Titus 3:9: Debating Scripture

Have you ever sat around a table with two people that are passionate about the same thing, yet they spend far too long debating the details? For example, personally I would love to sit across from Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) from Grantland for an hour and debate with him his theories on basketball. It would be a blast. I mean, it’s part of our nature as human beings to want to debate. However, we have unfortunately let this predisposition work its way into our spiritual lives to a degree in which it becomes unhealthy. The reality is though, it didn’t take long. In fact, at the very outset of the spread of the Church Paul had some correcting to do in his Epistle to Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

This verse recently became one of my favorite verses because while it remains so simple, it can really help shape how our culture engages scripture today. Before unpacking the verse for a moment, I do want to note that this verse is referring to dialogue over scripture that is handled in an unhealthy manner (see “controversies”, “dissensions”, & “quarrels”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with having deep conversations about the meaning of scripture with others around you (in fact, I implore you to do so). No, this verse speaks of engaging in unhealthy debates over scripture – something our society has become far too entrenched in.

So, what is happening in Titus 3:9? Well, Paul is communicating to the leadership of the Church in Crete (Titus included) that their demeanor and engagement with the Gospel is essential to the continued spread of the mission in that area. Paul says that foolish arguments (things that have no moral advantage) over scripture have no benefit for the Church. You see, as the elders of the Church argued over differences in their interpretation, they were not only teaching scripture to those listening (often falsely), but also modeling what it meant to be in community with other believers. This type of dissention reminds me of another verse written by Paul in Romans 16:17:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

How often today do we argue over our something that is meaningless to our walk with Christ? How quick are we to point out our differences, instead of the ties that bind? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher that was estimated to have preached to over 10 million people while living in the 1800’s (yeah, think on that one for a moment), once put it this way:

“There are always plenty of thorn about, and there are certain professors who spend half their lives in fighting about nothing at all. There is no more in their contention than the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; but they will divide a church over it, they will go through the world as if they had found out a great secret,-it really is not of any consequence whatever,-but having made the discovery, they judge everybody by their new-found fad, and so spread a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

So what can Titus 3:9 teach us? The next time you are either the debater or are simply caught in the midst of a debate, I would challenge you to break out this verse. Personally, I have sat in the midst of a group of great Christian thinkers and when the debate went to a place in which it was unhealthy, the simple remembrance of this verse changed the outcome of that meeting for the better, forever. Paul challenges Titus, and those amongst him, to not engage in foolish debate over scripture and that challenge still rings true today! So, please, by all means, dig into scripture a great deal and have enlightening conversations with your local community, but remember to keep them directed at something that grows everyone and doesn’t become “unprofitable and worthless.”

I’d love to hear about your experience with scriptural debate. Leave a comment below – your thoughts, ideas, stories, and considerations are always highly valued.

Science and Faith

Science and Faith

As a kid I was enthralled with science, any branch of science, astronomy, biology, chemistry, paleontology, physics, anatomy, it didn’t matter. Until the fifth grade I lived in a house that backed up to a huge woods that included a spring fed pond where my best friend Bobby Kramer and I used to catch salamanders, crayfish, and lots of really cool bugs. Of course we would also put fire crackers in the model warships we built, but that is another story. One of my favorite parts of that woods was a dried stream bed with a several foot high wall from an old waterfall. We would regularly dig into that rock wall and pull out some of the most amazing fossils that we would eventually match to their period in history. Dissecting frogs and snakes was a normal Saturday afternoon, as was mixing compounds from the chemistry set, making slides for a microscope, or charts of the various constellations according to the season. A highlight of a junior high biology class was when, along with two other students, I was given the opportunity to dissect a fetal pig when the rest of the class got frogs. I grew up with the birth and expansion of the space program and once could name every astronaut, their capsule name and mission highlights. My bucket list still includes a walk on the moon. I still love science as evidenced by the fact that one of the books currently on my night stand is a biography of Albert Einstein. It is as much about physics as it is about his life.

As a Christian I find myself puzzled and saddened by the ongoing conflict between science and faith. There seems to be this commonly held idea that you cannot be a Christian and a good scientist. The two are seen as being polar opposites that can never be reconciled. Yet anyone with a bit of historical perspective and willingness to get beyond sound-bite thinking will find that in fact the opposite is true. Christianity and science are both historically and philosophically allies in the search for truth. In fact, the modern scientific method owes part of its existence to the philosophical world-view of Christianity.

