal and pseudoepigrahic literature (non-canonical ancient Near Eastern documents) along with his fertile imagination to craft a compelling story that fills the gaps in the biblical narrative in a creative way. Godawa makes no claims that these events actually occurred. Rather, the story is a vehicle for communicating his worldview.

Some of my favorite parts include the pathos of Adam and Eve living hundreds of years with a memory of the close fellowship they once had with God. (That’s a long time to live with regret.) There is also the incorporation of the words of contemporary political figures in the mouths of villains. This may make some uncomfortable, as though Godawa was demonizing his political opponents. However, on the Christian worldview, our enemies are not human. If the ideas of our opponents are evil, it is right to attribute a spiritual source.

Enoch Primordial is an entertaining, enlightening read.

When a Good Church Goes Bad by Casey Sabella: A Review

Casey Sabella has been a pastor for over 40 years, currently serving as pastor of Motion Church. I have known him personally for about 25 of those. Having served as long as he has in leadership positions, he has an insider’s perspective that lends a poignant quality to this work.

When a Good Church Goes Bad is a case study of how trust can be abused. In this his second edition, Sabella adds what he has learned in the years since his experience how his own life experience beforehand contributed to his involvement with a church that went bad, and how he participated in that fall.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, starting with Sabella’s own testimony of coming to faith. In the chapters that follow, Sabella charts the rise and fall of the church, including insights into the character of the pastor, Sabella’s own contribution to its rise and fall, as well as realization of how his background and upbringing set the stage for these events.

It is easy to think from the title that this is some kind of exposé on a church complete with salacious details. In fact, this is a cautionary tale of how our own baggage, combined with the absence of accountability, can lead to disaster. An important takeaway is, if my church has problems, I may well be part of the problem.

Casey Sabella handles this difficult issue with a good balance of honest introspection and critical analysis of leadership structures and practices. This book is a must-read.

Podcasts You Should Know About Part 2

This week I want to call your attention to not just a podcast, but another ministry that has more than one fine podcast. Reasonable Faith, the ministry of Dr. William Lane Craig, is a highly useful resource, including two podcasts: Reasonable Faith, and Defenders. Reasonable Faith is a weekly podcast hosted by Craig and Kevin Harris where they discuss recent events and debates related to Christianity and apologetics. Defenders is a weekly class taught by Craig that is accessible, yet thorough in its systematic treatment of Christian doctrine. Defenders is available as a podcast, but also can be accessed as a live stream on Sundays at 12:45 Eastern time. In addition to the podcasts, the Reasonable Faith website has a wealth of information related to apologetics, as well as philosophy. There is a whole library of videos of Craig’s teaching and debates.

Podcasts You Should Know About Part 1

Over the next several posts, I will highlight some really useful resources for Christians. Obviously, being the geek that I am, the emphasis will be on apologetics resources, but many of the websites and podcasts I will profile have a broad range of information for any Christian interested in growing in the area of the life of the mind.

 

Unlike other “Top…” lists, I will start with what I think is the number one ministry in this field, and the rest will be in no particular order. Far an away my favorite (and arguably the best) is Stand to Reason. Greg Koukl has been like a long-distance (and occasionally up close) mentor to me since around 2000. He has had a radio presence for over 20 years, and the show has been available online since before there were podcasts. It is still available as a live stream on Tuesday evenings from 4-6:00 pm PDT (7-9 EDT) or the show can be downloaded as two one-hour podcasts on Wednesday and Friday. There is also a shorter podcast released twice a week called #STR Ask.

Additionally, he offers a wide range of resources from books (two of which he has written or co-written) as well as short booklets, called Ambassadors’ Guides, which are available in paper or electronic editions. STR also offers instructional DVDs like Tactics. These resources and podcasts can also be accessed through their mobile apps.

Finally, Greg and his team are available to speak to your church or ministry. More content can be found on their blog, as well as the bimonthly newsletters, such as Solid Ground.

 

STR is a valuable resource to help Christians think more carefully about and communicate their faith.

 

Meaningful World By Benjamin Walker and Jonathan Witt: A Review

With a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, Benjamin Wiker lends his expertise along with the literary insights of Jonathan Witt, Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, to the question of just what kind of world we live in. Wiker and Witt do not simply disagree with the reigning paradigm of metaphysical naturalism found in science. They see it as harmful. They have written this book as an antidote to the “poison” that is “the assumption that science has proven that the universe is without purpose, without meaning—proven it so clearly that one need not even produce an argument.” (Wiker and Witt, Location 61.)

