Lent is here! Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent, and around the world, millions of Christians are beginning a 40-day journey of reflection toward Easter. The Lenten season is focused on reflection and repentance—of acknowledgement of our sins in anticipation of the forgiveness that Easter represents.
In this spirit, many Christians mark this day by spreading ashes on their foreheads, typically in the shape of a cross. Ashes feature prominently throughout the Bible as a symbol of grief and repentance; there are many examples from the Old Testament, but here’s one from the story of Esther:
When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. — Esther 4:1 (NIV)
Among the Bible passages often associated with Ash Wednesday is Joel 2, which includes one of the Bible’s most eloquent calls for God’s people to repent of their sins and return to God:
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’” — Joel 2:1-12 (NIV)
Maybe you’re planning to observe Lent in some way, or perhaps not. Regardless, today is as good a day as any to take a few minutes to reflect on the state of your heart and mind. Do you have anything you need to confess to God? Have you accepted the forgiveness that God freely grants through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Ash Wednesday—and every day—is a good day to take stock of your relationship with God, and to accept the grace that He freely offers.
This lesson is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Study the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
When my children were young my wife and I tried to go as a family to a different national park every summer. Since my wife and I had not traveled when we were growing up, these trips were first-time discoveries for four eager sets of eyes and ears and noses—those of the two children in the car, and the oldest “children,” my wife and I.
Here are two ways of exploring the treasures of a national park: you can drive through and discover whatever wonderful things come along the way, taking a hike here and there, lingering wherever you want. Or you can go looking for something specific. For us, sometimes we went looking for waterfalls, or mountain peaks, or (for my wife) birds and wildflowers.
Sometimes we read the Bible progressively, driving through the landscape, discovering its perspective of world history, its chronicles of catastrophes, its spiritual principles. Other times we go looking for specific themes or topics.
So how do we do a thematic or topical study of Scripture? How do we find between the front cover and the back cover the key teachings on particular topics which can form a cohesive picture of reality?
We can describe this process different ways, but let’s keep it to 5 steps for now: 1) finding the passages; 2) comprehending the topic in context; 3) comparing the various settings; 4) synthesizing the core concepts; and 5) drawing conclusions.
Let’s use a topical study of baptism as an example.
1. Finding the passages. Here we want to find and make note of the biblical references to our topic, baptism. In this case we can just search for the word baptism in a concordance or in a digital search function at a site like Biblegateway.com or in Bible software. We find 21 uses of baptism (in the NIV, anyway). But we need to think of other forms of the word, like baptize. Searching that word yields 50 verses. We can make a list of all the passages, or filter out those which, at a glance, appear not to get at the core meaning of baptism, so that we have a reasonable number of passages to study.
2. Comprehending the topic in context. If you’re exploring a national park for waterfalls, you don’t just find them, take a quick glance, and then get in the car and drive off. You study each one, walking around, sitting in the mist, closing your eyes and listening to the roar of water. So also, it is not enough to find the passages related to a given topic. Once found, you have to linger in them and comprehend the meaning in context. Baptism appears in Romans 6:4, but you can’t just read the verse on your screen, you have to read the verses around it, probably the whole chapter or more. Then you make some provisional conclusions about the meaning of the concept in that particular passage. You make some notes. You look up the passage in a commentary if you have time. You go on in this way, passage by passage.
3. Comparing the various settings. Once you have looked up the list of passages and tried your best to understand the meaning in context, you now compare the idea in the various settings. You note where “baptism” refers to the use of water in association with conversion and faith, in distinction from the passages where “baptism” is used as a metaphor.
4. Synthesizing the core concepts. Bible study at its highest form is synthesis, which means to put ideas together. This is where we exercise deep and prayerful thought, taking our time, looking for flashes of insight were we see connections we never saw before. Here is where we cluster passages according to type. “Baptism” mentioned in the book of Acts is very important to our understanding as it describes what happened in the early Christian community, but looking at the cluster of passages in the epistles of Paul or in other epistles, unveils the theology of baptism. Synthesis means comparing passages in similar contexts. At this step we make more notes, now about the main sub-themes emphasized on the topic. We note ideas that are repeated, and take note of ideas that come up only once which will not figure centrally into our conclusions (for instance “baptize for the dead” in 1 Cor. 15:29). This step should enthuse us, as we are able to say: I never saw that before.
