Category Archives: Culture

The 2012 Presidential Election: An Illusion of Choice

I must confess up-front that I have been very frustrated by the presidential race this year–especially by Christians. It seems as though political expediency is all that really matters; our political decisions are being dictated by fear of the ‘other guy’ instead of voting for the best candidate. We aren’t voting for who we want; we are just voting against who we don’t want. But then again, it seems as though we are all too often known by what we’re against instead of what we are for, doesn’t it? But, even if we really rally around Mitt, will it truly make a difference? I’m not so sure…

In fact, 7-Eleven may have inadvertently created the most profound and truthful parable for this election that I ever seen. On September 28th, they gave away free coffee in the morning; all you had to do was decide which cup you favored–the Red cup or the Blue cup–and they would scan that cup’s bar code. Then, presumably, they would tally the votes and be able to forecast the election results, right?

Here’s the thing though: no matter which cup you chose, you still wound up with the same mediocre coffee. The only difference between the two was what they looked like on the outside; inside they were identical. That’s what this election is all about. Obama vs. Romney is not a choice between two candidates chosen by the people. Obama vs. Romney is a choice between two puppets chosen, sponsored, and owned by lobbyists, big businesses, corporations, special interest groups, and the like. One merely speaks the lingo of the Left, while the other speaks the lingo of the Right, but neither of them care about what is truly best for the common man.

Now, some Christians may object at this and say that sometimes we must merely vote for the lesser of two evils. The only problem with that line of reasoning is that you are admitting that you are voting for an evil. Furthermore, you are assuming that there are only two candidates in existence for which you may vote. Or they may point out that Romney is (allegedly) pro-life. Sadly, when it comes to the issue of abortion, it doesn’t matter where our president stands as much as Evangelicals claim because the Supreme Court is the one who made the decision and are likely the ones who would have to overturn the decision.

The brutally honest truth is, I’m sick and tired of hearing people complain about the evils of our two-party political system and then voting for one of those two parties. Let me give you a hint: you’re part of the problem. You are perpetuating a system that you yourself have stated is flawed. If everyone who complains about the two-party system had the moral fortitude to vote for a third party and support a candidate they actually believe in, I doubt we would have a two party system! So, this election day, I challenge to challenge Christians to actually pray about which candidate deserves your vote. If you can vote for one of the Big Two with a clean conscience, more power to you. But as for me and my house, we’ll be voting third party. So here’s the bottom line: your vote matters. Your vote is important. Please, I beg you, do not waste it perpetuating an evil, corrupt two-party system.

Now, as a bit of a post script, I want to affirm one last thing: our ultimate hope does not rest in the hands of elected officials. Regardless of who gets elected this year, Christ is our King and we would do well to place our hopes and dreams in His Kingdom.

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” Psalm 145:13

Same-Sex Marriage: Bigots & Hypocrites

So, have you been to Chik-fil-a recently? Never has someone’s fast-food choice meant so much to so many, right? I think this controversy has only given us a foretaste of all the heated division that is sure to surround same-sex marriage for the foreseeable future. I think it’s also revealed something about the people on both sides of the controversy: it’s bigots vs. hypocrites.

Continue reading Same-Sex Marriage: Bigots & Hypocrites

Did Alex Trebek say on Jeopardy! that the New World Translation is the most accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures?

Recently, upon finding out that I’m studying New Testament Greek (aka Koine Greek), my Jehovah’s Witness coworker gave me a pamphlet called “The Accuracy of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.” The article began with this paragraph:

Recently on Jeopardy on TV…One of the questions was…What is the most accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures? No one got the correct answer, so Alex Trebek said “The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, printed by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society…

Is this true? Did this really happen? And if so, what exactly does it mean?

1. I have looked online and have not found a shred of evidence that this actually ever happened. It’s a lie. The only corroboration I could find for this was from JW websites and forums. I went to http://www.j-archive.com/ (which boasts almost a quarter-million questions) and did an advanced Google search on the site. Here are my results.

First, I searched j-archive.com to see if “Watchtower Bible & Tract Society” shows up anywhere (click here to see the results for yourself). I got one result here. However, the hint was “More common name for The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society” with an answer of Jehovah’s Witnesses; it had nothing to do with translational accuracy.