The question of meaning has implications for how all of reality is seen. For Christians concerned with preaching the gospel, juxtaposing a divine creator with a meaningless universe is incoherent. This is one of the reasons why the apologetic project is needed in order to make Christianity a live option in the marketplace of ideas. In this particular case, the meaningfulness of the universe needs to be recognized. The poison must be counteracted. Recognizing the fact that human beings are an integral part of the universe, and that we have lived, acted, and created as though the world has meaning, Wiker adds his analysis of the works of Shakespeare which are best understood if meaning were central to human understanding of the world, as well as a comparative analogy to the creativity found in nature.

“The book’s central claim is clearly stated: the universe is meaning-full.” (63) The authors make it plain that they reject the nihilistic paradigm that is claimed to be “proven” by science. They build their case beginning with a historical overview of how the idea of a random, meaningless world goes back to the ancient Greeks and found resurgence in Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx. The assumption of meaninglessness began to lose momentum as discoveries of order and specified complexity began to emerge such that even a hardened skeptic like Antony Flew was moved to theism. From this background, Wiker and Witt note that just as parts of the cosmos made sense in light of the whole, and perhaps only so, the same is clearly so in literature. Shakespeare’s works are examined to illustrate the point, showing that contrary to Dawkins’ illustration of “Methinks it like a Weasel,” the parts fit the whole, but also that the whole makes no sense if the works and their author are nothing more than matter in motion, or animals driven by the urge to procreate. The genius exhibited by Shakespeare is then used to illustrate the genius Euclid points to in mathematics. The authors show how on a materialist worldview, the existence of mathematics makes no sense, much less its applicability to the material universe. From mathematics, the order and intelligibility of the cosmos, chemistry (especially the periodic table) and biology is examined. Through each discipline, the antidote of structuralism is counteracting the poison of reductionism. Structuralism approaches these questions from the top-down, parts-to-whole view. Such a view is not even considered a live option if one starts from meaninglessness. In fact, it is the only way scientists can discern “the meaning of the data they gather.” Wiker and Witt present case after interrelated case for the meaningful whole of the created order into which each of its parts –matter, energy, chemistry, life in general, and humanity in particular– fits. While so many books of this type focus on particular arguments for God’s existence from specific areas such as cosmogony, fine-tuning, or information theory, Meaningful World looks at the big picture. If the other works study the trees, Wiker and Witt look at the whole forest. They show not only that these things fit, but also that they are made to be discovered as such. They do so with a clear, accessible style and a refreshing dose of humor. While their arguments are logically cogent, their discussion of Shakespeare’s literary acumen appeals to aesthetics. Moreover, while they mention some of the astronomically high levels of improbability of the world being the way it is by chance, they do not hang their whole case there. Another way the thesis of the book can be stated is, “Intelligent design? More like creative genius.”

The literary element they introduce by way of analogy and as a particular example is a rarity in books on this subject. Their use of Shakespeare to illustrate their point is not only a novel way to argue in this arena, but they inspire a new appreciation for the literature itself. Their presentation reaches the reader at the cognitive as well as the intuitive level. Moreover, they present a strong case in favor of their thesis, rather than simply relying on defeaters for its negation. They do more than show that reductionism is false. They present a powerful case for a meaningful world. More than merely meaningful, the authors offer a case for elements of genius in the created order that is analogous to the creative genius of Shakespeare. Wiker and Witt argue that the knowledge offered by the study of mathematics, cosmology, chemistry and biology have the depth, clarity, harmony and elegance one would expect to find in the works of geniuses. This is not design by a minimally intelligent mind, but a designing Genius.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or the history of the controversy over the Intelligent Design hypothesis. The book is accessible to the layperson without dumbing down the content. While the scholarship of the authors is evident in the content, the engaging style of the prose has none of the dryness that can come from the subject matter. The integrated approach will inform a more fully orbed apologetic than those books that focus on a narrower topic such as the origin of information or the complexity of the living cell. As important as these details are, this book will help you see the forest and the trees.

