Making the Bible a Grocery Store Tabloid

Alien behind a man One of the things that happens every time we go to the grocery store is that my wife and I end up laughing out loud at the stupid headlines on the grocery store tabloids. How someone can think up that many headlines and articles that are absolutely absurd is beyond my imagination--and I have a good imagination. The words alien, baby, ghost, miracle, and dinosaur often find their way into tabloid stories in one way or another. Women are also usually involved--either having the lizard baby, experiencing the miracle, or being eaten by something. These stories are usually accompanied by pictures and documented by experts who frequently have a string of letters after their names giving them credibility. What is even more amazing to me is to watch people buy these periodicals and to hear their discussions of the contents. The fact that it is in print gives instant credibility to many people. Children and women being in the story bring instant credibility and sympathy to many of us.

Green monster holding flowersRational people do not take the tabloids seriously, and the definition of rational includes a majority of people in today's world. Things like what is shown on the cover of this issue of our journal simply do not happen, and while we may find it to be a source of entertainment, we certainly do not seriously consider it to have any credibility and would not allow it to have any influence in our lives. After reading a story like that, how many of us would take our teenage daughter and talk to her about why she should not get involved with an octopus creature? Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who put the Bible and Christianity on the same level as the tabloids, and, just like the tabloids, they have no interest in allowing the Bible to have any influence on their lives. The religious community has a great deal of responsibility for this situation. The claims and teachings of many religious leaders have been so irresponsible and so outlandish that those ignorant of what the Bible really teaches have tossed Christianity into the same bucket as the tabloids.

What we propose to do in this article is to look at some of the contributing attitudes toward this situation and how these attitudes are manifested in specific teachings. It is our hope that those of you who are not committed Christians will consider whether these human problems have affected you, and we hope that perhaps you will reconsider your doubts about the Christian way of life. It is also our hope that those who call themselves Christians will look at what they are teaching and what they have accepted and see if they have allowed themselves to be influenced by this tabloid mentality.

Christianity is not scientific nor is it antiscientific. There are many statements in the Bible which are scientificallytrue, but were not known by humans at the time they were written. Many of us who work in apologetics have used this fact to argue for the credibility of the Bible. The fact of the matter, however, is that the Bible is not given to us to tell us "how the heavens go as to tell us how to go to heaven," a statement made by Galileo many centuries ago. One of the major sources of misunderstandings about Genesis that has fueled the evolution/creation controversy has been that Christians have projected Genesis as a detailed scientific dissertation. Those who have done this have not taken Genesis literally, but have forced their denomination's traditions upon the biblical account. The major creation verse in Genesis is the first verse. The word bara uniquely used when referring to a creative act of God is used in verse 1 and not used again until verse 20. What this means is that verse 1 tells us that God created the cosmos. It does not tell us how God did it. It does not tell us when God did it. The statement is not scientific, but an indication that there was a beginning and there was a cause.

Green dinosaur with children riding on topThose who try to fit the 26 million different kinds of life that have existed on the earth since the creation week and into the Genesis account are not taking the Bible literally. Instead of taking the words to mean what they say, they are twisting the words to include things that no one living in Moses' day even knew about. You will not find a Hebrew word in the description of the creation week that can include virus, amoeba, platypus, echidna, bat, worm, or dinosaur. To force these animals into the Hebrew of Genesis 1 is to do violence to what the Bible is saying and to put the Bible on a tabloid level. Humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time, and to make the Bible say that is to cause most thinking people to know something is amiss in what is being said.

While the Bible is not scientific, it is not opposed to science. When Paul admonished the young preacher Timothy to oppose "the profane and idle babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge (or science in some translations)" in 1 Timothy 6:20-21, he was talking about tabloid-type teachings, which were present in Paul's day just as they are today. In verse 21, Paul indicated that it was causing people to "stray concerning the faith." Jesus made repeated references to the things of His day that people knew to be true. Science is simply the accumulation and study of facts. Facts are things humans learn about the things God has brought into being, and the Bible repeatedly urges us to observe and consider these things (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-20; Proverbs 6:6; Isaiah 40:26; etc.).

Christianity is a practical system. One of the greattragedies of our day and time is that many religious leaders have made the Bible so complicated and obtuse that many people consider it to be irrelevant. I have seen people in our lectures throw up their hands and walk out when preachers started arguing something that is so complex that no one in the room (I suspect including themselves) is sure of what they are talking about. No one in Jesus' day had any doubt about His message. When Jesus taught, He used common everyday examples. His parables were easy to understand, and while the application was not always clear until He explained it, everyone understood the parable.

Unlike man-made religions, Christianity is not a collection of "thou shalt nots." Jesus did not sit on a throne and tell people what they should not do. Even a casual reading of Matthew 5-7 shows any objective reader that what Jesus taught about was attitudes and thinking. Christ would say, for example, You have heard it said thou shalt not commit adultery. Everyone knew what this command was. Christ would add to it by saying "but I say to you, whoever looks on a person to commit adultery has already done so in his heart. No one can miss that! It is practical, it is workable, and it gets at the root of the mistakes that we make. Other great religious teachers may have said similar things, but their teachings quickly get rooted in things that do not work and are not practical. Christianity is the most workable and practical way of life on the planet. Someone asked Carl Sandberg what he thought of Christianity. Sandburg is reported to have said he did not know, that he had never seen it tried. Many learned skeptics of Christianity understand its practical message.

