Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bible 101: Questions Every Christians Should Ask About The Bible

"The time is surely coming," says the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine on the land--not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the LORD. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.
(Amos 8:12 NLT)

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.
 (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NLT)

These two prophecies, Old and New Testaments, center on the word of God. 

One foresees a time when people look for a word from God but cannot find it; the other, a time when they don't even look for it. 

One famine came when people repeatedly rejected God's word, so He allowed them to become  hungry for it. He would speak, centuries later, through a Vessel unlike any they had ever heard. The other rejection will come as a result of self-centered thinking. Unlike the days of Amos, there will be no shortage of people claiming to speak the word of God. Instead, the shortage will be of those who want to listen to it.

Among many others, these passages highlight the significant role the word of God has in the life of His people. Yet in my nation, a 2012 study showed that among churchgoers, only 19% read the Bible daily. Let that sink in. This was not a study of professing Christians, but of regular churchgoers - individuals committed enough to their faith to carve out time each week to gather with other believers. Since the US has a literacy rate of 99%, we can assume that lack of ability is not the issue. And since 88% of American homes own a Bible, we can rule out lack of access. 

So what is the disconnect between the presence of the word of God in our homes and the lack of its presence in our daily priorities? More broadly, what role should the Bible play outside the walls of our churches?

For many years, you could find me as one of those churchgoers who rarely picked up the Bible outside of services. Like many in my southern culture, I group up in church every time the doors were open from infancy until college. Even during college I maintained a very loose affiliation with a local church. At my furthest point away from a relationship with God I still occasionally attended church and was unwittingly drawn to what I was missing. 

For most of those years, my connection with Scripture was even looser than my commitment to church. As a child I would pick it up and read a verse before bed so I could check off the "read Bible daily" box on my Training Union envelope. As a college student and into my 20s, I fell into the trap of many intellectuals, wanting to pick and choose my way through the Bible and explain away things that I found hard to accept. 

Yet something happened that began to transform my life. At my darkest point, God began to show His grace to me. He began to open my heart to have hope for a future that could be different. And in those days, I began to ask some questions about the Bible that I had grown up with, the Bible that had sat on my shelf and traveled with me and silently waited, filled with words I barely knew. 

When I began to pick up the Bible, I didn't do so with any preconceived ideas. I literally started at ground zero: Why should I even believe what's between these pages? Even as I began to read the Bible, I also started researching its claims. Despite growing up in church I didn't have an automatic faith that it was the word of God. Many do, and I don't want to discount the reality of their trust. It just isn't my story. 

My story is one of asking, seeking, and knocking, trying to find out if what I had been taught was true or false. As I came to see the Bible as the word of God, not the words of men, I began a lifelong habit of reading through cover to cover. The first time through my emotions were all over the map as I realized false things I had been taught, saw deep truths for the first time, and came to know a God who loved me enough to send His Son to die for me -- but also loved me enough to meet me where I was. He never shied away from my questions. He never made me feel less of a child because I asked "why" one too many times. Instead, He taught me about Habakkuk, who asked God "why" and got an answer. He showed me Thomas, the Apostle who wouldn't take anyone else's word but had to see for himself. Jesus didn't love him any less than he loved John, who seems to exemplify childlike faith in many ways. Blessed are those who believe without seeing, yes ... but Jesus still loved Thomas enough to let him see. That was Who I met in the pages of the word of God. 

I didn't know at the time God was preparing me to teach His Word. Like Beth Moore says, I think He called me to teach because He knows I have so much to learn. Through teaching, I have learned that most often God calls me to teach lessons only after He has deeply imprinted them on my heart. Over the past few months God has let me see that the process I went through to have this confidence in His word is something that I should share with others. I'm convinced that our faith can stand up to the toughest questions, not because we have perfect faith but because we have a perfect God. He has chosen to reveal Himself generally through creation, and specifically through words. What we do with those words will undoubtedly define our lives, one way or another. 

So, for the next few weeks or months, by God's grace and in His will, I will unfold some "big questions" around the Bible. I have asked every one of these and will share with you my conclusions. I feel these are questions many of you have asked. Certainly they are questions worth asking. 

This is not an exhaustive list of questions. The purpose of this series is not to address specific theological debates or cover specific passages, though we will look at some as they relate to the topics at hand. Instead, my goal is to encourage believers about the trustworthiness of Scripture and equip you to study God's word for yourself. I want to fulfill the purpose God intended with this teaching gift, equipping His people to do His work, maturing us so that we aren't easily swayed or influenced by "lies so clever they sound like the truth" (Eph. 4:14 NLT). I want to help the body of Christ grow, healthy and full of love. 

Here are the broad areas this series will cover. I'm not promising one per question, but I will try to connect each post to one of these questions, linking back here as the posts are completed so that at the end of the series this initial post will be a jumping-off point for the entire series. 

I hope you will join me on this journey. If you have questions to add to the list, message me or put them in the comments. Along the way, if you see anything that contradicts your pastor's teaching please study it for yourself and talk to him about what you learn. Don't just take my word for it. I'm not claiming to be inspired, I'm just sharing what I have learned. I'll be praying for you as I write, and please pray for me as you read!

Questions to cover:

1. Is the Bible the inspired Word of God? If so, what are the implications for its inerrancy and authority?

2. What texts should be considered Scripture?

3. Why are there differences in translations?

4. What is the purpose of reading and studying the Bible?

5. How should I approach reading the Bible?

6. What are some basic principles for interpreting Scripture?

7. What role does the Word of God play in my local church? 

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