Egg On My Face: The Problem of Theological Claims Based On Experience

 

 

About a week ago, I posted the following on Facebook: “So, it turns out healing is a thing. I went to a healing service last night at Christian Life Church. I have had a hip injury for the past year or so, which I feel as low-back pain. As of last night, it is gone. Praise God!” How had I come to this conclusion? During the service, the speaker asked for those who needed healing to raise their hands, which I did. He then said, “Some of you need to let go of bitterness.” I felt a strong conviction that this applied to me, as well as a strong emotional reaction to the realization. When I acknowledge this, I felt a sensation in the area of my back where I have felt the symptoms of my injury. When I tested it, I felt no more symptoms. (I admit that the symptoms come and go, and are not continuously felt.) From these circumstances, I inferred that I had been healed. Based on my conviction that any healing I experience is not just for me, I shared this with the congregation and social media. Thursday morning, I realized I had made a humiliating error. My symptoms were back in full. It was clear that no such healing had occurred. Needless to say, my “quiet time” on Thursday was anything but. I would have been content to not have been healed (and I still am) but I felt really embarrassed. I was angry with God for “allowing” this to happen. In addition to the egg on my face, I was concerned about the reactions this would invoke by skeptics of divine healing. Two people in particular come to mind. One is a classmate from Biola who is skeptical of “faith healing” and the other is my wife. For them, I would point out that my experience of non-healing is no more proof that God does not heal than my (false) experience proved that He does. All this proves is that I was not healed. For those who are unconvinced of miracles in general and healings in particular, I would recommend Miracles by Craig Keener, and Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas. In these works, you will find more than ample evidence of the continuation of God’s miraculous work.

So why the buzz kill? Why not leave it alone? I need to set the record straight. I care about the truth. Even the Apostle Paul said that proclaiming the resurrection, if it did not happen, would be bearing false witness about God. Likewise, to leave the record uncorrected would be me bearing false witness about God.

I am content with or without my injury. It is annoying, not debilitating. My faith is in God, not in any particular favor he might do for me. He took the initiative to reconcile me to him by the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has already blessed me beyond measure.

God’s Not Dead… But the Movie Franchise?

 

This past weekend I saw the new movie God’s Not Dead 2. My expectations were tempered by having seen the first movie. For those who may not have seen it, the original God’s Not Dead was the story of a Christian college student who found himself having to chose between writing “God is dead” for a Philosophy grade, or go head-to-head with his atheist professor defending God’s existence. In that movie, the apologetic elements were a natural part of the central story of the movie. While the film suffered many of the problems common to “faith” films, such as the excessively happy endings with few loose ends, (what my pastor aptly called a “Hallmark-y” quality) it at least portrayed the value of apologetics for strengthening the faith of believers and giving non-believers something to think about. It was a decent storyline with a combination of fine performances and clichéd subplots. The sequel was another matter.

In GND2, a high school history teacher is disciplined and sued for quoting Jesus’ words in the context of a discussion of nonviolent protests such as that of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. The first crack in the plausibility of this was the reaction of the teacher, played by Melissa Joan Hart. You are a history teacher answering a student’s question about Jesus’ influence on Ghandi and King, and when you are asked to defend your actions, your first reaction is “But, that is what I believe.” Really? It took half the trial for you to realize, “Hey, wait! I was teaching history, quoting Jesus as a historical figure.” And then it becomes necessary to have Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace testify that Jesus is a real historical figure? I’m a huge fan of both of these men, but I couldn’t help but feel like their parts in the movie were forced.

Then (spoiler alert) when the verdict is announced, the group of Christians praying in front of the courthouse starts chanting, “God’s not dead, he’s fully alive.” Really? I like the Newsboys, but their appearance in the movie was almost as contrived as putting Stobel and Wallace on the stand in the trial.

Joining the list of disjointed subplots was a meeting of local clergy chaired by the late Fred Thompson announcing that the local prosecutor was subpoenaing their sermon notes, a subplot that went undeveloped in the rest of the movie beyond a threat by the prosecutor directed at the lone pastor who refused. Was this a case of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” or the premise for a GND 3?

