Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A facinating contradiction

How many of us have had moments where we wish we could have a burning bush experience with God? A lot of people like to do questionnaires, and a question that often pops up on them is something like, "If you could ask God anything..." Many of us would like very much to get some kind of direct communication from God. That desire drives all kinds of books, studies, and seminars about how to hear the voice of God. Wouldn't that be nice? If God had something to say, wouldn't we really want to know what it is?

But I have noticed a facinating contradiction. Most people are Biblically illiterate. Think about that for a second. The churches are full of people who seem totally convinced that the Bible is the word of God. It is God-breathed. They go to church and hold on to their Bibles and praise the Lord and everything. And these people yearn to hear directly from God. Yet they don't read the Bible, much less do they study it. What is the explanation?

If we really believe the Bible is God-breathed, how can we resist wanting to know what it says? Shouldn't that drive us to read it? And not only to read it, but shouldn't it drive us to try with everything we have to study it so that we can understand it?

And that's another thing. Most people in America have at least a high school education. A big chunk of us have college educations. That means we had to study, we had to write papers, and we had to exert a great deal of mental energy to learn things like algebra, history, chemistry, etc. We go through that because we think it's important. But few of us ever exert half that much energy in studying the Bible. Sunday schools rarely go beyond a 3rd grade level even in adult classes. I don't think I've ever been in a Sunday school class where the teacher required the class to read a chapter in the Bible and be prepared to discuss it the next week. In fact, people seem to have an aversion to any kind of requirements at all. Oh, there are a few who'll get together in a special small group to do some deeper study on hearing the voice of God or something, and they'll covenant to do their little readings. But they never study the Bible with any intensity.

A close friend of mine recently told me how she thought very highly of her pastor. She said she always feels blessed when she attends church. I don't remember her exact words. But this person has never read the Bible. A pastor's job isn't to make us feel good. It's to encourage us in the faith, to build us up in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I know people who have gone to her church for years and remain Biblically illiterate. How effective could that pastor be if he is totally unable to motivate anybody to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Jonathan Edwards did not make people feel good. He certainly didn't make people feel good with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Rather, he made them feel conviction. Conviction can be quite uncomfortable, but it is exactly what people need to feel, because conviction leads to repentence and salvation. Jonathan Edwards was quite effective in motivating people to live holier lives and to take their faith seriously. I just don't see a lot of that these days.


At 1/10/2006 8:38 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Sam, you've hit the nail on the head. God's chosen form of communication to us is the Bible, but that's no good because it's a general 'chain-letter' type of communication. What we all really want, is special privileged communication that shows us that we are more important to Him than anyone else is.

We're Christian narcisists.

At 1/10/2006 9:10 PM , Blogger cellisangel said...

I think it's largely the desire for instant gratification that is ubiquitous in our culture that drives the behaviors you describe, Sam.

At 1/10/2006 9:46 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Jonathan Edwards-style sermons are no longer in vogue because people want to believe God loves us, not hates us and is eager to punish us.

Evangelism today spends a lot less time talking about Hell (unlike Edwards) and a lot more time talking about the nature of Christ.

And really, I dont think Jesus spent his whole day telling people about how Hot Hell is - the Bible isn't as scary as Edwards makes it out to be.

At 1/10/2006 10:16 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I love that word, "ubiquitous."

Steve, Jesus certainly talked about the horrors of judgment more than you'd think from sitting in church your whole life without ever reading the Bible.

At 1/11/2006 4:52 AM , Blogger Steve said...

lol Sam, wouldn't it be rather presumptuous to assume that because I have a different view of the Bible and Christianity that OBVIOUSLY I must not have read it? And how many church services do you think I've attended? Any idea if I've attended sunday school? Or do you know if I own a copy of the Bible? I think your deduction that I haven't read the Bible is based on the assumption your position is unassailable.

Frankly, if its true that the Bible spends 95% of its content telling people what will happen if they dont believe (various ways their bowels will be ripped from their body) then I say it says something negative of Christianity.

But, assuming, as I do, that the Bible is more than a description of Hell, then I would suggest that Jonathan Edwards attempts to scare his people into belief were misplaced.

If it were about anything other than religion, then I would say that belief out of fear would be DURESS, and legally that would be non-binding!

At 1/11/2006 5:11 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I think your deduction that I haven't read the Bible is based on the assumption your position is unassailable.

I think your deduction that I made any such deduction about you is based on a misreading of what I wrote.

If it were about anything other than religion, then I would say that belief out of fear would be DURESS, and legally that would be non-binding!

We've already talked about this here.

At 1/11/2006 5:49 AM , Blogger Steve said...

i think that your deduction of my deduction of your deduction is a misreading of what I wrote! Ultimately, arguing that I have not read the Bible because my argument disagrees with yours is a weak argument! My deduction was a belief that you made such an assumption because you assumed that if I didn't agree with Jonathan Edwards, I simply haven't read the Bible.

I know we've discussed it before, and in that time, as this time, we disagree. If Hell and sin are the primary focus of Christianity, then it creates the mentality that God created far more evil than good in the world, and that most of life should be spent in fear of the almighty.

At 1/11/2006 5:57 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I never said (or even thought) that you never read the Bible. You simply misread what I wrote. Nor did I assume, say, or even imply that if you disagreed with Jonathan Edwards that you haven't read the Bible. So no, my deductions about what you deduced are not wrong. You said very plainly what you think I assumed, and you were wrong. I did not misread you at all.

At 1/11/2006 5:57 AM , Blogger Safiyyah said...

An excellent post and one that is transferrable to Muslims too. I wonder how many have actually read the translation of the Quran, much less studied it.

At 1/11/2006 6:14 AM , Blogger Steve said...

ok well we can set aside that issue (if you meant something else it appears gramatically confusing what you meant by "you"), and I'll takle the larger question here.

