Tag Archives: belief

Bible-believing Christians – Velvet Elvis 2

Martin Luther, Wycliffe, Cranmer and other church reformers of the fifteenth and the sixteenth century were some of the first to suggest that the Bible should be available in the languages of the people – English for the English, German for the Germans etc. Previous to that, people generally didn’t own their own Bibles, the church would own one in Latin which the priest would read and interpret for them.

Everyone having access to the Bible was a wonderful thing. But it didn’t half cause problems. Almost as soon as the reformation caused a split in the church between Protestants and Catholics, the church split again into smaller denominations – lutherans, calvinists, anglicans, anabaptists, puritans and so on. They all read the same Bible, but came to different conclusions on what certain parts of it mean (not, I might add, on anything fundamental like the deity of Jesus, the Cross etc, but mostly on issues of practice.)

It is fantastic that now everyone can read the Bible for themselves. But doesn’t that lead to the possibility of everyone understanding it differently?

I am a Bible-believing Christian, but what does that mean?

It means I take the Bible seriously and I work to understand it and apply it to my life. I consider it inspired by God. There are no parts of the Bible that I can simply ignore, but I work to understand what it meant when it was written and what it might mean for us now. I don’t pretend to understand it all.

Having said that, there are many other people who also ‘believe the Bible’ who come to different conclusions from certain passages than I do. Rob Bell, in his book, Velvet Elvis, mentions a lady he met who said something like this “I just believe the Bible”. But at the same time, she describes her faith as ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’. The phrase ‘personal relationship’ is not found anywhere in the Bible. It’s not a bad phrase, it can describe what being a Christian is like so long as you define what it means, but the point was that someone had interpreted what it means to know got and summed it up in the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ So, Rob points out, that she obviously believes a lot more that just what is found in the Bible – she believes in the interpretation of the person who told her that phrase too. So, everything is interpreted.

Rob bell says:

“The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don’t is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into is and come out with a ‘pure’ or ‘exact’ meaning is not only untrue, bit it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy”

How can we be sure we have the right interpretation?

This is his point. The Bible is inspired, and it’s words are ‘living and active’ because they came from a God who is ‘living and active’. This is why we shouldn’t just read the Bible alone, we should read it in the context of prayer, and of a community who prays, thinks, and supports each other. Point of the Bible is to point us to God, and the joy of reading the Bible comes from a desire to seek God and wrestle with the texts as we apply them.

Rob Bell again:

“The writers of the Bible are communicating in language their world will understand. They are using the symbols and pictures and images of the culture they are speaking to That’s why the Bible has authority – God has authority and is present in real space and time. The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority”

It has authority because God has authority, not because it fell from the sky as a holy book.

People who beleive in God are ‘happier’.

Some interesting thoughts from the university of Warwick, cited in this article on the BBC:

Religion ‘linked to happy life’

headstones and steeple

Belief may make us more contented

A belief in God could lead to a more contented life, research suggests. Religious people are better able to cope with shocks such as losing a job or divorce, claims the study presented to a Royal Economic Society conference.

Data from thousands of Europeans revealed higher levels of “life satisfaction” in believers.

However, researcher Professor Andrew Clark said other aspects of a religious upbringing unrelated to belief may influence future happiness.

What we found was that religious people were experiencing current day rewards, rather than storing them up for the future
Professor Andrew Clark
Paris School of Economics

This is not the first study to draw links between religion and happiness, with a belief among many psychologists that some factor in either belief, or its observance, offering benefits.

Professor Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and co-author Dr Orsolya Lelkes from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, used information from household surveys to analyse the attitudes of Christians – both Catholic and Protestant – not only to their own happiness, but also to issues such as unemployment.

Their findings, they said, suggested that religion could offer a “buffer” which protected from life’s disappointments.

Professor Clark said: “We originally started the research to work out why some European countries had more generous unemployment benefits than others, but our analysis suggested that religious people suffered less psychological harm from unemployment than the non-religious.

“They had higher levels of life satisfaction”.

Purpose of life

Even though churchgoers were unsurprisingly more likely to oppose divorce, they were both less psychologically affected by marital separation when it did happen, he said.

“What we found was that religious people were experiencing current day rewards, rather than storing them up for the future.”