Next, I decided to search for “New World Translation” and got 0 results using quotes (click here to see the results for yourself). There was one hit where “new world” and “translation” coincided, but not as part of the same sentence:

Finally, I couldn’t find a single clip on YouTube or any other video site of this being asked. I did find a blog post about this topic going back to August of 2007, and although there had been many hateful, unconstructive comments posted by some of the readers, there has yet to be any proof offered. That’s almost half a decade and no proof. That fact leads me to believe this is a complete lie.

2. On Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek doesn’t ask questions. He provides answers and the contestants ask the appropriate question. However, according to this story, Alex asked which translation is the most accurate and later revealed the answer. Not only is there no evidence this ever happened, but the story actually disproves itself. If I told you a story about how a guy bought vowel on Who Wants to be A Millionaire?, you’d know I was lying because that’s not how the game works. It seems like this lie was carefully fabricated because, caught off guard, most Americans are likely to trust the answers they get from Jeopardy. I say “caught off guard” because this story is likely told as JW’s go door-to-door. The fact that most people are unprepared for an encounter with JW’s means that they’re unlikely to carefully define terms either…

3. If this actually did happen, what did they mean by the word “accurate”? This word requires serious discussion and careful definition before you can even begin a discussion about the most “accurate” translation of the Bible. By accurate do you mean strictly literal, word-for-word? If so, then there’s not a single ‘literal’ translation of the Greek or Hebrew into English. It would be incomprehensible, especially when you get into books like Acts or Hebrews, which have very challenging word order. And even an exact word-for-word would be inaccurate if they always used the same word because the same word can have different meaning depending upon context. For example, read John 3:5-8; the same Greek word exists for both “spirit” and “wind” in that passage but the context determines which meaning is intended. Furthermore, there are numerous Greek and Hebrew words that don’t have an exact equal in our language, such as archegos.

Or by accurate, do you mean idea-for-idea? Once again, there isn’t a translation that goes that far in all places either. For example, read Isaiah 64:6 and notice how all translations keep the euphemism “filthy rags.” That’s because they’re afraid to translate that term for the graphic image it would have conjured up in the mind of the ancient Jews: “bloody menstrual rags.” The JW’s love to claim they have the most accurate translation of the Bible, but I don’t know of any Greek or Hebrew scholars that would agree to that claim. Which brings us to our final point…

4. If this actually did happen, since when did Alex Trebek become the authority on Koine Greek? This story, true or not, doesn’t prove anything because it doesn’t actually appeal to an expert in the field of Koine Greek. The rest of the pamphlet contains excerpts from Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. This book was written by Jason David BeDuhn, a professor who has his Ph.D. in “Comparative Study of Religions.” Once again, the JWs make the mistake of appealing to a non-expert to validate the accuracy of their Bible (aka false attribution). If you’re going to buy a house, do you seek advice from a realtor or a chef? If you want to prepare a good meal, do you seek advice from a chef or a realtor? If you want to know which translation of the Bible is the most accurate, do you seek the opinion of an expert in Koine Greek or do you ask a game show host and someone who got their degree in comparative religion?

But here’s the bottom line: whether this question was asked on Jeopardy! or not doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t prove a thing, other than the fact that it is a false attribution. The truth is, the New World Translation is not the most accurate translation of the Bible, which is why JWs have to tell lies and appeal to non-experts for their “proof.” If I were to recommend any translation, it would be the ESV for reasons I’ve mentioned before. I hope this has shed some light on a confusing topic. If you encounter this story, ask for some proof and ask how the JW’s define “accurate.”

On Alcohol: Honor your Maker.

If you’re just joining us…

The last few weeks we’ve been talking about alcohol. First, we looked at the three most popular Christian beliefs about alcohol in America today. I explained why I think all those views ultimately fail to be biblically faithful. Then, we looked at the 4 types of Bible verses that any biblical theology of alcohol has to satisfy (aka “the gauntlet”). Finally, we made the distinction between “getting drunk” and “being drunken.” It’s been really fun for me to finally express these thoughts and I hope they’ve challenged you to rethink your beliefs about alcoholic consumption.

My 4th View

Without further ado, and in light of all that, I’d like to propose a 4th view: “wisely exercise your liberty in faith for God’s glory.”