5. Drawing conclusions. When you begin a topical study you have some kind of question. It could be “what does baptism mean?”; or “how did believers in the first generation practice baptism?”; or “what is the enduring theology of baptism?” Your conclusions are your answers to these questions. At this point you may also look up your topic in a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia. You may be surprised how much of the core concept you noted in your own study, but learn other aspects that specialists are able to describe. Or you may realize you’ve misread and misunderstood your topic. It is all part of the process.
Getting clarity on the big ideas of Scripture, especially as we look at the Bible cover to cover, is a deeply satisfying and faith-building exercise. But we will often feel like getting answers to one question raises all kinds of other questions. That is not a problem—it shows that discovering the truth of God is a life-long journey.
Mel Lawrenz trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, the latest, How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. It’s rather colorfully known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and even Pancake Tuesday in different places around the world. (The references to food derive from the practice of feasting on the day before Lent’s fasting period begins.) Shrove Tuesday isn’t observed in most churches to the extent that Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, and other Lent-related holidays are—but it’s a good reminder to set aside a few moments today to reflect on the coming Easter season.
Tomorrow is, of course, Ash Wednesday—the first day of Lent! And speaking of Lent, if you’re still casting about for an activity or spiritual practice to observe during the Easter season, there’s still time to decide on one. For starters, there’s our Easter devotions, which we’ve mentioned quite a bit in recent weeks—they begin tomorrow, so you’ve still got time to sign up at our Easter page. (You’ll still be able to sign up for them after Ash Wednesday, but then you’d miss out on the beginnings!)
You might also find some of the Bible reading and engagement practices in our Scripture Engagement section to be very appropriate for Lent. In particular, if you’re looking to try something a little different with your Bible reading in anticipation of Easter, take a look at the Lectio Divina and Ignatian Method articles—both describe ways of reading and studying Scripture that may be new to you.
And lastly, if you’re looking for other ways to observe Lent this year, see our earlier blog post on the subject, in which we brainstormed a number of different ways you can observe Lent—everything from abstaining from a particular food or activity, to volunteering at a local charity organization, to praying in a purposeful way during the lead-up to Easter.
However you choose (or don’t choose) to observe Lent, we hope that the weeks leading to Easter are reflective and inspiring, and filled with opportunities to spend more time reading God’s Word.
Lent begins tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday. While there’s no biblical mandate to observe the Lenten season, many Christians choose to do so as a way of focusing on Jesus Christ during the journey to Easter. Will you join them this year? Share your Lent plans in the survey below.
If you need some ideas for things you can do to observe the Lenten journey to Easter, take a look at our recent blog post with some possibilities. Whether or not you decide to observe Lent this year, we hope that the Easter season brings many opportunities for you to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
The Bible is filled with hundreds of metaphors for God, yet Christians tend to limit themselves to only a few: shepherd, father, rock, king. A few of the obscure lyrical ones include clothing, beekeeper, a loaf of bread, a cypress tree. Consider how the power of metaphor may influence how our friendship with God, and our sense of ourselves, changes and deepens if we pray to a God who is as close to us as clothing, a God who laughs at injustice, a God who arrests our attention like flame.