There are many verses in the Bible which speak about damnation (Daniel 12:2 for example, which states that everyone will live either eternally in heaven or hell, Revelation 20:14, Matthew 25:46, etc). However, Edwards "fire and brimstone" speeches ultimately missed the message of the Bible, which is that of salvation, not punishment. John 3:16 states that whosever believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life. Thats about being SAVED from damnation, and what purpose does it serve to think of such verses as reminders that "everyong but me and my followers" goes to Hell?

In either case, you have to ask yourself what the point of Edwards speeches were. The only people who would fear Hell would be people who ALREADY believe in God, Jesus, etc. Thus, he wants to avoid them straying from the flock, right?

But as you've stated on this blog many times, if a person strays from the flock, then that means they were never intended to go to heaven! So what purpose would it serve to attempt to influence the course of heavenly events? If you actually COULD influence the outcome, then it undermines the concept of predestination.

So, from a Calvinist perspective, whats the point of telling people if you dont do such and such, you'll go to hell? if they are headed to hell, they are headed to hell?

At 1/11/2006 6:28 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


We've talked about all this already. If there is something unBiblical about anything Jonathan Edwards said, then quote it for us and show us that it's unBiblical.

You say that Edwards "missed the message of the Bible, which is that of salvation, not punishment." But both salvation and punishment are in the Bible, and Edwards didn't miss either one. Moreover, how could the Bible possibly have a message about salvation if it doesn't also have a message about what we're being saved from?

At 1/11/2006 6:43 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam think of it this way. Leviticus Chapter 25, verse 44 talks about the fact that slavery is permissible under certain circumstances (female slavery, in particular). If I started up a church, and spoke every day about how slavery was a lawful, godly institution, would I not be missing about a 1000 pages of the Bible, the trinity, and other important features of Christianity? Would the students I taught in Sunday School, not misunderstand the Bible if all they learned about was one aspect of their faith? But that being said, could one not say my message was "biblical?" A part of religion does not represent the whole if taken out of context. The idea the Edwards can find justification for his tirades on sin do not negate the question of whether the Bible is fundamentally only about the sinful nature of man.

Asking me to find a verse that contradicts the existence of Hell, or sin, or temptation, is not the point, any more than it would be to contradict the chapter of Leviticus I cited. And yet, they are equally misreading the text from the perspective of the larger passages.

Lets say I wrote a Homeland Security document. And the entire time I argued that if you ARENT secure you can be: nuked, hijacked, bus bombed, etc. I could go into detail the expression of each persons face as a bomb explodes in downtown. But what good does a book like that do? Sure, it will maybe convince people to listen to me, because I'd be afraid of not listening to me. And yes, its technically true, because those things might happen.

But wouldn't a book on Homeland Security best be read if it talked about how to AVOID a terrorist attack? How to keep our nation safe?

And yet, you could say, steve, you cant NOT talk about the consequences of inaction, rather than action. But I would ultimately rebut that understanding inaction is not the purpose of such a book.

And the Bible, far from merely a lesson in inaction, is a book about what you CAN do, what you SHOULD do, what we MUST do, to have everlasting life.

At 1/11/2006 6:55 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


If I'm understanding you right, it sounds like the problem you have with Edwards is not that anything he said was inconsistent with the Bible, but that he was unbalanced. He focused on some parts of the Bible (i.e. punishment) and ignored everything else.

If that's what you're saying, then I'm certain you're wrong. Edwards was very prolific, and he covered a wide range of topics. You should read his book on the Freedom of the Will sometime. It will give you a completely different impression of Edwards than from reading "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and it will also answer a lot of the questions you've been having about Calvinism.

At 1/11/2006 7:14 AM , Blogger Steve said...

thanks sam, i'll take a look at it. From what I've heard of this work, however, is that it argues that free will is existant but an illusion, and governed by nature and God in such a way that we cannot be help be tempted by sin. But such an argument does not deal with the underlying issue of how a world without free will is not a world without responsibility for our actions.

Nevertheless, If I understand correctlty, is this book not another way of establishing the dangers of sin by establishing our will to be drawn to it? If so, does it not then reiterate my larger point that the Bible is not simply a book about sin, but rather, a practical guide to living righteously?

Still, I will take a look at it!

A good discussion Sam, I still dont understand what your initial comments mean, or whether they were directed at me, but I will assume that it was meant more generally than specifically.

Im not a biblical expert, but I certainly enjoy reading the bible, because no matter your view of it, its an excellent work.

At 1/11/2006 7:52 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I'll try to clarify my comment. Here's what I said: "Jesus certainly talked about the horrors of judgment more than you'd think from sitting in church your whole life without ever reading the Bible." Pay close attention to the phrase, "you'd think from..." The contraction means, "you would think from..." In other words, Jesus talked more about the horrors of judgment than you, me, or anybody would think if all you, me, or anybody did was go to church without ever reading the Bible. That doesn't say anything about whether you, me, or anybody has gone to church our whole lives or about whether you, me, or anybody has read the Bible. It just says something about what would happen if we went to church our whole life without reading the Bible.

In the Freedom of the Will, Edwards gives a philosophical defense of the compatibalist view of freedom. He explains thoroughly how the compatibalist view is consistent with moral accountability. You don't actually have to buy this book either. You can check it out at a library. Or, if you don't mind doing a lot of reading on the internet, the whole thing is publish on the web here. If you want a sneak peek, I did a series of blogs covering parts of the book here starting with "Argument against morality from determinism, part 3," but you should probably read "the power of intuition" and parts 1 and 2 of "argument agaisnt morality from determinism" just for context. Keep in mind, though, that I'm giving my own understanding of Edwards, and it's always possible that I have misunderstood his arguments in some places.


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