I’ll break that down into chunks. First, wisdom determines when, where, and how much you drink. When I said that drinking is acceptable under certain conditions I meant exactly that. I think, especially in our American culture, Christians need to be extremely careful how we treat alcohol because we have created a self-imposed standard of sobriety. Like it or not, we need to play by the rules of our culture in the same way a missionary would respect the rules of his culture. Therefore, if having too many drinks negatively affects our witness to the world around us, then we need to abstain for God’s glory. Wisdom is tricky, because sometimes we’re faced with decisions where there isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong. For example, is it sinful to eat at McDonald’s every day? Maybe, but maybe not. However, is it wise to eat at McDonald’s everyday? Similarly, is it wise to have a drink in your specific situation?

Second, faith is essential to how you engage alcohol. In Romans 14:23, Paul is addressing the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols and he says “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” I think it’s pretty easy to carry this same standard over to alcohol. Whoever has doubts is condemned if he drinks, because the drinking is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is addressing the same issue of food and he’s warning Timothy that some people will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Marriage is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Food is good; the problem is in the heart of the recipient. Paul continues by saying that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:4). Can you have a drink with a clear conscience, or do you feel as though you would be stepping over limits that God has established for you?

Finally, our entire lives should be devoted to God’s glory. For example, we’re instructed to be “alert and self-controlled” (1 Thess. 5:8) and over-exercising our ‘freedoms’ can quickly interfere with that calling. Titus 3:1 tells us to “be ready for every good work” and an idolatrous preoccupation with alcohol will prevent you from honoring that call. There are dozens of other verses (many of which have nothing to do specifically with alcohol) that call us to be wise, intentional, live quiet lives, etc. As Paul stated, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Cor. 9:19)” What deliberate, intentional limits have you set upon yourself (if any?) in order to glorify God?

The focus of our lives shouldn’t be using our freedom to the maximum extent possible. That mentality leads to the question “How close can I get to sin?” For example, that would lead me to ask “How much can I drink?” That’s kinda like asking “How fast can I drive South but still be headed North?” It doesn’t make sense! Either you’re seeking to honor God, or you’re not. The focus of our lives should be honoring God and reaching out to those around us. That mentality leads to the question “How can I wisely use my freedoms to glorify God?”

The friend who sent me the message that sparked this blog series is a very godly man and a dear friend. We met in 2010 while we were deployed and became very close friends almost overnight. During our deployment he abstained from all alcohol for the sake of his testimony. His co-workers knew the pre-Christian, drunkard that he used to be, so he showed them the difference that God had made in his life. He wisely used his freedom for God’s glory. I urge you, if alcohol abuse is part of your past, then sobriety should be part of your present; not out of a sense of legalism, but because of the power and credibility it gives your testimony. Not because getting drunk is a sin, but because being sober is a chance to witness to those around you.

An Exception

I’ll also add that underage drinking is a sin. Providing alcohol to a minor is a sin. Why? Because it is a violation of the law of the land and Christians are commanded to obey the law. Romans 13:1-2 is abundantly clear on this issue:

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

In Conclusion

So, can a Christian drink alcohol? Yes. Should a Christian drink alcohol? It depends; how can you best honor God in any given situation? Would having a drink be a wise decision? Can you have a drink with a clear conscience? Does a beer make your witness less credible or does it make you more approachable? In Portland, I anticipate there may be times when having a beer might make plenty of sense because it makes me more relatable; it gives me a chance to get to know people in the hopes of sharing the Gospel with them. In East Tennessee (where I grew up), I don’t think it would be as wise, because so many people assume that Christians shouldn’t drink ever under any circumstances.

One possible objection to this stance could be something along the lines of this: “You can’t possibly believe or teach other people that getting drunk is permissible.” I would simply reply that perhaps we should start treating people like adults and point you to Colossians 2:16. Perhaps it’s time to start pushing people towards making wise decisions and living according to a set of values, instead of trying to force rules upon them that don’t always work in every situation. Instead of forcing man-made rules upon people, point them towards the beauty and joy of honoring God with their lives. Christ has set us free (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1). But we should be sobered by the realization that our freedom is meant to glorify God, not satisfy the flesh.