Lest you think I found nothing good in this movie, let me say what I liked. There was a character in the first movie, a left-wing blogger who was diagnosed with cancer. She (along with almost everyone else in the first movie) became a Christian. In the sequel, she discovers she has been healed. While this is an uplifting (if predictable) part of the story, I appreciate that the Hallmark factor was dialed back, and she was portrayed as struggling with doubts about her faith right after the healing. This was one of the most realistic things in the movie. Additionally, the main character retells how she heard God speak to her. I hear many people claim this, saying God told them a, b, or c, and you are left to think, ”Okay, I guess.” There is nothing in the alleged message that can be tested, and they show not miraculous power to attest it. I will not engage in a debate over whether God gives personal messages to individuals (he certainly can if he wishes.) It is not at all clear, however that Scripture teaches that we can expect him to. However, when asked what God told her, she said, “Who do you say I am?” This is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 16:15. The Bible clearly teaches that God will “bring to remembrance all I have taught you.” I admit some would question how I am using that quote, but the point is, it is entirely reasonable to think the Holy Spirit will bring to mind passages from what God has already said.

God’s Not Dead 2 looks and feels like it was made in the Bible Belt, for the Bible Belt. However, many of us, including me, live up here in the plumber’s butt crack sticking up over the Bible Belt. We long for the day when a movie is made that presents the Christian worldview that is not cheesy and heavy-handed, and does not rely on clichés of the Christian subculture.

Proverbs 16:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” This proverb uses the incongruity of gold rings and pig’s snouts to make a point. I am not comparing the movie to a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. However, the incongruity of fine individual performances with a disjointed story line seem just as stark.

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 6: The Incarnation Continued

“Okay, so Jesus is one person with two natures, one divine and one human. And the point of all this…?

 

How important is it that God became flesh? To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “great in every way!” First, as a man, God himself experienced suffering, and therefore can sympathize with our weakness. (Hebrews 4:14) He knows by experience what it means to be tired, to grieve, to hunger and thirst, and most of all, he knows what it means to suffer injustice. The only truly innocent man that ever lived was falsely accused of a capital crime and executed.

Even more importantly, however, by living his life perfectly obedient to God, and because of his death, which he experienced willingly, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law both by obedience, and by providing a substitute for sin. In the Old Testament, sins had to be atoned for by the death of an innocent substitute. This usually meant an animal. This is why John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God.” Because he lived perfectly, he had no sin of his own to pay for. One way we can know that is because he didn’t stay dead. About 40 hours after he was buried, Jesus rose from the dead. As Paul said, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” By coming to faith in Jesus, we become united with him. Because of this union, we die with him, and are raised again (spiritually now, bodily later) so that he takes on our sin, and gives us his righteousness.

Finally, because he rose from the dead, we can trust him to raise us at the end of the age just as he promised. This life, no matter how pleasant or painful, is extremely short compared to the eternity we will live. This is why Paul could say, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

God became flesh and lived among us, and died for us. Because of this, we are reconciled to God, and have hope in the resurrection, and eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth (2Peter 3:31) He promised, and he is able to come through. How do we know? We know because he rose from the dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

 

“Doubting Thomas” Can’t Catch a Break

Preachers love to use “Doubting Thomas” as a negative sermon illustration (my church’s NextGen pastor excepted) but why does everyone point the finger at him? Who did he doubt? None of the gospel accounts of the resurrection place Thomas at the tomb. He wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the 10 (11 counting Thomas.) But was he the first skeptic among the disciples that day? Luke 24 contains a report of the women finding the empty tomb and encountering the risen Jesus. What happened when they reported this to the apostles? “…the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.” (Verses 10b-11) What? They would not believe? Who’s doubting now? In the Gospel of John, when the disciples heard the report that the tomb was empty did they believe? No, they went and investigated, and then they believed. (Again, no mention of Thomas being there.) In both accounts, the disciples did not believe the report until they investigated for themselves.

Fast forward to Sunday night, and Jesus appears to the ten. Afterwards, the ten tell Thomas what they saw, and he refuses to believe. How is he any different?

It can be argued that after hanging out with the other ten guys for the last three years or so that he should have given them the benefit of the doubt. To be fair, however, this was a truly unique event in history. Moreover, it was a unique event that had direct personal implications. All 11 were grieving Jesus’ death. With the exception of those people they had seen Jesus raise from the dead (in a manner very different from Jesus’ own resurrection) they recognized that typically people tended to stay dead, especially when they die by crucifixion. However, just because Thomas had the boldness to say what the other 10 were thinking just that morning is no reason to single him out as a hardened skeptic. Thomas was in good company.