However, he said that the nature of the surveys used meant that undetected factors, perhaps in the lifestyle or upbringing of religious people, such as stable family life and relationships, could be the cause of this increased satisfaction.

The precise contribution of religion to mental health remains controversial, although there is other evidence that it does directly improve happiness, said Professor Leslie Francis, from the University of Warwick.

He said that the benefit might stem from the increased “purpose of life” felt by believers.

He said: “These findings are consistent with other studies which suggest that religion does have a positive effect, although there are other views which say that religion can lead to self-doubt, and failure, and thereby have a negative effect.

“The belief that religion damages people is still in the minds of many.”

‘Meaningless’

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which represents the interests of atheists and agnostics, said that studies purporting to show a link between happiness and religion were “all meaningless”.

“Non-believers can’t just turn on a faith in order to be happy. If you find religious claims incredible, then you won’t believe them, whatever the supposed rewards in terms of personal fulfilment.

“Happiness is an elusive concept, anyway – I find listening to classical music blissful and watching football repulsive.

“Other people feel exactly the opposite. In the end, it comes down to the individual and, to an extent, their genetic predispositions.”

But Justin Thacker, head of Theology for the Evangelical Alliance, said that there should now be no doubt about the connection between religious belief and happiness.

“There is more than one reason for this – part of it will be the sense of community and the relationships fostered, but that doesn’t account for all of it.

“A large part of it is due to the meaning, purpose and value which believing in God gives you, whereas not believing in God can leave you without those things.”

What I find interesting is the paragraph about divorce, saying that churchgoers were ‘less psycologically affected when it did happen’. I presume this is from the sense of community and support from each other, as well as from trusting in God in the difficult times. By looking outside of oneself it seems churchgoers are more able to cope through the distress.

Questions, questions, questions, Jump – Velvet Elvis 1

I’ve just started reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. So far, I’m loving it. He basically says that people can see Christianity in two ways. He uses the analogy of a trampoline to descibe Christianity. Being a Christian is getting on and jumping, the doctrines of the faith are the springs in the trampoline  – the framework, the things that allow you to jump. They stretch and flex. If one is being questioned, the others still support it.

 The second way is to think of each doctrine as a brick. Put the bricks together and they make a wall. Bricks don’t flex. Walls keep people in and keep them out. The bricks might seem like a firm foundation, but bricks all hold each other up. Take one out and the whole wall may fall down.

For example, some Christians believe that the world was made in six literal 24-hour days. (I don’t, but fair enough if you do). If we use the brick model, this doctrine might me one brick. OK. But what happens when that one brick starts to become questioned? What happens when arguments concerning intelligent design or some sort of evolution start to become compelling? Well, the whole wall may fall down. In the book Rob Bell quotes a preacher who actually said that if you didn’t believe the world was made in six 24-hour days, you are effectively denying that Jesus ever died on the cross. This is what Rob Bell means when he talks about a ‘brick’ – the whole wall falls down.

Instead, faith is like the trampoline. It is about getting on and joining in. You don’t have to have every single doctrine worked out, the springs still help ou to jump. In fact, Bell says that Christianity is about the jumping – discovering the mystery of God by asking the questions, testing the springs, and doing it with God.

And that is how it works really isn’t it. We never discover it all. We never get full answers to our questions – but we tend to get more questions.  Acknowledging the questions is freeing and humbling. When Moses got to go up the mountain to talk to God (Exodus 3:14), he effectively asks – Who are you? What is your name? The response in confusing. God says “I AM WHO I AM” (or “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”). It is an answer. It’s enough to say, I am here, was here, I will always be, but it opens up a whole load more questions. How is he here? Did he always exist? How do we relate to him? What does this mean for me? and so on. The act of finding the answers to the questions, is the act of coming towards God. Get on the trampoline – come and join the questioning about the Almighty God, and enjoy the experience of living life with him.

I find this incredibly freeing – we don’t have to have it all worked out, but we can come to God and begin to ask the questions. The truth is the mystery of God, and we can all jump on and live the mystery with him, and delight in the jumping.

I’m looking forward to reading more of what Rob Bell has to say. He gives a different spin on it, focusing on the ‘living with God’ rather than the ‘beleiving the right things’.

Truth, Evidence, Experience, and Faith.

Over on his blog, Rodibidably poses the question

“How certain are you that your version of the “truth” (truth of god, religion, the world, the universe, etc) is the correct one, and more importantly, how do you know what that “truth” is?”

