Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Can You Be Better than the Bible?

I have an odd question today. Can you be better than the Bible? I suppose most Christians would summarily respond "no, of course not." Yet often people's lives and theology seem to suggest that they secretly think yes. What is it with Christians trying to sanitize everything and pretty it up and make it nice? The Bible isn't always nice. Recently during our morning devotionals I read the scripture in Galatians where Paul suggests that the circumcision advocates go all the way and chop off a certain key body part. LOL. I looked at my thirteen-year-old son and said, "I guess Paul was throwing a bit of a temper tantrum." And as a popular facebook meme suggests, when asked, "What would Jesus do?"--throwing over tables is an option.

Here's the thing. The Bible is not always neat and pretty and tied up with a bow. Sometimes daughter-in-laws seduce father-in-laws. Prostitutes make it into the lineage of Jesus. Men who are said to be after God's own heart also commit adultery and murder. Prophets smear poop on things. Then there's the Song of Solomon, a rather erotic book that I sometimes wonder if Christian parents even allow their kids to read.

I recently saw a facebook post by a fellow author asking someone to explain to her why Ruth lay down at Boaz's feet. She said this seemed rather risky and risque, and of course twenty or so comments tried to explain why it wasn't. Eventually I couldn't take it any longer and replied, "I think it was risky and risque, and I think God has a message for us in that."

If the Bible is indeed (as we claim we believe) God's inspired Word to mankind, then we need to accept all of it, even when it's messy. And if it is indeed God's inspired Word, we can't be "better" than the behavior recommended in it. Of course I'm not talking about bad behavior of specific individuals, but rather the Bible's prescribed behavior, particularly in the New Testament. When we try to be better, nicer, more pure, and more sanitized than the Bible itself, what we actually are is out of balance.
For example, while certain aspects of life like drinking alcohol or dancing can in some cases lead to sinful behavior, the Bible never says that either of these are sinful. Still, some denominations of Christianity try to turn them into sins. If someone chooses not to drink alcohol, that can be a wise decision, but if they judge others and treat it like a sin, they're out of balance. When they contrive elaborate theologies of why the wine Jesus turned the water into wasn't really wine, they're out of balance. And when you're out of balance, another word for that is: WRONG!

Paul says it is for freedom we've been made free. Satan wants us bound, God wants us to feel free to enjoy life so long as we follow the Spirit and stay within certain general guidelines. Getting drunk is a sin. Drinking wine is allowed if you can do it with self-control. Dancing with an intentional goal of seducing anyone but your own spouse would reasonably seem to fall outside of those prescribed guidelines (although I don't think it's anyone's job to judge the motives of another persons heart), but dancing as worship is encouraged, and dancing to enjoy life and music and community is fine.

Or let's take kissing before marriage. The Bible never says it's wrong, yet some Christians today treat it like a sin, or a lack of purity. The Bible DOES say not to have sex outside of marriage, and yes, excessive and indiscriminate kissing could lead one down a wrong path. But that doesn't make kissing before marriage a sin. You can't just go around making up sins for expediency. The same goes for dating. Adult Christians should feel free to make those sorts of choices for themselves and not be judged by other Christians.

Again, remember that when we try to be better than the Bible, something is dangerously off course. I have an acquaintance who recently wrote a book called Courtship in Crisis about the problem's within the new Christian courtship movement. Here's my thoughts on the issue. When young men and women are taught to feel impure every time their bodies experience natural, God-ordained sensations, they are being set up for problems later on in their marriages. How are they supposed to magically retrain their minds in one brief ceremony to enjoy what has been causing them perpetual guilt and turmoil for years? Guilt and turmoil that the Bible doesn't require.

Feelings aren't sin. Physical sensations aren't sin. What we do with those feelings and sensations determine our sinfulness or righteousness. If we choose to revel in them and fantasize over them, or worse yet to dive into them, that is very different than experiencing them and then making good decisions concerning them. It's very different than saying, "Dear Father God, I'm having these feelings and don't know what to do with them. Please guide me through this situation."

And even when we make poor decisions, God is there to forgive and restore us.

Of course I realize that some of my readers are teens, and so I remind you that children are instructed by the Bible to obey their parents. That message is clear. And adult children must still show their parents honor and respect, but they must also make their own decisions before God and take responsibility for their own choices.