Another possible response to this would be something along the lines of “heck yeah, I’m going to celebrate with a kegger!” If that’s you, then you’ve missed the entire point. Remember, the point of our freedom is to honor God, not serve ourselves.

So what do you think? Am I totally off base or does this make more sense than some of the other ‘rules’ floating around? I feel like this works in all situations; which is part of the beauty of Biblical wisdom. I hope that this view has challenged you to rethink your take on alcohol and, ultimately, increases your freedom to serve, honor, and glorify God.

On Alcohol: Modern Views & Their Flaws

In case you haven’t been a Christian long, let me let you in on a little secret: there’s a lot of disagreement over whether or not Christians can or even should drink alcohol. In fact, if you ask 4 Christians about alcohol, you’re likely to get 5 opinions! Recently a dear friend contacted me to share a 37-page PDF that contained every Bible verse relating to alcohol. It’s the fruit of a year of reading the Bible and he’s just now beginning to study the topic in depth! He asked me and another friend of his if we had any thoughts on the issue so here’s what I told him. I hope that you’ll read this with an open mind and let me know what you think of it.

Regarding the use/consumption of alcohol, the way I see it, there are essentially three stances in modern American Evangelicalism:

  1. All forms of alcoholic consumption are evil.
  2. Light moderation is acceptable, but getting drunk is a sin.
  3. My “Christian freedom” lets me do whatever I want, therefore all things are permissible.

I think all three are flawed and I’ll critique each in turn.

  1. All forms of alcoholic consumption are evil. This view is flawed because, as far as I’ve been able to discern, it’s rooted in 19th & 20th century prohibition-ism and is directly contradicted by the Bible. I’m going to assume we all agree with this, are aware of 1 Tim 5:23 and other similar verses, and can move on. (Truth be told, I don’t know how anyone actually defends this stance biblically, although there are plenty of places online where they try.)
  2. Light moderation is acceptable, but getting drunk is a sin. While this view might be the most prevalent today, I think it is actually more restrictive than the Bible and, for that reason I’m hesitant to adopt this rule. We should never try to be “more biblical than Jesus.” I’ll explain why I believe this in a future post, but first…
  3. My “Christian freedom” lets me do whatever I want, therefore all things are permissible. While it is true that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1), he did this so  that we would not fall back into slavery. I think everyone has seen too much “liberty” taken by far too many Christians, especially the doubting world. We all probably know at least one guy (read: young, restless and reformed) who drinks, smokes, and cusses…all in the name of ‘Christian liberty.’ Meanwhile, he has ambitions to go to seminary or to lead in some form of ministry in the future. Personally, when it comes to guys like this, I don’t think his conduct is above reproach (1Tim 3:2). I don’t think he is living in a wise, intentional way that honors God (Eph. 5:16). Nor do I think he cares that he is being a stumbling block to many of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 14:13, 1 Cor. 8:9). In the end, I think, when it comes to a guy like this, his testimony is tarnished and he is robbed of his credibility because he’s too busy having a good, carnal time. I think John MacArthur said it best: “one cannot be genuinely “Reformed” and deliberately worldly at the same time. The two things are inconsistent and incompatible.” Ironically, I believe guys like this are slaves to their freedoms.

As far as I can tell, those are the three predominant views that most modern Christians subscribe to. If you can think of any others that don’t fall into those three categories, please let me know. Of course, I’ll be writing more on this topic, so very soon you’ll see a 4th view!

The God of All Comfort

There’s a song I heard a while back on the radio and I really liked it. So, a couple weeks ago, after getting an iTunes gift card for my birthday, I decided to buy it. It’s called Breakeven (Falling to Pieces) by The Script:

I’m not sure why, but I had never actually heard one of the lines until I bought it. Here is the first verse:

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing
Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in
‘Cause I got time while she got freedom
‘Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t break even

It’s that second line that really caught my ear: “Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in…” Isn’t that very, very telling? Regardless of why the songwriter doesn’t believe in God, and regardless of his opinion of Christians specifically, he knows that God should be able to give him comfort during a time of heartbreak.