Christ conversing with a manChristianity is a logical system. Closely associated with the last point is the fact that there is logic behind the Christian system. If you are going to change the way people act, you have to change their attitudes. Other religious systems have attempted to set down many laws and then enforce the laws by brute force. One of the quarrels I have with my Moslem friends is that Islam uses force to try to make its precepts work. Much of what Mohammed taught was right on, and the moral integrity of Islam is what has made it a major player in the history of this planet; but the fact is that you cannot force people to be moral. I have noticed with some amusement that some of my Moslem friends are very well disciplined and behave very well when they are in their native land where Islam is militantly enforced. The minute they hit American or Canadian soil they go ballistic, engaging in every vice condemned at home. I have known teenagers in America to do the same thing when they leave home and go to college. Even some preachers will do things when on a trip far from home that they would not do in their home town. If your concept of Christianity is a bunch of legalistic "thou shalt nots" and if political pressure is what makes you toe the line, then that is what is going to happen. If you have changed your attitude and you have seen the logic and the workability of the Christian system, then you will follow it to the best of your ability no matter where you are.

You can also see the logic of Christianity in the way that Jesus and the apostles presented it. When Jesus taught people, He appealed to their logic. Most of the time when Christ or His followers engaged someone in teaching, they started it with a question. Jesus used parables as a starting point and then asked questions related to the parables. Jesus appealed to the common sense and the logic of the people He was teaching.

Christ walking on waterChristianity is not a miracle-driven system. One of the greatest contributors to the doubts about the credibility of Christianity in recent years has been the emphasis on miracles by charismatic preachers. A vast part of what is seen on television as being Christian dwells on claims of miraculous cures, supernatural interference in the lives of humans, and preferential treatment of those who claim to be Christians, while non-Christians are denigrated. The arrogance, self-gratification, egotism, and dishonesty radiated by the miracle-claim preachers have caused many people to assume that all of Christianity is a self-serving fraud. Those who claim miracles frequently project something as miraculous that has natural explanations or is so vague as to be beyond validation. When you have just lost your son or daughter to cancer, and you turn on your television and see a Christian preacher claiming to have had his son cured of the same cancer by God, there has to be a feeling of resentment and doubt. I have had a form of this experience personally, and the question of "why me" is just aggravated by God preferring someone over my loved one for no apparent reason.

There is no question that Jesus Christ is recorded in the Bible as having performed miracles. You either accept on faith or reject the claim that Jesus did these things. You cannot verify them and you also cannot prove them to have not happened. What you can do is study the miracle itself and the purpose that the miracle had. Every single miracle Jesus performed that was recorded in the Bible had a purpose. There is also an obvious value to the miracle in the overall purpose Jesus had in His ministry. The miracles themselves are virtually all impossible to explain by some natural means. Never did Jesus put a price tag on miracles and in virtually all cases He tried to draw the attention away from Himself so that people would not come to Him just to obtain a release from their problems. Christians should never use miracles as bait to attract people to the Christian system. Miracles in the day of Christ were for a reason and not just whimsical expressions of preference by God for one person over another.

In the teachings of Christ and the apostles, the message presented was not based on physical things. It is true that, true to human nature, there were people who sought out Christ because they heard about His wondrous works, but Jesus resisted that and even expressed resentment that physical things were all they could think of (Mark 8:10-13). It was the fact that Jesus did not use the teaching methods or message of the religious leaders of His day that attracted the hearts of people. "Never a man spake like this man, he doesn't speak like the scribes and pharisees (Matt 7:29)" was what really brought the hearts of people close to Jesus. That is still true today. Christ taught from the Old Law and His message was based on life experiences and the things the people of His day knew to be true. Over and over Jesus told those of His day, "My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)." Jesus tried to reach the hearts of people and 1 Corinthians 13 clearly shows the fact that love was a far more permanent and important thing than all of the miraculous things humans could conceive. It is important to emphasize that God can do anything that God wants, and we are not saying that God cannot act to answer prayers. There is no question but that "the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much" (James 5:16), but that prayer and the way God answers it is a personal thing, not a circus show to arrogantly claim superiority over others.

There is good reason for people being skeptical at the start of the twenty-first century. We have seen fraud, deception, and scandal in almost every aspect of our lives. The grocery store tabloid is a vivid demonstration of how many people see everything in the world--outrageous, self-serving, arrogant, and abusive in every way. If Christians want to win the world, they will have to do it the way Jesus and his followers did. They served others, loved others, humbled themselves, and tried to get all men to see that victory over the destructive forces in the world could only come with God's help. Those of us who are Christians cannot offer money, freedom from sickness, freedom from pain and physical death, or even freedom from stress and frustration. What we can offer is caring, serving, loving, compassionate, humble help in a world full of everything but those qualities. We can also offer the hope that what we experience here is the worst we will ever have to endure, for God does guarantee freedom from all the negative things in this world for eternity with Him.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4, NIV).

--John N. Clayton

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