I had felt very far away from God for some years. It was a long season, salty and bitter, but it did not last forever. During the months in which I was emerging from that season—the months in which I was beginning to realize that God had been there all along; that maybe what had felt to me like God’s absence was actually a tutorial in God’s mystery; that maybe it was my imagination, not God, that had faltered—during that emergence, I began to notice God darting hither and thither, and I began to notice that I was darting hither and thither near God, and I began to realize that my pictures of God were old. They were not old in the sense of antique champagne flutes, which are abundant with significance precisely because they are old—when you sip from them you remember your grandmother using them at birthday dinners, or your sister toasting her beloved at their wedding. Rather, they were old like a seventh-grade health textbook from 1963: moderately interesting for what it might say about culture and science in 1963, but generally out of date. My pictures of God weren’t of Zeus on a throne, the Sistine Chapel God. Instead, my pictures were some combination of sage professor and boyfriend, and while sage professor and boyfriend might, as metaphors, have some true and helpful things to say about God, I found that neither of them had much to say about this new acquaintance I was embarking on, or being embarked on. All this intersected, not coincidentally, with my newfound wakefulness to the scriptures, and it led me on a search: what pictures, what images and metaphors, does the Bible give us for who God is, and what ways of being with God might those pictures invite?
The Bible has a great deal to say about this. Your church might primarily describe God as king, or light of the world, or ruler of all. In my church, we tend to call God Father, or speak of God as shepherd or great physician. When we are really going out on a limb, we pick up Matthew and Luke’s avian image and pray to God the mother hen tending her brood. Most churches do this—hew closely to two or three favored images of God, turning to them in prayer and song and sermons. Through repetition and association, these few images can become ever richer: there was once a time when I didn’t have many thoughts or feelings about God as great physician, but now I have prayed to that God with Carolanne, whose husband is pinned down by Parkinson’s, and Belle, who so much wants to keep this pregnancy, and Albert, who is dogged by depression, and because of those prayers, and the fears and hopes and miracles and disappointments they carry, God-as-physician seems a richer image than I first understood.
Yet the repetition of familiar images can have the opposite effect. The words become placeholders, and I can speak them so inattentively that I let them obscure the reality whose place they hold. I repeat them, I restrict my prayer to that small cupful of images, and I wind up insensible to them.
Unlike my church, with its four favored metaphors, the Bible offers hundreds of images of God—images the church has paid a great deal of attention to in earlier centuries, although many are largely overlooked now. Drunkard. Beekeeper. Homeless man. Tree. “Shepherd” and “light” are perfectly wonderful images, but in fixing on them—in fixing on any three or four primary metaphors for God—we have truncated our relationship with the divine, and we have cut ourselves off from the more voluble and variable witness of the scriptures, which depict God as clothing. As fire. As comedian. Sleeper. Water. Dog.
There are plenty of psychological and even medical Reasons why our images of God matter. Scholars have found correlations between the ways a person imagines God, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, eating disorders, shame, and alcoholism. People who primarily imagine God to be distant and judging, as opposed to intimate and loving, tend more toward psychopathology and have a higher rate of gun ownership. I recently read that, according to a study done at the University of Miami, “among HIV patients better immune functioning is found among those who have an image of God that is more compassionate and loving than those who have images of God as more judgmental and punitive…. Changes in God image changes t-cells in randomized trials.”
There are also social and political consequences to our images of God. As theologians Mary Daly and Judith Plaskow have pointed out, the characteristics we attribute to God will always be those characteristics we value most highly in our own society: we will value what we take God to be (and perhaps, conversely, it’s what we value that we take God to be). So if we say that a core characteristic of God is mercy, we will value merciful people. If we imagine God as one who nurtures, we will value nurturing. If we pray to a God who is a property owner (as in the parables of the vineyard), we will admire people who own houses and land. If we focus instead on God as a homeless man (as in Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58), we might accord homeless people more esteem.
Underneath all that psychological and sociological ruminating, there are spiritual questions: How do our images of God—and our resulting images of ourselves (sheep? vassals?)—invite us to become (or interfere with our becoming) the people God means us to be?
How do our images of God draw us into worship, reverence, adoration of God?
How do our images of God help us greet one another as bearers of the image of God?
How do we pray to the God who is king or shepherd? Or dog? How does the God who is king or shepherd pray in us?
If the kind of self-knowledge we seek is precisely knowledge of ourselves, unsheathed, before God, what self-knowledge do we gain when standing (kneeling) before the God who is a tree, a glass of living water, a loaf of bread? (And what kind of bread? Might things change if we pause to really think about bread, all the many kinds of bread there are, how different they taste, what different memories they conjure?)