He has a long discussion going on, this is my contribution to it.

So, how do we know if something is true? Is it possible to know, 100% for certain that anything is true? Let’s say we think something might be true, so we test it. This is what science does – it comes up with theories which might be true, and it tests them. So, for example, if I want to know if, say, all apples are red, I start picking apples. I keep doing this either until I’ve found an apple that isn’t red – disproving the theory, or until I’ve picked enough apples so I’m convinced that all apples are indeed red.

Does the testing prove the theories? No, but each subsequent test shows that it is working on at least one more occasion. As we test more and more times we can be confident that the same thing will happen. Eventually we spot a trend and are confident enough to assert, beyond reasonable doubt, that the theory is true. We have not proved it, but we have seen it enough to be sure enough that it is true, so we believe that it is.

Note that even in a scientific experiment, the very last stage of ‘proving’ the theory comes down to a matter of faith – faith that what we have seen shows that the theory is true.

This basic method which underlies science is sound and fairly reliable, but there is necessarily always some element of doubt, however small, in the theories themselves. Should another conflicting bit of data come along, it is tested, and a new hypothesis is formed which takes into account this new information, replacing the old theory. They can be replaced when a new, stronger theory comes along. So, talk of ‘knowledge’ or ‘fact’ is misguided.

Definitive knowledge can only be known by building logically on top of a firm foundation, so there could be total certainty about the outcomes. However, the only discipline which is subject to this methodology and is not open to doubt is mathematics, and maths to this degree of proof exists only in the abstract. Even Einstein admits that this is the case:

“As for as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality” (Einstein, quoted in Leslie Newbigin’s book ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society’ p31)

Later, Newbigin says

“There is no knowing without believing, and believing is the way to knowing”

So, if we want to work out if we think something is true, we need to look at the evidence and ask ourselves, ‘is it reasonable to believe?’ and ‘Does it work?’

So, why do I think that Christianity is true?

First, it is pretty clear that there was a man called Jesus who lived in the middle east and claimed to do miracles. Non-Christian historians of the time such as Josephus, Tacitus and others attest that he existed and was put to death by Pontius Pilate. Josephus reports that his followers claimed that three days after his death, Jesus was alive again and appeared to them. There are places you can read about this in much more detail, – Wikipedia has a short entry here. These are non-Christian sources.

Christian sources, such as the accounts in the gospels are shown to be reliable. They were written soon after the events by people who were there at the time or by people who knew people who were. There are many fragments of manuscripts from early on – far more than with other documents of the same era (such as some of Caesars writings), so we can be fairly sure that what was written then was pretty much the same as what we have now. So it is reasonable to believe the Bible. (Again, there have been many, many books written on this subject. Any commentary on one of the gospels should detail the historicity of it).

As Josephus reports, the disciples claimed that they saw Jesus alive after he died (the Bible says Jesus appeared to 500 followers of Jesus after the resurrection). We have two choices. Either they are telling the truth or they are lying. If they were lying, they would know. However, almost all the 12 disciples died gruesome deaths at the hand of the Romans or others who were persecuting Christians. Surely, if they were lying, they would have said so? Who would give their life for something that they knew was not true?

Obviously, there is much more that I could say. There are many other claims of Christianity that can be investigated in a similar manner. But overall, the evidence points to something that is intellectually reasonable to believe.

Secondly, does it work? Does Christianity still play out as if it is true? Does what the Bible says play out as true? Well, why don’t you ask a Christian you know. I find it does – Jesus gives my life hope, purpose, and a rock solid foundation to build upon. I know many people, some who were former drug addicts who attest that it was only the power of God that helped them to quit, and if it wasn’t for the saving work of Jesus, they would, quite literally, be dead from their addiction. I know some Christians who have had powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, I have had some of those experiences myself that I can only attribute to God.

So, I have found that Christianity is intellectually reasonable to believe, and I have found that it works. We know what truth is through investigation and experience. The next step is to take that leap of faith and actually believe it. It will involve re-evaluating your life, but if God exists, it is worth it. Isn’t it??

(As for other religions, they can’t all be true because they are all quite different. I would recommend Michael Green’s excellent short book “But Don’t All Religions Lead To God” to highlight the differences.)