The wrong filter

Quick question: What is the most overused question in Bible study settings? Any idea?

When a Sunday School teacher or Bible study leader has read a passage of Scripture they often look up from the text and ask this question…

“What does that mean to you?”

gallery2Note: I don’t have any “hard statistical evidence” to support the claim that this is the “most overused” question in Bible study settings? But it is used a lot.

This question is typically followed with a “discussion time” where each person will answer the question with the phrase, “To me this means (insert your own meaning here).”

Have you ever experienced this kind of class? Many of us have — and it’s a horrible way to study the Bible. That sort of reasoning presupposes a lot of things that are flat-out wrong. It can lead to conclusions that are absolutely contrary to Scripture. Let me give you some examples.

Many people who claim to be evangelical Christians actively campaign for the legitimacy of homosexuality. One group, Soulforce, has been particularly active. Their website is loaded with resources for “Christians” who want to promote homosexuality. In one place you may order an award-winning documentary entitled, “For the Bible Tells Me So.” According to Soulforce this film, “brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based almost solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible.”

Oprah Winfrey once had a couple of “religious leaders” on her show who proclaimed being gay is a gift from God. Oprah loved it. The audience loved it. No consideration to what Scripture said.

Note: This article is NOT about homosexuality. Homosexuality is merely the example I used to illustrate a point. For the purpose of this article we will assume the Bible clearly defines homosexuality as sinful (which it does). The purpose of this article is to answer the following question…

How do people who claim to be Christians end up with such a skewed view of Scripture? The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sinful and yet there are people — who profess to follow Christ — defending something God clearly abhors. Some go so far as to characterize it as a “blessing from God.”

How does this happen?

It happens as a result of that overused question I mentioned earlier and the presuppositions attached to it. It happens as a result of the Oprah-ization of American Christianity. It happens because we use the wrong filter.

Oprah, and many like her, have built huge careers helping people “get in touch with their feelings.” With any given topic we are all asked…

  • “How does this make you feel?”
  • “What does your heart tell you?”
  • “What does this mean to you?”

Let me be perfectly clear. Where God’s standard of right and wrong — righteousness and sin — are concerned our feelings mean precisely squat.

During the time of the Judges Israel was under a curse. The culmination of that curse is summarized in Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Sounds great, right? Except that when God leaves us to our own devices, when he turns us loose to be subject to our own judgment it is a terrible thing.

Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

bibleYou see, we are fallen creatures. All of us have sinful natures which distort our view of what is righteous. Things that seem right to us will lead us to death. And this is the fatal flaw with the question, “What does this mean to you?” That question presupposes that we have the ability to judge for ourselves what any given passage of Scripture means on the basis of our feelings. Scripture does not mean one thing for one person and something completely different for another. It means what it means. Our job is to determine the right meaning. And our feelings should play no part in finding that meaning.

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The problem with our modern approach to “Bible study” is we filter the Bible through our feelings to determine its meaning — when what we ought to be doing is filtering our feelings through the Bible to determine their meaning.

“Christians without Borders”

I have written article after article on this website outlining what I believe is the idolatrous nature of much of “American Christianity.” Now, Dr. David Alan Black, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written one, brief article that summarizes the topic very well.

Note: The mark of a good writer is not how many words he can use to express himself, but how few. Dr. Black, who prefers to be called “Brother Dave,” is a very good writer, indeed. His latest article, entitled “Christians without Borders” is concise, to-the-point, and well worth your time.

Very well said, Brother Dave.

Nooma “Breathe”: A Review

There is so much objectionable material in Rob Bell’s Nooma, “Breathe,” that it will be quite impossible to adequately deal with everything in this review. He teaches elements of New Ageism, Hinduism, and Universalism and couples it with such a profound misunderstanding of Scripture that I’ll only scratch the surface here.

Bell begins by telling us how many breaths we take a day and how much air (in volume) that represents — it’s a lot. But, because we are distracted by our daily tasks, we never notice it.

He then goes on to tell about Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. He references the passage where God tells Moses to remove his sandals because the ground he is standing on is holy.

“Now Moses has been walking this land for 40 years,” Bell says. “I mean, it isn’t as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. The ground didn’t just change. It’s that Moses becomes aware of it. Which raises the question for us: Are we standing on holy ground all the time?”

noomabreathestampedWell, actually it is exactly as if the ground all of a sudden became holy. You see, the Bible makes it clear over and over again that God and God alone is holy. It is the very presence of God that makes the ground holy under Moses’ feet. The same thing happens when the commander of the army of the Lord appears to Joshua. The commander is a Christophony (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). And, since Christ is God and therefore holy, his presence makes the ground under Joshua’s feet holy. This is only the first instance in “Breathe” where Bell displays a fundamental misunderstanding of holiness.

He continues to explain that the word “LORD” in the English Bible is translated from YHVH in the Hebrew.

“These letters, in Hebrew, are pronounced ‘Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey’ which is where we get the pronunciation ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Yahveh,’” Bell points out. “There are no vowels in the name YHVH and the ancient Jews did not even say the name because they considered it too holy.”