Where, in the variegated topography of life with God, do the images we hold of God invite us to go?
The Bible’s inclusion of so many figures for God is both an invitation and a caution. The invitation is to discovery: discovery of who God is, and what our friendship with God might become. The caution is against assuming that any one image of God, whatever truth it holds, adequately describes God. As Janet Martin Soskice has noted in her reading of Deuteronomy 32—which identifies God as a father “who created you,” and as the “Rock that bore you…the God who gave you birth”—the Bible’s habit of stacking many different metaphors for God on top of one another, like a layer cake, is itself instructive, a reminder that we cannot wholly locate God within any one image. “Both paternal and maternal imagery are given in quick succession,” writes Soskice, “effectively ruling out literalism, as does the equally astonishing image of God as a rock giving birth.”
None of these images—rock, shepherd, vine—captures the whole of God because, as Benjamin Myers puts it, “God is too full, too communicative, too bright and piercing” to be easily spoken of. The euphony of biblical speech about God—about what God is like and how we, with our finite minds, might imagine God—is a summons to revel in God’s strange abundance. I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an afternoon, and when I come out, I try to describe it to you, but all I am really describing is this blue Turkish bowl or that Flemish painting or possibly the sandwich I ate in the café at lunchtime. There is (to again borrow from Myers) “too much” there to describe. And yet, I sat in front of that blue bowl for an hour, and I sketched it, and I paid attention to it (and I also paid attention to myself in its presence). What I can say about the bowl is, if partial, also true and enlivening. The Bible gives us this surfeit of images in order to “rule out literalism,” and the Bible gives us these images because each image holds a different way (maybe many different ways) into our life with God. Each image invites a different response from us, a different way we might be with and for God.
Bio: Lauren F. Winner, PhD, is an ordained Episcopal priest and the author of numerous books, including Girl Meets God, Real Sex, Mudhouse Sabbath, and Still, which won the Christianity Today Book Award in Spirituality. She teaches at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Books & Culture, and other periodicals.
We’re slightly over a month into the new year. How are you doing on your 2016 resolutions so far?
Last month, we ran an informal poll of Bible Gateway visitors to find out what they were resolving to do in the new year. Here’s a breakdown of responses:
What Bible Gateway Visitors Resolved to do in 2016
To read the entire Bible in 2016: 46%
To read a daily devotional: 32%
To memorize verses or sections of the Bible: 29%
To read a few Bible verses each day: 23%
To start a new Bible study: 23%
To read a specific part of the Bible (Old Testament, New Testament, etc.): 18%
Not making any Bible reading resolutions: 4%
Nearly half of respondents committed to reading the entire Bible in 2016! It’s not surprising—reading the entire Bible is something on most Christians’ to-do list—but it’s also a fairly ambitious resolution. Later this year, we’ll check in with a follow-up survey to find out how people are doing with their resolutions.
If you’re struggling to keep up with a resolution you made—or perhaps you’ve already floundered and given up—it’s not too late to salvage your resolutions. Bible reading resolutions (especially commitments to read the entire Bible) are easy to make, but can be challenging to keep. If you’ve hit a wall with a Bible reading resolution, here are a few things you can do before you throw in the towel:
1. Change up your Bible reading plan. This is especially useful if you started reading the Bible straight through from beginning to end. While every part of the Bible is important, it’s an unfortunate reality that the first parts of the Bible (the early Old Testament books) are some of the toughest to read. For this reason, many Bible reading plans eschew the beginning-to-end approach and instead tackle the books of the Bible in different orders—for example, a reading plan might journey through the Bible books in chronological or thematic order. If you’ve stalled on a dull or difficult patch of the Old Testament, don’t drop your resolution entirely—consider switching your reading to a more accessible part of the Bible, such as the New Testament. After a few months of reading the New Testament, you’ll be better prepared to return to the Old Testament. You might also experiment with a Bible reading plan that combines Old and New Testament readings each day.