All Truth is God’s Truth

Both science and Christianity are on a quest for truth. As a follower of Christ I have no fear of science. If science determines something to be “true” then I know that God is well aware of that truth and in fact is the reason such truth even exists. Some of the greatest scientists in history were also people of deep Christian faith. Their faith in a God of laws and order gave them a theological foundation from which to explore the cosmos. There was a conviction that the God of truth, who ordered the world, did so with a set of laws that made it possible to study and learn using the scientific method. Isaac Newton, who is considered by many to be one of, if not the greatest scientist in history, functioned as a scientist because of his faith.

“Newton’s theology profoundly influenced his scientific method, which rejected pure speculation in favor of observations and experiments. His God was not merely a philosopher’s impersonal First Cause; he was the God in the Bible who freely creates and rules the world, who speaks and acts in history. The biblical doctrine of creation undergirded Newton’s science. Newton believed in a God of “actions [in nature and history], creating, preserving, and governing … all things according to his good will and pleasure.” (Charles E. Hummel, Christian History, Christianity Today Online April 1 1991)

The case has been made that the rise of science in Western Civilization is in large part due to the influence of Christianity. Because the world was seen as being created by God with order and laws, it was not only possible to study and learn, it was actually a duty to study and learn about the cosmos. Although other religions and their cultures may have been more advanced in some areas of technology, they were not cultures and religions that promoted science as such. Buddhism, and Hinduism are great examples. Historically they have viewed time and the cosmos in a circular fashion. What is now will come to an end and the cycle of time repeats. Scientific progress is not highly valued because it will all come around again. In addition, the material world is seen as something to escape. It is the world of suffering and pain, not the world of wonder created by God. The gods of such theologies are also capricious and unpredictable so any conclusion reached in the study of the cosmos are unreliable. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the cosmos was pronounced by God to be “very good”. Time is more linear and we are heading towards a desirable future that is a new creation of heaven and earth. Far from wanting to escape this reality, the Christian is one who is called by God to improve it. That includes being good stewards of creation. Being a good stewards requires understanding how the cosmos functions in order to care for it in a way that glorifies God.

When Scientific and Theological “Truth” Conflict

There are times when the understanding of science and our understanding of the Bible are in clear contradiction. Most often cited is the case of Galileo and the Church disagreeing over the Earth revolving or being fixed and stationary. This is often cited as an example of the narrow-mindedness of the Church and Christians. Science is hailed as being objective, rational, concerned with truth. But here is the problem, prior to Galileo and Copernicus, the common notion among scientists was that the Earth was fixed. The Church at the time looked at some verses in the Bible and decided that indeed the earth was fixed. After all, it said things like, “God has fixed the earth on its foundation” or spoke of the sun rising and setting. So for centuries, science that the Church agreed, the Earth is fixed and the sun moves. No one bothers to point out that for centuries science was also wrong. They only point out that the Church was wrong. The fact is, science was simply quicker to correct its error. Eventually the Church came to realize that the Bible was not wrong, because it never taught that the Earth was fixed. It was our understanding of the Bible that was wrong and needed to be changed. All of that is to simply say that when science and the Bible seem to be in conflict, we need to be patient and reexamine our preconceived ideas. It is possible that the explanation science gives for the information is wrong. It is possible that our understanding of the Bible is wrong and needs to be adjusted. It is possible, as with Galileo, that both science and our understanding of the Bible are wrong.

Eventually much of Newtonian physics was superseded by the theories of Einstein. Quantum physics replaced Newtonian physics. The speed of light being constant and the fastest possible speed became foundational truths. For the last hundred years they have ruled the scientific world. Yet recently some scientists in Europe have indicated that they may have found something that travels faster than the speed of light. As a result the Physics world is a buzz with debate. Could science be going through another mega-shift in its understanding of truth? It remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, whatever they discover about the truth, it will still be God’s truth.

Scientific Method vs. Naturalism

The scientific method is simply that. It is a method of exploring and discovering truth. It is neutral. A person of faith can and should use good scientific method to explore and discover the wonders of God’s created cosmos. Naturalism is a philosophy. It is a mind-set that excludes the possibility of any spiritual component in the cosmos. In naturalism the material world is all that exists or at least all that can be studied and understood. Many scientists are also committed to naturalism. God has no place in their world. Naturalists will often accuse people of faith of being narrow-minded and unwilling to see the truth. I find that rather odd since the Naturalist is the one who is thinking more narrowly. They exclude the possibility that God has anything to do with all this. The scientist who operates out of faith seems to have the more open mind, believing that there may be more explanations for things than simple material cause and effect.

