A colleague of mine was perplexed: “The annual Christian Booksellers Convention is a gigantic affair, where score of books are ordered by Christian bookstores who, in turn, sell them in droves.” And yet, the professor lamented, these books are having “so little effect.” Researchers often report that evangelicals on average live no better morally than nonevangelicals.
I can add statistics to fuel my colleague’s concern. George Barna writes that 43 percent of “born again Christians” agree with the statement, “It does not matter what religious faith you follow because all faiths teach similar lessons about life.” Such syncretism and indifference are to be expected in our permissive and relativistic culture, but they are an abomination and scandal among those who claim to have been brought from death to life by the One who proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6;see also Acts 4:12; 1Tim. 2:5). Could anyone regenerated by the Holy Spirit persist in such mockery of their Lord?
In days of plummeting moral standards—marked by promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion on demand, rampant divorce, senseless violence—and the forfeiture of character in all strata of society, this is nauseating news indeed. Has the salt of the earth lost its savor (Matt 5:13)?
It is not commonly recognized that the spiritual, moral, and social failings of the body of Christ today are often rooted in a lack of intellectual discipleship—a neglect or disparagement of the life of the mind. Anti-intellectualism is an insidious acid eating away at the core of Christian faith, reducing it to emotionalism, apathy, and mindless activism. If we don’t love God with all our minds (Matt. 22:7) by taking every thought captive to Christ’s obedience (2 Cor. 10:5), we will be shaped by the spirit and structure of the world rather than by God’s Spirit (Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17). In other words, sanctification has a nonnegotiable intellectual component. Anti-intellectualism can take many forms in modern Christianity; below I will address its effect on our view of the written word.
Christians publishers often follow secular trends instead of biblical imperatives, and Christian consumers snatch up the titles by the millions. The result is a spate of sensationalist fiction (imitations of Stephen King) or sentimentalist fiction (little church on the prairie), self-help guides with a Christian veneer, endless diet books, and unbridled prophetic speculations. Remember the rash of opportunistic books correlating the Gulf War with the Final War? Despite the initial financial success of some of these titles, most are now selling for only a few dollars or dimes in the used book section of thrift stores—and are still overpriced.
What is often neglected in modern Christian publishing is careful Christian analysis of intellectual and social issues based on a thorough understanding of the biblical revelation and sound reasoning. Many Christian bookstores do not even have sections on social issues, or apologetics, or theology—or if they do, they are threadbare. Many Christians, if they read at all, are hooked on intellectual junk food, and this starvation diet provides little nourishment to understand and respond to the moral challenges pressing upon them.
Second, the joy of reading the Good Book and books of enduring value is lost on too many Christians today. Endless diversions distract us from the challenge of deciphering and pondering the printed page. As Neil Postman convincingly argues, television “amuses us to death” through its ever-changing, pulsating images and superficial image-deep perspectives that masquerade as profound. We must all learn to read and make the text come alive through our disciplined involvement. But no one need learn to watch television; it is just there, enticing and seducing us to refrain from nobler pursuits. Television is literally sensational for entertainment, but it usually fails to instruct or edify. The medium does not lend itself easily to rational discourse.
Reading thoughtful books provides an occasion to reflect on the depth of our faith and how it can engage our decaying society. In a day of alluring surrogates for spirituality, Christians must know what they believe, why they believe it, and the difference it makes. How can we grow in this area?
First, record the hours spent each week watching television, and ask yourself (and God), “Was it worth it?” Second, consult well-read friends about good books, browse through a bookstore well-stocked in thoughtful books, or look through the catalogues of solid Christian publishers such as Baker, Zondervan, Moody, and InterVarsity for mind-expanding material. Third, challenge yourself with Christian classics by Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Pascal, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis. Your interaction with the greatest minds of the ages will chiefly come through reading. Fourth, organize or attend a Sunday school class or reading group on apologetics, doctrine, or social issues. Fifth, challenge your pastor to recommend thoughtful books from the pulpit.
The recovery of robust reading habits won’t solve all of our culture’s crises. But it may bring some savory salt into your soul, your church, and your world.
Douglas Groothuis is assistant professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Denver Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Christianity That Counts (Baker Book House).
The next time you have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ, think about this: There is no example in the New Testament of a “personal testimony” being used in an evangelistic setting. Does that seem surprising? The personal testimony has become such an integral part of evangelistic training that it is assumed to be explicitly described, even mandated, in the Bible; but it isn’t.
What about Paul’s testimony to the Philippians about his former life as a Pharisee who persecuted Christians, of which he said, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung” (Phil. 3:8)?1 This is indeed a personal testimony about how Jesus changed Paul’s life, but it is found in a letter to fellow Christians, in which Paul compared himself to the “evil workers” (Phil. 3:2) who were opposing him. Paul was not witnessing to his faith as an evangelist but was illustrating for vulnerable believers the contrast between himself and those who were preaching false doctrine.The Legendary Flat-Earth Bible By James Patrick Holding
“The Bible is, from Genesis to Revelation, a flat-earth book.”
—Robert Schadewald (1943–2000), former president, National Center for Science Education1
Schadewald is not alone in this declaration. Calling the Bible a flat-Earth book has been a staple of Bible critics for centuries. The American atheist Robert Ingersoll, in About the Holy Bible(1894), says of the Hebrews, “They thought the earth was flat, with four corners.”2 The website of a modern-day freethinkers’ club says, “Many if not most people are unaware that the Bible teaches the earth is flat. All standard Bible references, all standard mainstream non-fundamentalist Bible scholarship acknowledges this.”3 Often tied in with mythic representations of Columbus seeking to prove that the Earth was not flat, or Galileo bravely suffering persecution because his findings contradicted the teachings of the church, the “flat-Earth Bible” has achieved the status of an urban legend.Sexual Sanity for Women in a World Gone Mad By Ellen Dykas
Christians don’t have a shining track record in addressing sex. It may have been presented in unhelpful and unbiblical teaching (through poor teaching of the Bible) or ignored altogether. Women in the church have struggled with the “louder silence” in regard to female sexuality. In a world spiraling into a sexual free-for-all, many Christian women are succumbing to the cultural insanity that says sex is all about you; do what you want. On the other hand, others are smothered in shame concerning their sexual struggles, because supposedly only men struggle with sexual desires gone amok. God speaks to all of these issues and He does so without blushing, shaming, or offering clichés. Sexual sanity, which is gained through the wise, unashamed, and bold teaching of the Bible, is God’s gift for all. Freedom and the healing grace of Jesus are for all those (including women) who have experienced broken-heartedness and the captivity of sexual addictions. Sexual sanity is a reality women can grow into as we embrace God’s design for sexuality rather than the ever-increasing expressions of broken sexuality.
On today’s Bible Answer Man broadcast (08/07/20), Hank addresses the twin evils of racism and rich-ism. According to Scripture, all human beings are made in the image of God and are designed to be conformed to His likeness. As such, racism, while it has raised its ugly head within the context of American churches, is abjectly incompatible with genuine Christianity. Historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity posits that all people, irrespective of skin color, are descendants of one human couple. Indeed, orthodox Christians have historically rejected the idea that there are multiple races and have been mocked and ridiculed as a result. An evil twin to racism is rich-ism—the predisposition to honor the rich and disfavor the poor. This is precisely why Saint James warns Christians of wanton partiality: “If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves?….If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture (‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’) you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (see James 2:1–13).All Sermons by Hank Hanegraaff