2. Downscale your Bible reading resolution. It’s better to read some of the Bible than none of it! If you’re on the verge of putting down your Bible entirely because you’ve stalled out, consider instead switching to a less ambitious reading commitment. If you are struggling to read the entire Bible in 2016, consider changing your resolution to read just the New Testament. If the New Testament is proving difficult, consider reading just the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). If that’s too challenging, consider picking just a single book—a Gospel, or perhaps Psalms or Proverbs—and taking your time working through it alone. The point of a Bible reading resolution is not to prove how much of the Bible you can read; it’s to spend more time with God’s Word. Better to read just a single verse this week than to put your Bible aside for good because you can’t keep up with your original resolution.
3. Don’t focus too much on how much time it’s taking you. Some Bible reading plans, particularly the more ambitious annual plans, require a fairly hefty amount of reading each day. Don’t get flustered if it takes you more than a day to get through some of the readings. If you race to read the entire Bible in a year but understand little of it because you had to skim your daily readings to fit them into your schedule, you haven’t gained much. Don’t fret about an arbitrary timeline or deadline you’ve set, and take as much time as you need to read God’s Word. If it takes you three years to read the Bible instead of one year, that’s still infinitely better than giving up and not reading it at all.
Bible Gateway’s Bible reading plans might be helpful to you, as our reading plan library contains everything from very intense Bible reading experiences to very easy ones. But whatever your resolution or reading strategy, don’t be afraid to adjust or downgrade your original goal! There’s no special prize for reading the entire Bible in 2016, but you stand to benefit enormously if you can incorporate Bible reading of any length into your daily routine.
Is the Bible historically reliable? How does it compare with other ancient texts? These and other questions are the focus of discussions and presentations at The Symposium (#symposiachristi), the annual conference held on the campus of Purdue University by Ratio Christi (@RatioChristi), a global movement that equips university students and faculty to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ. This year The Symposium begins February 5.
Bible Gateway interviewed Corey Miller, president/CEO of Ratio Christi.
Corey Miller: The Symposium is an annual event held at Purdue University that draws thousands from the campus, community, and surrounding region, and several thousand more live-stream nationally and around the world. Led by multiple campus ministries and churches, its purpose is to explore and debate some of the most probing questions about faith, reason, and life via panel discussions, lectures, and debates.
Corey Miller: The keynote speaker is Daniel B. Wallace, President of the Evangelical Theological Society, whose keynote live-streaming talk among his other talks over the weekend will be “How Badly has the Bible been Corrupted?”
Few people in the world possess the knowledge of the manuscript evidence vis-a-vis the New Testament. The conference theme this year is The Book that Changed the World: No Longer Relevant? No Longer Reliable? All the breakout and plenary sessions are by professors, pastors, and parachurch ministers whose sessions will focus on the relevancy and trustworthiness of the Bible over time and in today’s climate (for example, relevance to human sexuality, science, history, philosophy, the university, modern medicine, etc.)
Why is it important for people to gather to hear whether the Bible is “no longer relevant or reliable”?
Corey Miller: The most memorized Bible verse is John 3:16. We are asked to believe the man. The man is in the book. But what if people don’t believe the book or fail to understand its message?
There’s an unholy alliance gathered in opposition to the truth of biblical Christianity. Whether it’s naturalism in the sciences or post modern relativism in the humanities, the Bible and its truth claims are under assault like never before in its history in the universities and in the media. Providing an apologetic (rational defense) for its historical trustworthiness is not an option in our current climate if its message is to be embraced.
The gospel does not take place in a vacuum, but is heard in light of the cultural milieu in which it’s presented. Part of the apologetic is connected to its relevance. For example, there’s a reason why hospitals usually possess names like St. Jude, St. Elizabeth, Presbyterian Hospital, Methodist Hospital, etc. There’s no greater motivation in life than a religious motivation and there’s no greater compassion ethic than the compassion of Christ. Further, the modern university owes it existence to the Judeo-Christian worldview that stems from the Bible.
Women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, human dignity impacting life ethics from cradle to grave including war and government, etc., are influenced in the west and also in the east by biblical convictions even when unrecognized as to their source. It’s important to have a hearing on this topic at the university; the single most influential institution in western civilization.
