Monday, March 7, 2011

Gathering Some Thoughts

Y'all know I don't do a lot of posting on religion, but I've been sorting some thoughts on theology after reading some posts by my friend Allison over the past few weeks and I thought I'd take a minute to sort through it here, if you don't mind. I'm not, by any means, claiming to be a theologian, just trying to work out a train of thought. Which for me is harder than you'd think! Ignore the rambling nature of whatever I say next, it's just the way my brain works.

There are different ways to share your faith; and you have to figure out which one will be most effective with the person you're dealing with.

When talking with people who are somewhat open minded, curious about the Bible but have questions and doubts because they've never really understood or become familiar with Christianity, I think exploring and debating Biblical passages can be very effective. Those are the easy ones.

Too often people are not open and curious but belligerent and defiant about religion. They think they know what the Bible's all about and often reject in on intellectual grounds because they don't understand the context. It's easy to see all Christians as hypocrites from their eyes. The problem with trying to debate these people with verses and quotes from the Bible is that if you look hard enough you can find a Bible verse to support both sides of many arguments. Slavery was defended through the Bible! The Bible in itself is a rather contradictory work and when you add in different translations, different accepted versions among different canons, and stir in a good dose of Old Testament... You can argue all kinds of bizarre things just from Leviticus and Numbers alone.

Perhaps I'm wrong about this, but the way it was explained to me (in a class by someone who I do consider a theologian) was that the Old Testament represented a covenant God made with his people to keep them safe. The New Testament represents a new covenant God made with his expanded people, through his Son. The old covenant was replaced by the new.

Back to my thoughts on the subject (so as not to slander Bob). You have to consider the historical significance of the situation. A people with no laws, with no government, no means for health care, and no permanent home. Many of the laws thrown out in the early Old Testament appear crazy to us because they weren't really meant for us. They made perfect sense to the people who received them. Many of the food laws were a matter of food safety. Pigs weren't fed on grain back then, if you know what I mean. You know the saying about how God comes to us where we are? He came to the Jews where they were. When the situation changed during the 400 years between the two major parts of the Bible he returned in the form of his Son. The people had changed, the world had changed, their needs had changed. He came to them where they were, which was somewhere completely different from where the Jews were during the Exodus. They no longer needed instruction on planting crops and governing themselves. They needed instructions on how to treat one another with love and respect.

I'm not suggesting we disregard the Old Testament. I'm not about to slap down the Big Ten or the contributions of David. There are lessons to to be learned and applied there. Clearly the very idea of laws and governing (and food safety!) are rooted in the Old Testament. I'm suggesting that directly applying random verses out of context in an attempt to win over somebody who wants a fight can easily lead to failure. There's a bigger picture there.

By those same ideas, it's been a lot longer than 400 years since the New Testament was written. The world has changed again. People who are prisoners to that World can poke all kinds of holes in the verses of the New Testament and the ways in which Christianity has ignored its own teachings. I don't for one minute believe that God intended for us to create so many factions of Christianity, to have so many conflicting translations and interpretations of the Bible, or to have groups arguing over the smallest details of the law (dunk or sprinkle, anyone?). That was the job of the Pharisees, as I recall. it's no wonder some people reject religion. It would be easier to witness to them if God had offered us another new covenant, but he hasn't. I have to wonder if the next one won't come with Judgment. Perhaps while our world has changed, the basic guidelines set down in the New Testament haven't. The key there being to love one another, live honestly and resist sin. I'm not sure we've gotten that down yet.

For those who choose to actively fight against the love of God (as opposed to just not knowing how to accept it) preaching to them isn't going to change them. Showing them that Christianity isn't a religion of hypocrites, actively being the body of Christ by showing unconditional love, making a point through positive actions instead of negative words, is perhaps a better approach. It's important for them to understand the Word, but if they don't trust Christians as a whole, they won't be listening. The key is help them understand that all Christians are imperfect, but we can all strive to be better.


Allison said...

I think you're absolutely right on with these thoughts.

And the thing that I forget many times, is that it's not my job to "convince" anybody of anything. I'm supposed to live my witness, as you say, and openly share my faith and testimony but only the Holy Spirit can move people to a point of faith and acceptance of Christ.

You know how important my faith is to me and it's very hard for me to see it so misunderstood, rejected and ripped apart - especially the Bible - which has become in these last few years, my lifeline. That people see God's Word as an out of date book of old stories that don't apply to us today just breaks my heart.

I'm so glad you shared this today. I needed to hear it.

Susan said...

Who's to say what's misunderstood? Pick two denomination and they'll interpret the same passage three different ways. Again, not suggesting that the Bible isn't vital and important, just that sometimes maybe it's the most personal side of faith. What it says to you may not be the same thing it says to somebody else. As imperfect people, we've kinda gotten it all confused somewhere along the line and I for one don't always know who to listen to!

I'm working on some more thoughts on that issue, but I wanted to sort through these first. I've been thinking an awful lot about this since your post last week. I mean, if you were a non-believer, a blank slate, you know nothing about God and the Bible, how overwhelming would it be to see so many different Christians who can't agree with each other about what it all says, what it means, and what's important??? How do we touch those people without turning them off? I think a lot of people get overwhelmed just trying to decide who's right and therefore which church to follow. I don't think that's what God intended, and I think maybe we'd be more effective looking past that and getting back to basics when trying to show people what God wants for them. I'm still thinking. Just wanted to get some ideas down for reference before I moved on!

Allison said...

I can't imagine how confusing it must be for non-believers to look at us and see anything that resembles Christ. And there is much bickering over things that don't matter one way or another on this side of eternity. I've learned to stop "arguing with Pharisees"!

My church is in the process of making some amendments to our church bylaws. Frankly, I don't know why we NEED bylaws, but there is an amendment stating that members will not consume alcohol. I find this to be a very gray area for me. Most of the scripture I know about drinking involves being drunk and I think that anything you put before God or do in EXCESS is a bad thing. But wine, beer, etc in and of itself is not sin. Just like sex in and of itself is not sin. It's how and when we use it. Issues like alcohol consumption come down to personal conviction in the life of a Christian. It was Paul, I believe, who basically said, and I'm REALLY paraphrasing here, "Look, don't worry about what everybody else is doing. If you feel convicted not to eat something or drink something, don't do it - because God has spoken that to your heart, but don't tell everybody else that they need to do it if they haven't felt such a conviction."

The Bible is a mystery to me. I can hear a passage of scripture or a story I've heard or read a hundred times and all of a sudden, hear it or read it differently. See something there that I didn't see before. That is why I believe it is the Living Word of God because, as you said, it speaks to us individually. There are some things on which I believe it is very clear: God is the only God. Christ is the only way to salvation and eternity in heaven. And we are to treat others with the same mercy, grace, forgiveness and love that we have been shown because we are all sinners and fall short of God's glory. These are the basic truths of the Bible. The "unchangables" and things that, in my opinion, are not open to interpretation.

In my opinion, I am starting to see that there is no point in arguing with an unbeliever who doesn't believe in the Bible as the Word of God by USING the Bible. I believe the power of God's Word is only understood and made real to us when we come to a place of understanding with God that we DON'T have all the answers and desperately seek to know Who He really is. If we're just coming at it with the intention of finding all of the contradictions we can find, we'll most likely be successful on a surface level and the Bible will never be more than just a "book of stories".

Looking forward to your future posts! =)

Susan said...

You always say what I'm thinking better than I do. I should tell you what I'm thinking and let you write the posts! =)

Allison said...

Haha. Girl, I been having me some REVELATIONS today!