On the flip side, to parents and church leaders I would say this. I grew up in the church, and trust me, kids who grow up in the church have excellent "b.s." detectors. They know when the adults in their lives are giving them rules that go beyond the Bible. And all that serves to do is undermine their credibility. When people try to make rock music, black fingernails, blue hair, and the like into "sin," they risk pushing others away from the true gospel message of freedom, grace, and redemption.

Okay, I may have fallen into rambling a bit, but this has been niggling at me for a while. So here's what it all comes back to. Can you be better than the Bible? No. Not if you believe it's truly God's Holy Word, as we Christians claim to believe it is. So let's get real, authentic, maybe a little vulnerable. Let's stop living nice, safe, clean, pretty lives and not be afraid of the riskier existence of walking by the Spirit of God. Let's present a version of Christianity to the world that is not based on rules and limits, but on the immeasurable gift of God.

We can't be better than the Bible, we can only be out of balance. And out of balance is just plain wrong.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Angel. This one has been brewing for a while.

  2. Interesting take. I could add something that is perhaps to the converse- a practice that was common in Biblical times which many people have an aversion to today- namely arranged marriage.
    The Bible does not at any point say that it is wrong, or leads to unhappiness- yet most people today think that no marriage which is not based or results from on modern notions of romantic love could ever be happy.

    I would argue that history (and scripture) shows us that arranged marriages could be happy and long-lasting.

    Or, I know that many athiests and others condemn Christianity because they say the Bible 'supports slavery'. I think its a prime example of people selectively choosing a passage from scripture they don't like, and taking it out of context to bash Christianity.....but its true that the NT never condemns it. I think myself its because slavery was to much a part of society then than men like Paul could not have condemned it without being accused of sedition.
    Also as a friend of mine once pointed out, slavery in the ancient world could actually be more like a form of 'domestic service' and some masters treated slaves quite well.

    Its intersting though, how even people outside the church can regard themselves as 'better than the Bible' by assuming that the moral values or attitudes of our society are superior to everythinh that came before.

    1. I actually see a similarity between the slaves and the arranged marriages. Neither are the ideal. Both keep a person from exercising freedom and choice, two things I think are important. In fact, Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." However, in the Bible God shows us that no matter our cultural circumstances, we can still serve Him and be faithful.

      In America recently there has been a movement towards fathers choosing their daughters' husbands. While I think anyone would be wise to consider their parents counsel about marriage, perhaps even to make the decision together, I think a girl just allowing her father to choose her husband is like taking up that yoke of slavery again in a culture where you don't have to. Marriage is almost impossible for a Christian to get out of, and if a bad choice is made, it's the daughter who will have to live with the consequences day in and day out for the rest of her life. So I think it's important that any woman (or man) fully own their choice of a spouse. To me it's a boundary issue. Adults should make decisions for their own lives.

    2. Which might be why explain the requiredment under church law that free consent is one of the main basis for a legally recognized marriage, and enforced the rule through the centuries.
      Indeed, there seem to have been quite a lot of cases when girls and boys exersized thier freedom of choice to marry someone that thier parents or gaurdians did not choose or approve of, and the church or courts ruled in thier favour.
      If the marriage had been made with the free consent of both parties, there was nothing the partent, gaurdian or anyone could do about it......

      I think that's why I have such an issue with arranged marriage being equated with 'forced marriage'- which was something parents could not legally do- and used as a trope in fiction.
      I think people sometimes underestimate how influential this church law teaching was (and is) , and how hard it was to get around it.....

    3. Perhaps, but I think you also underestimate how powerful family pressure and manipulation, even abuse, can be in forcing someone, male or female, into accepting a marriage they really don't want. And we all know there was much corruption in the church at that time,

    4. Perhaps, but I think you also underestimate how powerful family pressure and manipulation, even abuse, can be in forcing someone, male or female, into accepting a marriage they really don't want. And we all know there was much corruption in the church at that time,

    5. Not everything or everyone in the church was corrupt- or mysogynistic. I guess what I am saying is that it was not so easy to get past the ban as it might appear- especially as most people knew about it, and were prepated to assert themselves. I think most Medieval women were anything but passive and downtrodden.
      I'm not trying to be contentious, but I guess things in the past were not always as straighforward as anyone (including me) would like them to have been. It would be easier if they were.