Who comes to the conference and why?
Corey Miller: Given the location at a university, attendees are typically made up of 70% students, 15% grads and faculty, and 15% community. They’re atheists, skeptics, agnostics, Mormons, Christians, Muslims, etc. Ages range from high school to retired people. We strive for intellectual excellence and communicative ability with our speakers who are evangelical at the core. While attendees may not always agree, they’ve come to trust that we’re intellectually serious and interesting in relevant ways.
We present topics to engage with the intellectual elites and yet are such that even non-intellectuals participate and benefit greatly. Our topics have ranged from human trafficking and sex slavery on the one hand to science and faith on the other hand. Our speakers are usually asked to speak in the secular university departments given their expertise. The symposia conferences are not only mega events to present the head, hands, and heart of Christ, but they leave a residual impact and are movement driven. Most of the significant local churches and campus ministries collaborate in unity because we can do things bigger and better together.
What will you be live-streaming and why should people register for it?
Corey Miller: We will be live-streaming the main event featuring seven Purdue “Professors Who are Confessors,” a heart felt testimonial by a mom, a donation of a 3-century old Torah scroll which will be read live by a Jewish physics professor, and a talk and question-and-answer session from one of the most qualified individuals on the historical reliability of the Bible. Registering helps us to know the demographics of our national and international audience and we share that in the introduction to encourage people that they’re part of something big and significant. Currently, almost 40 states and 4 continents are represented.
What is Ratio Christi?
Corey Miller: Ratio Christi (the reason of Christ) is a global movement that equips university students and faculty to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ. The Bible does not praise laziness, but encourages thinking (Isaiah 1:18 says “come let us reason.”) It seeks to bring about a renaissance of Christian thinking by defending truth and Christianity primarily at the university.
Our DNA is about partnering with other organizations because we believe that we can do things bigger and better together. Our influence spans high school via our College Prep initiative with local churches up to and including professors in our RC Prof initiative where we believe that if we can reach the professor to contemplate what it means to be a missional professor rather than a professor who happens to be a Christian, then we get their classroom too for 30 years!
Explain what Christian apologetics is and why people should care about it.
Corey Miller: Christian apologetics is simply the field concerned with providing a reasonable defense of the Christian faith and is non-optional for all believers for two reasons. First, it’s commanded in Scripture (1 Peter 3:15) that we be prepared to give a defense for the hope that’s in us with gentleness and respect.
Second, I believe many in the west don’t do apologetics because they don’t do evangelism, something we’re also commanded to do (Matthew 28:18-20). If we did evangelism, we would not be able to avoid apologetics for long because our rapidly secularizing culture often requires it. Gone is the day when most in our culture share a biblical worldview and need only be personally converted to Christ.
How would you characterize the mood among college students toward Christianity and the Bible?
Corey Miller: As one who has taught for over decade at major secular universities, the mood toward Christianity and the Bible spans from lethargy to open hostility.
There is with secularization an increasing ignorance and misconception of the content of the Bible. Often times, the Bible and Christianity are treated with condescension and even contempt. Many students imbibe the view of secular university professors, some of whose stated goals are to nudge belief away from biblical Christian thought. They’re often defenseless to these attacks because they’re all too often not equipped in the churches. A campus minister called me to ask for help because a “Christian” professor of religion at the university is apparently tearing the Bible apart and he’s concerned about his son being in that class.
We’re increasingly losing generations at what sometimes and in some places might be referred to as ‘secular baptismal fonts’ called universities which once served Christ. The university is the most influential institution of western civilization and it may well be the Great Omission in the Great Commission if we fail to consider it as a viable mission field. The professor is, in my view, the 10/40 window of world missions; that is, the most unreached people group in world missions who are at once the most influential, given the classroom and texts. Students coming from western universities become our doctors, lawyers, journalists, political leaders, teachers, and future professors around the world.
How should Christians respond to people who say the Bible is no different from any other book?
Corey Miller: Put it to the test. Examine its claims. The Bible and its Jesus claim to be respectively the living and written word of God (John 1:1-3, 17:17).