The bottom line is that if you are a person of faith, you must not see science as the enemy. You need not fear whatever currently appears as a contradiction between the Bible and science. Taking the long view of history and realizing that eventually God’s truth prevails should give confidence to your faith and motivation to your exploration of the cosmos as a scientist.


Faith and Doubt

Faith and Doubt

One of my favorite Christian authors, Frederick Buechner, once famously said, “Doubt is the ants-in-the-pants of faith.” And, if modern philosophy has taught us anything, it’s that the beginning of understanding is doubt.  In wrestling with this notion I have come to find, not that this notion is untrue, but rather that we have failed to grasp what genuine doubt really is.

Doubt is an important part of anyone’s journey to faith, but we must be sure it’s the right kind of doubt.

Critical to our understanding, we must learn to differentiate between doubt and skepticism.  True doubt involves true not-knowing, whereas skepticism is a purposeful suspension of belief despite evidence.  To doubt something means you genuinely know nothing about this or that thing, whereas to be a skeptic of something’s truthfulness is to reject intentionally the thing’s truth claims.  For example, I can say I doubt it will rain today when I have no knowledge of the weather forecast, but if I have seen the weather report and it tells me that storm clouds are rolling in, should I choose to maintain my original assertion that it will not rain, I become skeptical of the forecast.

At the same time, it is important to recognize where true doubt comes from.

I can be skeptical about a weather forecast because I have no genuine interest in meteorology; it doesn’t influence the condition of my life except in extreme circumstances and only momentarily.  But as the great philosopher Soren Kierkegaard tells us “doubt is based on interest.”  You will only doubt and probe that which interests you; so to put it in spiritual terms, if you have no interest in God, or Christianity, then you likely do not doubt God or the claims of Jesus. And, if you do have questions but no interest in finding out the answers, then your skepticism is not a philosophical doubt that seeks truth.

True doubt wants to find an answer, whereas skepticism is best described, again, as Kierkegaard would point out, as apathy.

You can see this description of genuine doubt in the story of how Jesus called His first disciples, Peter, James, and John, in Luke 5:1-11.  Jesus was teaching by the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowds on the shore forced Him to get onto a boat and push off a ways to use it as a floating platform.  The boat belonged to Peter who had spent all night fishing but caught nothing.  It was probably a great treat to have such an charismatic leader teaching from his boat, but then Jesus made a funny request of the fisherman, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  All of a sudden this teacher was interfering with the fishermen’s business and they doubted He knew anything of what He was asking them to do.  “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing…”  Their doubt was an expression, not of skepticism, but of genuinely not knowing who Jesus was and what He was capable of.  At the same time, their doubt also sought answers “… but we will do as you say and let down the nets.”  Peter, James, and John doubted Jesus but they also wanted to find out what He was about, so they tested the waters (literally), and upon letting down their nets they brought in so much fish that other boats had to come and help them back to shore.  After this, verse 11 tells us “they left everything and followed Him.”

Again, doubt begins with something you find interesting about which you know nothing, and is something to which you want to find answers.

The Apostle Paul found a doubting people like this in Acts 17:10-12:

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.  Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessolonica, for they received the word (no prior knowledge) with great eagerness (interest), examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (desire for answers).  Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” *(parentheses mine)

No or little knowledge + interest + a desire to find answers = productive doubt that can lead to belief.

So doubt Jesus, doubt God, doubt the claims that Christians make about their belief, but doubt in such a way that you desire to learn all you can in order to satisfy that interest, and perhaps come to belief in God by the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the work of His Son Jesus.


Love Thy Neighbor

Has Culture Killed ‘Love Thy Neighbor?’

I must warn you, what am about to dive into I have been processing for quite a while. Well… maybe more so writing about it. In December 2012 while wrapping Christmas gifts with my wife and I watched as the media grabbed our attention with the school shooting in Connecticut. It is something that parents of similar aged kids never wanted to imagine, let alone watch it on TV. Within the first hour I posted on Facebook what ended up shaping how I use social media to this day.

You see, I am avid believer in the peace teachings of Jesus. That afternoon I wrote a status update regarding guns. The intent was to provoke conversation about how to bring about peaceful responses to conflict and focus on the hurting. I got barraged with comments of anger that I would label this a gun issue. People made comments that Jesus would want us to have guns to protect ourselves and even used Old Testament scripture to back it up. So, for a day I tried to keep up the conversation and engage people within it. What shocked me, and to this day still perplexes me, is that we find it easier to respond in anger than love. Why is violence ever a course of action? I believe fully that the teachings of Jesus reflect a greater cultural issue we have at hand.

