Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates. – George Gallup, Jr.
I go to great lengths in most of discussions about religion, Christianity in particular, to make it clear that I am not a theologian. I say it over and over again. I am simply a humble servant and disciple of Christ who makes it his business to try and understand what Jesus meant and apply it to my life. That’s why when I came across this article recently about how few Christians actually read the bible I was intrigued, check it out.
In making his key point the author quotes 19th century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said:
The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.
Honestly I disagree with Kierkegaard on this front. It’s not that we pretend not to understand, most of us understand quite clearly. No instead we rationalize our understanding in one of three ways.
1- I just don’t have time to study the scriptures.
In my experience this is by far the number one reason I have heard for people who don’t read the bible. The question of understanding is irrelevant when you don’t take the time to study. Kierkegaard is right, the bible is very easy to understand, especially in this day and age when there are so many different translations available. The old excuses that I heard growing up, that the language was too old and archaic just don’t wash anymore. Yes the King James Bible is hard to understand, it’s like reading the must insufferable passages of Shakespeare, but you need not read the bible in old English there are hundreds of other options.
Nowadays the most common excuse goes like this, “Okay fine, the language has been updated but have you seen that thing? It’s huge! I work 40 hours a week and then I come home and spend upwards of 15-20 hours running the kids all over town, when exactly am I supposed to find the time to read a book like that?” Honestly I don’t have much to say about that, it’s all in where you put your priorities, I read for about 10 minutes a day, surely you can find 10 minutes!
2- That was then, this is now.
What this comes down to is historical rationalization and present bias. But the main reason why we can say this is that we have deluded ourselves into thinking that human nature has changed. The Bible is certainly set in a historical context, that’s not at issue here. But the main message of the Bible speaks to the human condition and human nature and that has not changed.
3- There has to be more to the story, what about (fill in the blank)?
If the bible doesn’t answer your questions in the way you want it to who’s at fault? Most of the “what about” questions are really attempts at rationalization. A favorite point of debate lately has been the 6th commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill”. There is no room for a “what about” question here, it’s pretty clear. Even if you rationalize and say that the English translation is too focused and the proper word should be “murder”, as Pastor Mark Discoll of Mars Hill in Seattle recently attempted to do, that’s still pretty clear. Personally I say just don’t put yourself in a position where the question even comes up. If you have to rationalize between the meaning of killing and murder you’ve missed the point, err on the side of caution and just don’t do it.
There are also times when the “what about” question is centerd on something the bible just doesn’t address in specifics. There we need to use a little bit of judgement and try to find a principle that could apply. When I can’t find a specific example I fall back on 1 John 4:8 – “God is Love” or to put a bit more detail around it:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. [Colossians 3:12-14]
You can’t go wrong if you bind everything together in Love.