All of that is true. But one of the hallmarks of a convincing false teacher is his ability to take some truth and incorporate untruth. It’s at this point Bell starts mixing in elements of other religious philosophies.

“In fact,” he continues, “the ancient rabbis believed these letters were… essentially, kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing.

“Is the name of God the sound of breathing?”

Do you see where he’s going with this?

Just wait.

“In Genesis we read how God created man from the dust of the ground and then breathed into him life. When we die we return to dust,” Bell says. “For thousands of years people have understood this physical breath that we all possess to be a picture of a deeper reality. In the Bible the word for breath is the same word for spirit. In the Old Testament it is ‘ruah’ and in the New Testament it’s “pnuema.’”

Just because a word means both “breath” and “spirit” does not mean it means both things in every case. It is not interchangeable. Context determines meaning. Consider the word “building.”

Example 1: That is a tall building.

Example 2: Timmy is building a tower with his blocks.

It’s the same word — different meanings. One is a noun. The other is a verb. It’s an overly simplistic example, I know, but it makes the point — which will become clearer in a moment.

“When God takes the ‘ruah’ you die, but when he sends the ‘ruah’ you have life,” Bell continues. “And the first Christians took hold of this idea then they took it way farther. They actually believed that the Spirit of God resides or can literally dwell, live in a person. One Scripture in Romans 8 says that if the ‘pneuma,’ the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead, is living in you, then God will give you life.”

Well, that’s true. “One Scripture in Romans 8” does say that. But it does not mean what Bell is implying that it means. He is equating the “breath of life,” as given to Adam, with the Holy Spirit of God, as it indwells believers in Christ. He seems to be implying that if God has breathed physical life into you (as per his discussion of the “breath of life”) then you have the life Paul speaks of in Romans 8 (which is eternal life).

This just isn’t true.

Consider the passage of Scripture in Romans 8 in context. And remember, this is a letter written specifically to believers in Christ Jesus at the Church in Rome:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” — Romans 8: 9-11

This passage clearly draws a distinction between believers and non-believers. While it is obvious that every living person has the “ruah” (breath of life), only those who are believers in Christ have the “pneuma” (Holy Spirit) indwelling them. And it is the Holy Spirit that will provide the “life” Paul speaks of in this passage.

Bell’s comments on this passage immediately made me think he was advocating some sort of Universalist message — a thought that was strengthened with Bell’s next comments.

“Another Scripture says that what the Spirit of God does living in you, is it sanctifies,” Bell says. “Now the word ‘sanctify’ it means ‘to purge’ or ‘to clean out.’ What it essentially means is that when you let God in, when you breathe, what happens is you become aware of all the things you need to leave behind, everything you need to let go of…

“Jesus said that what the Spirit of God does, is the Spirit guides us into Truth. I there anything you need guidance in? I mean, maybe what we need is as close as breathing.”

Now, I am convinced that Bell is teaching a synthesis of Christianity and Eastern religions, specifically Hinduism and Transcendental Meditation (which is a practice I’ve condemned before). This whole idea of “breathing in” God is straight from their philosophies. I realize there are many who will deny Bell is advocating any sort of Eastern religion in this Nooma.

Fine. For the sake of argument I will accept he is not advocated such a thing (although I’m convinced he is). Even if that is the case he is still teaching something entirely unbiblical. That we have the ability to “breath in” God at will is contrary to Scripture.

In the third chapter of John Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus the nature of the Holy Spirit. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We no more have command over the Holy Spirit than we do over the wind.

I suspect Bell would disagree. In “Breathe” he refers to humans as “sacred” and “divine” because of the indwelling of this divine breath. This is the second place Bell demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of holiness. The Bible could not be more clear — God alone is holy. Not us.

“You are a sacred creation of God,” Bell says. The divine breath is flowing through you, and it’s flowing through the person next to you, and it’s flowing through the person next to them. You are on holy ground. And there is a holiness to the people around us.”

This is a common misconception about man — one that is born out of humanism.

Humanism teaches an innate value in man.

Scripture teaches that man is completely undone. Sinful. Wretched.

Humanism teaches an elevated view of man, one that borders on — dare I say it — holiness.

Bell, apparently, agrees with the humanists and even says, “A person doesn’t have to agree with this for it to already be true. God has already given us life.”

Again, he makes no distinction between believers and non-believers. And the Bible is clear that only believers have this life Bell references.

The most quoted passage in the Bible is probably John 3:16. Many people even use that passage to defend an elevated view of man. Since “God so loved the world,” they contend, “there must be something in man worth saving.”

But I recommend reading past the 16th verse.

“Whosoever believes in him is not condemned, but whosoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” — John 3: 18-19

Contradictions between the Bible and Bell abound in this video. Suffice it to say, there is very little in “Breathe” that even remotely resembles biblical Christianity. I’ve long suspected Rob Bell to be a teacher of the philosophies of this age, and “Breathe” is the most convincing evidence to date that supports that suspicion.

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