The Bible is the worlds best-selling and most widely distributed book in the history of the world for a reason. Failure to read and understand it amounts to being, in part, uneducated. When compared to other books of antiquity there is no close second in terms of its historical reliability and gravity of its truth claims. It’s literally embarrassing how much evidence we possess in favor it.
I tell my students that in their journey toward truth, they need to begin with the person of Jesus in the Bible because our knowledge of him compared to leaders of other significant religions is incomparably great and his claims stand out above and beyond any others. The Jesus movement is the largest movement (religious or secular) in world history. We begin our journeys about ultimate answers to life’s biggest questions by examining what is the most likely to be true by objective and influential standards. Movements from hospitals to universities trace their roots to biblical Christianity.
For Christians to give a response, at the very least, they need to have resources available to know where to send people and where to get answers for themselves (books, Internet, and apologetics ministries like Ratio Christi).
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and/or the Bible Gateway App?
Corey Miller: I love it. I use it regularly! It is a phenomenally helpful resource.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Corey Miller: Contact us if you’d like to support or partner with the work of Ratio Christi.
Bio: Corey Miller, PhD, is the President/CEO of Ratio Christi. While he grew up in Utah as a sixth generation Mormon, he came to Christ in 1988 and he has since been a youth and college pastor, a Bible college and university professor, campus minister, lecturer, and first and foremost an evangelist. From 2009-15 he served on staff with Cru directing the Christian Faculty, Grad, and Staff Network at Purdue. He’s an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religions at Indiana University-Kokomo. He is variously published and is co-editor of Is Faith in God Reasonable? Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric (2014). He holds masters degrees in philosophy, biblical studies, and in philosophy of religion and ethics. His PhD is in philosophical theology from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
Miller is well versed in all academic and ministry strata of university life via both classroom and campus ministry. He understands worldview issues and also how to communicate winsomely with evangelistic fervor. He lives with his wife Melinda and three children in Indiana. He’s passionate to unify the body of Christ to defend and proclaim the truth of the gospel in winsome and bold ways.
Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, arrives next week. Have you thought about observing Lent this year?
There’s no Scriptural requirement to observe Lent—ultimately, it’s just the six week lead-up to Easter Sunday in the church calendar—but many Christians find it helpful and inspirational to observe the Lent season in some way. Generally speaking, when people observe Lent, they commit to a spiritual activity—prayer, Bible reading, reflection, self-denial, service, etc.—that will sharpen their understanding of Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice as described in the Bible’s account of the first Easter.
The question of whether or not to observe Lent is a personal one with no “right” or “wrong” answer. But if you’re thinking about participating, here are a few ideas to consider.
[See the Lent and Easter sections in the Bible Gateway Store]
When committing to pray over an extended period of time, it might help to choose a theme around which to center your prayers. Consider the following possible prayer “projects” to follow over the course of Lent:
Pray for each member of your family, asking God to bless, challenge, and protect each individual.
As above, but extend your prayers to include the members of your church, neighborhood, or other community. Find a phone directory or other listing of the members of your community, and each day pray for the next person on the list.
Pray for your “enemies”—the people who confound, frustrate, and oppose you! And pray for yourself as well, that you would show your enemies the same grace that Christ showed to his.
Pray for a different country each day during Lent. A few minutes on Wikipedia can give you a basic overview of the challenges facing any particular country. Pray also for missionaries and Christian communities in each country, whether they live in freedom or face daily persecution for their faith.
With a bit of thinking, and perhaps consultation with your pastor or church leaders, you can probably come up with a long list of people and situations that need prayer, both in your local community and across the globe.
Cook meals, run errands, and offer a helping hand to a person or family in your community that needs assistance with day-to-day tasks. If you can’t think of anyone who needs this kind of help, your pastor or church leadership can almost certainly identify people for whom “small-scale” help like this would be a literal godsend.
Donate food, money, or time to a local homeless shelter, battered women’s shelter, children’s hospital, or another organization that ministers directly to the hurting.