Every time I hear that line I think of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

God gives us comfort so we can comfort others; it shouldn’t stop with us. God guides us through our heartbreak so we can guide others through their heartbreaks. Today in class we talked about the Book of Job, specifically the theme of trusting God through suffering. One of my classmates shared that he and his wife had experienced five miscarriages. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for them. Thankfully, God comforted them, He sustained them through their trials, and he eventually blessed them with two full-term children. Since then, they’ve been able to minister to numerous other couples when they go through miscarriages. God comforted them, and now they are sharing that comfort with other couples going through the same thing.

Here’s where it breaks down for me though:  far too often I’m more inclined to simply cover up any of my heartache. I’m afraid to be transparent about my struggles, so I simply miss out on the chance share my comforts. My classmate inspired me. Perhaps it’s time for us to start being more vulnerable about our pains, struggles, and trials. Perhaps it’s time to start being more open to other people. God will comfort us, but it’s up to us to comfort others and use that as an opportunity to share the source of that comfort:  Christ.

Gay Jokes?

Two days ago the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” pol­icy was repealed from the Depart­ment of Defense. Nat­u­rally, this has sparked a lot of con­ver­sa­tion online, espe­cially among my Chris­t­ian friends because they see this as a moral fail­ure of our coun­try. Sadly, I’ve also noticed a lot of jok­ing about homosexuality.

That’s why I want to take a moment to share a video about whether or not Chris­tians should joke about homo­sex­u­al­ity. To watch, click here or watch below. Please watch the video all the way through before mak­ing your deci­sion about the message.

Jokes About Gay People? from Harvest Bible Chapel on Vimeo.

It’s not my goal to con­demn any­one or to say we aren’t allowed to talk about this. It’s my goal in shar­ing this video to sanc­tify the con­ver­sa­tion. Let us make sure that we do all things in a way that brings glory to God.

Illumination

Harry Potter vs. Jesus?

My wife loves Post Secret. Big time! For a while we had a tradition of logging on there together every Sunday morning to check out the latest secrets but I think she got tired of waiting on me so now she does it by herself.

It just so happens that this weekend I was with her when she checked it and I saw this postcard:

Untitled picture

At first—if I’m completely honest—I was a little offended. I mean, how could the Harry Potter books even be compared to the Bible? Isn’t it like comparing a lighter to a flame thrower?! But I decided to hold my peace about it and later that morning I asked Connie what her impression of that card was.
Her reaction was very thought provoking:
“Daniel, if I just read the Bible without any instruction I would be inclined to feel the same. The Bible is not an easy book to understand…”
Well, besides the obvious fact that she must not be reading my Biblical Interpretation 101 blogs (*wink wink*), I think she hit the nail on the head! In fact, I’m almost embarrassed that I didn’t start with this topic when I started writing about Biblical interpretation.
Illumination

That’s right:  illumination. The Moody Handbook of Theology does a great job of defining illumination:

Because the Bible is God-breathed and therefore in an entirely different dimension from other literature, it is necessary that man receives God-given help in understanding the Bible (1 Cor. 2:11). Additionally, the unregenerate man’s sin-darkened mind cannot apprehend spiritual truths (1 Cor. 2:14). The work of illumination then is necessary to enable man to comprehend the Word of God (cf. Luke 24:44–45). Illumination can thus be defined as “the ministry of the Holy Spirit whereby He enlightens those who are in a right relationship with Him to comprehend the written Word of God.”
When Jesus described the Holy Spirit, He said that the Holy Spirit would teach us all things (John 14:26) and that the Holy Spirit would guide Christians into all truth (John 16:13.) The simple truth is, you cannot understand the Bible without the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere, Jesus said that non-Christians were incapable of receiving the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit would dwell with and in Christians (John 14:17).
I say all this because I want to be very clear:  it is impossible to understand the Bible without the Holy Spirit. Sure, there are things about the Bible that even a child can understand, but there are also things that only the Holy Spirit will reveal to us (1 Corinthians 2:10, 13).
So how can we hope to understand the Bible? Simple: Pray! James 1:5 is a promise that if God’s children ask Him for wisdom, He will give it to them. Before reading the Bible, it’s very important to pray to God—and I actually like to pray specifically to the Holy Spirit. Thank the Holy Spirit for inspiring the Scriptures, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to your heart and mind the meaning of the Scriptures. You’ll be amazed at what He shows to you as you read the Bible!