It is clear that Jesus taught that we are find peace in the midst of conflict and that violence is not a means to an end. Bill Maher, shortly after the Osama Bin Laden assassination went off on Christians who celebrated. It was interesting here in Canada because it seemed odd to me as well. My children were being brain washed that we in the West are the good guys and they are the enemy. However, I would imagine that in the other part of the world the West are the enemy and they are the good guys. It just seems to muddy the full and complete message of Jesus.

Consider this from Maher (a self-proclaimed non-Christian) on that broadcast:

New rule: if you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself. Last week, as I was explaining why I didn’t feel at all guilty about Osama’s targeted assassination, I made some jokes about Christian hypocrisy and since then strangers have been coming up to me and forcing me to have the same conversation. For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor” and how “turn the other cheek” can mean “screw you, I’m buying space lasers.” Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies. And Gandhi was so Christian he was Hindu. But if you rejoice in revenge, torture and war – hey, that’s why they call it the weekend – you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, “Love your enemies” and “Do good to those who hate you.” The next line isn’t “and if that doesn’t work, send a titanium fanged dog [to attack.]” Jesus lays on that hippie stuff pretty thick. He has lines like, “Do not repay evil with evil,” and “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.” Really. It’s in that book you hold up when you scream at gay people. And not to put too fine a point on it, but nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark, kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales. There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring. It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture – as are more evangelical Christians than any other religion. You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the cross and think, “how could a man suffer like that and forgive?” Not, “Romans are wusses, he still has his eyes.” If you go to a baptism and hold the baby under until he starts talking, you’re missing the message. Like, apparently, our president, who says he gets scripture on his Blackberry first thing every morning, but who said on 60 Minutes that anyone who would question that Bin Laden didn’t deserve an assassination should, “have their head examined.” Hey Fox News! You missed a big headline; Obama thinks Jesus is nuts! To which I say, “hallelujah,” because my favorite new government program is surprising violent religious zealots in the middle of the night and shooting them in the face. Sorry Head Start, you’re number 2 now. But I can say that because I’m a non-Christian. Just like most Christians. Christians, I know, I’m sorry. I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing. You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans.

I don’t agree or disagree with much of what Bill Maher ever says. However this caught my attention. Is he right with what he his saying or wrong? I believe that there is a lot of contextualizing we all need to do, while also understanding that our identity is first in Jesus. Consider these quotes from Jesus:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6: 27-28

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Matthew 5:38-39

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

I am writing this as a part of the process that I am using to firm up my understanding of what it is to fully understand Jesus and better live via His example. Whatever you feel about the topic, what I want you to walk away with most is that this process has been part of my discipleship journey. I would challenge all of us to really take time to consider even the most controversial topics (not that this is one) and work out how the scripture states Jesus would have responded.


The Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel

One of the more controversial topics in the Church today is that of the prosperity gospel. What is the prosperity gospel? It is a belief that those who confess faith in Jesus are given physical rewards (and/or just an overall blessing) in this world for their faith in Christ – be it money, prosperity, or various different tangible things. There are entire movements that are built on a view of the gospel that says God blesses those that believe in Him. At the same time, there are whole movements of people that oppose the prosperity Gospel. How can this be the case?

Instead of taking a rather common approach looking at all the different verses and juxtaposing them against each other, I’d like to examine one verse that many discuss when speaking about this rather controversial topic. The verse is found in Mark and comes in the story of The Rich Young Man. This story is the one in which Jesus tells a man with much wealth to give up all his worldly possessions because of the value they hold in His life. The disciples, after hearing the events first-hand, proceed to ask Jesus about their role in the Kingdom as they had already left everything to follow Him. Jesus responded saying,

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (v. 29-30)

So hold on, as a follower of Jesus we will be rewarded in this life one-hundredfold? Sign me up!

Before we do so, let’s take a deeper look at what is happening in this verse. First, what Jesus is doing here is summarizing the sacrifices of those who had followed him. By leaving everything and following Him, the disciples had surely lost close relationships, homes, and even the very land their family had owned. What proceeds is what is so shocking to many, Jesus promising that in this life they would receive a hundredfold for their sacrifice.

Did Jesus really mean that if we sacrifice everything we would become rich? Is this the prosperity gospel? Yes and No.

