November 22, 2010
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:16, 20-21
In a little over a year, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site will open its Center for Education and Leadership, right across the street from the place where John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln. The $25 million center is a partnership between the Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service.
The center will “explore Lincoln’s legacy and the aftermath of his assassination,” according to an article in The New York Times. It will complement the theatre’s museum which, along with the theatre itself, is being overhauled in anticipation of the center’s February 2012 opening, 203 years after Lincoln’s birth.
The approach at the education center, however, will be somewhat different from that of the museum, say theatre society director Paul Tetreault, and historian Richard Norton Smith, an advisor on the project. The center hopes to “provide a wide range of views on Lincoln and his legacy, allowing visitors to come to their own conclusions,” the Times piece summarizes. As Mr. Smith puts it, “This at least feels to me like a fresh attempt to examine what is in some ways a never-ending story from multiple perspectives over different generations.” (Frankly, I didn’t realize there were a whole lot of perspectives or opinions left to explore on Lincoln and his presidency. Guess that’s why I’m not a historian!)
One interesting feature of the new center is a three-story tower of books, a sculpture stacking replicas of works written about Lincoln, just to show just how many there are. Which got me thinking about the number of books written lately about God. Here’s a list of some of them:
The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Women, Food and God – Geneen Roth
The Shack – William Young
The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
The Case for God – Karen Armstrong
The Evolution of God – Robert Wright
God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens
The Reason for God – Timothy Keller
I haven’t read any of them (although my pastor says the last book is very good), so I can’t really speak about them with any authority. I suspect that I’d find Stephen Hawking hard to follow, since I don’t have a very science-oriented brain, and wouldn’t think much of the books by atheists Hitchens and Dawkins (as for God Himself’s opinion—He finds them laughingly pathetic, according to Psalm 2:4). My husband Joe found The Shack strange and kind of New Age-y, even though it’s targeted to a Christian audience.
But here’s what I find most interesting about all the God books: it seems people would rather read them than read the one book that’s the real authority on God—the Bible. And it shows. The recently released Pew Forum U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey finds that “Mormons, black Protestants and white evangelicals are the most frequent readers of materials about religions. Fully half of all Mormons (51%) and roughly three-in-ten white evangelicals (30%) and black Protestants (29%) report that they read books or go online to learn about their own religion at least once a week.”
And even though the survey says that, “many Americans are devoted readers of Scriptures,” only 37% say they read the Bible at least once a week, not counting worship services.
The survey goes on to report that only 71% of Americans know Jesus was born in Bethlehem (hellooo—doesn’t the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” give a clue?!), and 63% correctly answer that Genesis is the first book of the Bible. And little more than half know that the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—is not one of the Ten Commandments (it’s found in Matthew 7:12).
Houston, we have a problem…
When people who call themselves Christians aren’t going to the definitive source to find out how to live as a Christian…well, the church is in deep, deep trouble. If all we know is what we’ve read about the Bible, instead of reading and studying it for ourselves, we leave ourselves open to the influence of perspectives that may or may not lead us in the right direction. And while coming to our own conclusions about Abraham Lincoln won’t do us much harm, our ignorance or superficial knowledge of Scripture can make all the difference in the world—in this one and the next. We fall victim to a “pick and choose” kind of faith, one of our own interpretation, and that’s dangerous. As Peter emphasizes in the verse I quoted at the beginning, the Bible didn’t just magically come together from stories people made up based on myths and old wives’ tales. It contains eyewitness accounts from those who were involved in the events, both in the New and Old Testaments, to whom God, through the Holy Spirit, gave the impulse to write down what happened.
Not that faith in the Bible is always easy. Peter wraps up his second letter by admitting that, “some things [are] hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. But, he goes on, “knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:16, 17).
So here’s a challenge for you, if you’re not doing it already: commit to studying the Bible. Not just reading it, but really getting into it. You can do this by regularly attending a group study, of course, but I mean a personal study, all by yourself. And I don’t mean reading a daily devotional either. I’m not knocking them, but using only publications like Our Daily Bread and The Upper Room to study the Bible is like subsisting on milk instead of solid food (and that’s a Biblical analogy found in Hebrews 5:12-14).
I happen to like the InterVarsity Quiet Time Bible studies—they’re down-to-earth yet thought-provoking, and really go to the heart of the Scriptures. If you go to InterVarsity’s website, you can download a study each day and get past studies, all for free (click on “Current Quiet Time” and “Bible Study Schedule” on the right side of the page). There are also lots of low-cost study guides you can buy from the site or at Christian bookstores. Or ask your pastor for suggestions, or just go to your local Christian bookstore, browse the shelves and pick one. And while you’re there, buy two other great Bible study tools—a concordance, with which you can find specific words in the Bible (a study on a particular word or topic using a concordance is an enlightening–and even fun!–kind of study), and a commentary (I prefer Wycliffe’s) to further aid your understanding. They’re both a little pricey (and heavy!), but they’re good investments. Ask for them for Christmas!
You too can have the confidence Peter does, as he writes, “And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19), a probable reference to Jesus Himself (Revelation 2:28, 22:16).
May He and His words burn brightly inside us as we come to know Him better.