Quoting the Non-Quotes of Scripture

CNN ran on article titled “Actually, that’s not in the Bible” on their Belief Blog on June 5.  The blog talks about how the Bible is “the most revered book in America” but is also the most misquoted.

The blog is on target–except when the writer quotes Kevin Dunn (Tufts University) and Sidnie White Crawford, one of my former professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Regarding the popular thought that “Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life,” Dunn says, “Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent…Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years.”

The problem Dunn has is that he is not reading Scripture through a lens of redemption. He reads it merely as literature (in fact, his most recent academic paper delivered was titled “Reading the Bible as Literature,” in 2004).

Who else could the serpent have been? God spoke to the serpent and said in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The Church has traditionally called this the protoevangelium–Latin for “first gospel.” God is the one who first preaches the gospel through a prophetic proclamation. Christ (notice how God says, “he” and “his”) is the offspring of the woman (Gal. 4:4), and he has been ordained by God the Father to be bruised and crushed to physical death (Isa. 53:4-5). However, this death will liberate the souls of sinful men (which began with Adam and Eve, Rom. 5). Christ stamps his defeat of Satan with his resurrection from the dead. Thus Christ delivers a fatal spiritual blow as he conquers sin, death, and hell (Col. 2:151 John 3:8Heb. 2:14).

Regarding the age-old phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” the writer seeks Crawford’s opinion. He writes:

It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

The problem Crawford has is that she fails, like all secular biblical scholars, to see that the Bible is not a book that aims at moral reform, but a book that speaks of a perfect Hero who came to save bad people who don’t have the ability to reform.

This Franklin-invented phrase does not contradict “the biblical definition of goodness,” as Crawford confidently says.  It contradicts the biblical theme of grace: that Jesus came to save his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10), people who were not worthy of salvation (1 Tim. 1:15-16), and could not do anything on their own to have spiritual life (Eph. 2:1-9).  God helps only those who come to Jesus, by grace, forsaking any merit of their own to say, “I am completely unable to help myself.”

I commend the CNN post to you, but read it with a discerning mind. Remember, the Bible is God’s story and it cannot be emphasized enough that each mini-story is either a gentle whisper or a booming shout that speaks of Jesus Christ.


The Rob Bell Saga

If you follow blogs and Twitter (and you probably do since you are on this blog), then you are probably not unaware of what is going on with Rob Bell.  If you are unaware, then you either 1) fasted Twitter the past week or 2) are in denial of what your tweeting eyes see.

Full disclosure: I used to like Rob Bell’s teaching. Then I read Velvet Elvis. I made no secret here what I thought about Bell after reading that book.  He has been particularly ambiguous over the past few years with key biblical doctrines.

This past Saturday, Rob Bell blew up the Internet, specifically, Twitter, with the release of some promo material, including a video, for his new book Love Wins which will go on sale this month.  In the promos, Bell appears to align himself with universalism — the belief that everyone goes to heaven.  He was mentioned so much on Twitter that he was “trending,” which means that even tweeters in Egypt were hearing about Rob Bell.  Who had the biggest beef with Bell? It was the Reformed theologians and bloggers, of course. They were (in my opinion) being discerning, honest, biblical, and faithful to the gospel.

Here’s a timeline of some things that went down:

  • HarperCollins (Bell’s publisher) releases a blurb about his new book and a video promo featuring Bell.  (You can watch the video below.)
  • Justin Taylor blogs his thoughts about the promo material and Bell.
  • John Piper tweets, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
  • Josh Harris tweets, “There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart. Praying for Rob Bell.”
  • Harris follows up his tweet with a blog about why he hopes he’s wrong, including thoughts from Denny Burke, dean of Southern Seminary.
  • Kevin DeYoung presents eight reasons why believing in God’s wrath and hell is important.
  • Tony Jones writes that the Reformed bloggers have been waiting to pounce on Bell.
  • Kevin DeYoung shares two more thoughts on the brouhaha.
  • Beliefnet blogger, Jason Boyett, questions the tweetings of Piper and Taylor
  • Albert Mohler weighs in on Rob Bell’s suggestive theology.
  • CNN writes an article about all of this, interviewing Taylor.

Stay tuned. I’ll do my very best to continue to link to helpful posts and tweets. And when the time is right, I will share some of my own thoughts, though I can’t possibly top DeYoung’s and Burke’s.

Bell’s promo video:


Some arguments are better than others, and this one is just bad.

Check out the video below of Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens, stars of the new documentary Collision, appearing on the Joy Behar show.

During the video, Behar asked Wilson if he really believed “that all those animals were on the ark” with Noah.  That puzzles me.  Out of all the things that happened in the Bible (like say, God becoming a Man, being killed, and rising from the dead) she wants to know about animals on a boat?  Seriously? That’s not the most miraculous and mind-boggling thing you’ll read in the Bible.

Hitchens comes across as a bitter, arrogant, angry, lonely man.  As I watched, the famous C.S. Lewis quote that he ended Mere Christianity with comes to mind:

Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

One day, Christopher Hitchens (and every other person) will stand before Jesus to be judged after the resurrection.  That’s sobering.


How Would Jesus Fare in a CNN Poll?

Jesus didn’t care much for public opinion.  Most people knew he didn’t give a rip about what others thought.  And for those who didn’t know, he made overwhelmingly clear when he talked to them.


Dear President Obama…

Tom Foreman, an Anderson Cooper 360 correspondent, is writing a letter a day to President Obama.  They are being published on CNN’s website.

This letter, answering the question “If God loves everyone, why are there different religions?” shows the problem with mainline denominational Christianity.  Foreman openly says that he is a Christian, but you’ll see the problem if you read his letter.  Here’s Foreman’s answer to this question that his daughter asked him.  It’s the core of his problem:

“I think there are different religions,” I told her, “because adults, like children, disagree on things, and sometimes we focus more on those disagreements than on what we have in common. Imagine there was a girl named Katherine. She has a friend at school who calls her that. At dance class, another friend calls her Kathy. And at soccer, a third friend calls her Kate. One day all three of these friends meet, but they do not know they are acquainted with the same girl. One says, ‘My friend Katherine is the nicest girl ever.’ Another says, ‘You are wrong. My friend Kathy is better.’ And the third says, ‘Nonsense, my friend Kate is better than either of your friends.’ I think that is how it is with God. I think we are all praying to the same being, but we use different names and forget that God is big enough to love us all.”

Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.”  Anyone who says otherwise cannot claim to be a Christian.  Why?  The name Christian means “Christ-follower.”  It was Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

That pretty much excludes anyone with the name “Christian” from saying that we can all pray to the same being, but use a different name.  If you want to say that, go ahead — just don’t call yourself “Christian.”

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).