      Also, and I am very much playing Devil's advocate here- not all marriages based on our modern motions of feelings are blissfully happy or successful. What's the divorce rate- 50%- higher now?

  3. One teaching in scripture that might also be hard to people today is how often it talks about being subject to authority- whether that be political, familial or parental. (Heck, I know I've had my problems with the latter). In fact, the NT seems to talk about it more often that the Old.

    I got the impression that a lot of the character in Dauntless had a big problem with authority generally. (Ducks) That any authority figure who stopped them doing what they wanted or what they thought was 'right' did not have to be listened to, or was considered 'tyrannical' and 'repressive'.
    I don't think we should pick and choose those parts of the Bible that fit in with what we like and ignore the other parts, as they seemed to do. Simply put 'freedom in Christ' is not anarchic free-for-all.

    1. Well, I do agree with submission to authority as a general principal. However, in Dauntless we're talking about King John, who was downright criminal and abusive in my opinion, and in the case of Merry and her group, they were going to be killed by him. So I would say, that is an exception. King David didn't just sit back and let King Saul kill him. He set up a dissident group and kept himself alive even though the king wanted him dead.

      Similarly in Chivalrous, Gwen had an abusive father who wanted to marry her to an abusive husband. I don't think anyone should submit to abuse. and I stand by that conviction 100%. God does not want his children treated that way. I also believe that if God is speaking directly to us, it is our first priority to submit to Him. Each of us have to stand before God at the end of our lives and be responsible for our own decisions. We can't just blame an authority figure for them. People in the New Testament often rebelled against authority. Being a Christian in and of itself broke the law. That's why so many were martyred. So yes, we should submit to the law and the authorities when we can, but we must submit to God first.

    2. Oh I understand with Dauntless- I really didn't mean that one. Head and hands out of sync there.

      I was not even referring to abuse per se- but more the attitude of 'I don't have to listen to what the church/ the government says if it disagrees with what I want to do/want to believe. What I want is paramount and responsiblities like running the country are somewhere down the list'.
      The general idea was that all authority which got in the way of what the characters wanted was cruel and repressive, therefore it had no right to exist (including parental authority generally- not just the extreme abusive examples).

      Sometimes, the authorities have more life experience than us and might actually know better.

  4. Well, I'm not sure if you're referring to my book again, but they were in fact dealing with extreme-abusive authorities. In Chivalrous I specifically point out that while Gwen couldn't let her father abuse her, she regretted rebelling against her mother and realized that wasn't right. I've been involved in an abusive church, sadly, and I've seen how ugly it can get, so this issue is important to me, and again, I stand by it. But I don't mean to suggest that authority and submission aren't important, especially between parents and children.

    In fact, if you read closely, I mentioned a full paragraph on this in the article above:

    "Of course I realize that some of my readers are teens, and so I remind you that children are instructed by the Bible to obey their parents. That message is clear. And adult children must still show their parents honor and respect, but they must also make their own decisions before God and take responsibility for their own choices."

  5. Yet in the same passage, she said that she 'did not take seriously' what the priest told her, when he admonished her for her being deceitful and rebellious.

    In other words, in her opinion, the religious authorities who had an issue with cross dressing, and women playing certain roles were stupid and repressive because girly things are stupid and boring?

    1. Well, that's your opinion. Obviously I see it differently. And again, as I mentioned, I was in an abusive church for quite a few years, so maybe that's why I see this differently.

    2. Well, I'm sorry about that, and glad you left. However, I think what I object to is the depiction of abuse as something that was 'normal' and condoned by the church and by the state 'in those days'.

      The Catholic church has always had its issues, and its bad eggs but its not totally and irredemably anti-women. There were cases, even in the Middle Ages of women taking abusive spouses to court, and things like creulty were frowned upon.

      I just think its too often assumed that the past (especially the Medieval past) was this quagmire of abuse and violence in which women and the poor had no rights.
      Actually, that wasn't the case at all- and I think it might be a postive message to send out that not all women of the past were abused, repressed and downtrodden- and not everythign in society was against them.

    3. I think that Dauntless and the upcoming Courageous both depict that, but each story has its own needs.