Yes and No? How can this be? The controversy rests in on our definition of the word “rich.” Jesus did actually guarantee these amazing men of the Kingdom they would be rewarded. Did this mean they would be given 100 physical homes in return for losing their own home? No. What Jesus meant by homes is very different.

As we fast forward to the end of Jesus’ time on earth, we see Jesus introducing how His message will spread as he calls the disciples to go and make disciples as He has. This becomes what we call the great commission and the very purpose of the disciples time left on earth.

This is the key to understanding the reward that Jesus speaks of in this controversial verse.

You see, as the disciples go and began teaching others, those that respond are grafted into the family of believers. This family would undoubtedly grow and blossom, thereby what Jesus is referring to in this verse, more specifically when he speaks of reward, are that these individuals would constitute their reward. Not simply the reward that these people were “saved” but the value of their relationship to one another. You see, the relationships the disciples had lost previously would come back to them a hundredfold as their Christian family grew significantly. For those that had lost homes, the homes that they would receive in turn would be the families of those that had accepted Christ as their Lord and savior. The homes referenced here are not of a physical nature, but households of individuals that became a part of the larger Christian family. As the Christian family extended by hundreds and thousands, the greater community of believers is defined by their commitment to one another and thereby this new extended family would be their reward.

The reality is that while many here today would much prefer their rewards to be of a physical nature, like that of money, this reward is far far greater.

The community of believers should be like that of a family. Regardless of your experience with Christians or family previously, surrounding yourself with people who love you and are willing to go to the ends of the earth for you is a gift that no dollar amount can ever be applied to. Imagine for a moment what it feels like to have a close friend, one in which you can walk into their home and grab a soda without a second thought. Now imagine having a whole city of people like this. This is what Jesus is promising and what a rich life that is!

I encourage you to take this with you and think on these things. What are you doing to expand the family of believers and how are you treating those both inside and outside the family? Are you marked by a commitment to loving people as Jesus has taught? The next time someone mentions the prosperity gospel, just remember that you are indeed promised a hundredfold the things you have had to sacrifice in this world -wonderful deep relationships with those that have come into the Kingdom alongside you!


Keeping Scripture Consistent With The Character of God

Keeping Scripture Consistent With The Character of God

Have you ever had a long drive with someone and suddenly were engaged in a conversation that you didn’t expect? I find this happens very often with my oldest son – we have discussions I would never have anticipated for someone his age. He asks some really interesting questions which lead me to believe that there is a lot more going on in his head then I might have expected. As a father I hope to foster these types of conversations with all of my sons.

Recently we were driving and listening to the radio when the song “Same Love” by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert came on. There is a lyric in the song that says

“But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago”

Jake started asking what book he was referring to and how it was paraphrased. That started an interesting conversation where we discussed how the writers of the song are referring to how the Bible is being misused when individuals state that God doesn’t love all. This turned into a rather long discussion about God’s love for His creation, the cross, salvation and other Biblical topics.

This conversation was particularly interesting to me because for 20 years as a Christian I have struggled to understand why those who have the same beliefs as me use scripture to state something that is fully outside the character of the God. Previously, as a non-believer, I often would bear witness to scripture being used for violence (an eye for an eye) or that God was punishing a group of people for their particular sin above all else. Each time I remember thinking, “if this is true, than I want nothing to do with this God.” But now, as I understand the character of God further, I can easily say that these are misrepresenting the truth. Now, 20 years later, I am still seeing this same misuse and I believe it is damaging our holistic understanding of who God is.

During the conversation, my son asked me, “How can we not paraphrase the Bible.” My response to him was simple: we must learn to understand the Bible through the lens of Jesus. Understanding Jesus and His teaching, as well as His application of the Old Testament, is the best way to understand the character of God and therefore, better understand scripture when we must paraphrase. It can be very dangerous to pick and choose passages to prove your own ethos when they are in complete contrast to the fundamental teachings of Jesus.  The best thing my oldest son can do is to study and read the four gospels and thereby learn what it means to really follow Jesus. He is young, so I am processing this with him at his pace. However, my words to him can resound with anyone of any age. You see, personally, I am and will forever be working to understand Jesus better. I am a disciple, just as those who followed Him, and I need time to learn from Him. I invited my son to go on the journey with me, just as Jesus invited His very own disciples.

What about you? Will you dig deeper, gaining better understanding to illuminate your use scripture? Who can you invite alongside you for the ride, learning what it means to follow Jesus and share His love with others?