Go out of your way to (anonymously, if possible) do something nice for a person in your neighborhood or community. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway when it snows; give a financially struggling family you know a gift card for gas and groceries; host dinner for that family you’ve been meaning to meet but haven’t yet.
Identify a missionary family ministering abroad and support them with letters, donations, and/or prayer.
Reading the Bible regularly is important, but like any good habit, it takes a bit of work to realize and is not without a few early obstacles. But Lent is the perfect time to commit to making Scripture reading a daily practice, no matter how many times you may have tried and failed to do so in the past.
Because this is a topic close to our hearts, we at Bible Gateway have put together a number of resources you might find helpful in kickstarting a Bible reading habit. For starters, take a look at our Easter page, where we’ve gathered a handful of our best Easter-related devotionals designed to walk you through Lent. (And it’s worth noting that many of the other devotionals in our library, although not listed on the Easter page, do touch on Easter-related topics around this time of year!) You’ll also want to take a look at our collection of Bible reading plans, which cover a wide variety of approaches to reading the Bible—everything from very short Bible reading experiences to longer, more ambitious reading plans.
However you go about it, you’ll never regret spending more time in Scripture, and the Lenten season presents an excellent opportunity to finally make it happen. We hope some of the above resources will help you do that, but any way you interact with God’s Word during Lent is good—whether it’s with an online tool like Bible Gateway or with the family Bible on your bookshelf!
As with other Lent observances, this is something Christians are expected to practice throughout the year, not just during Lent or holiday seasons. But for many Christians, Lent is a good opportunity to re-examine their lives to identify what unhelpful habits ought to be cut off.
But beyond refraining from indulging bad habits during Lent, many Christians choose to voluntarily deny themselves a particular activity or habit not because it’s spiritual harmful, but because the practice of self-denial echoes and calls attention to the Christian duty to consider our needs and desires less important than other people’s. The small pain of missing a comfortable daily habit reminds us of the real hardship experienced by Christ and the countless believers throughout history who have faced trials and deprivation on account of their faith.
So what sort of things might you consider “giving up” for Lent? For starters, Lent is as good a time as any to get serious about cutting off any spiritually unhealthy practices that have crept into your life. Beyond that, you can give up anything for Lent, big or small—anything from coffee to TV to fast food to internet use—as long as it’s something whose absence you will feel. The daily reminder of sacrifice, however small it may seem, is part of the Lent experience.
Beyond Lent and Easter
One of the wonderful things about Lent observances is that they have a way of sticking. If you stick to something for six straight weeks, chances are it’s well on its way to becoming a meaningful and healthy habit. You may reach the end of Lent to find that your Lenten acts of kindness have permanently changed your attitude about service; or that you really can live without a habit that had once seemed integral to your life; or that spending time in prayer now feels like such a natural part of your life that your day just wouldn’t feel right without it.
However you observe Lent, and even if you don’t, we hope that the journey to Easter is an opportunity for you to consider how your actions and attitudes echo (or don’t echo) those of Jesus Christ. And as Easter approaches, may you find yourself drawn closer and closer to the Savior to whom we are reconciled.
"Have you ever exercised your will over the will of God? Have you ever been so willful that you were going to go your own way no matter what God said? If so, you have been at the same place as the prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to deliver a message to God's people as a warning. Jonah flatly refused. It was Jonah's will over God's. Guess who won?" - Os Hillman fal.cn/KaHS...
"Jesus’ followers are called to peace. When Jesus called them, they found their peace. Jesus is their peace. Now they are not only to have peace, but they are to make peace. To do this they renounce violence and strife. Those things never help the cause of Christ. Christ’s kingdom is a realm of peace, and those in Christ’s community greet each other with a greeting of peace. Jesus’ disciples maintain peace by choosing to suffer instead of causing others to suffer. They preserve community when others destroy it. They renounce self-assertion and are silent in the face of hatred and injustice. That is how they overcome evil with good. That is how they are makers of divine peace in a world of hatred and war." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer fal.cn/Ka0B...
I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the survivors of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture; it will resound with people. The one who breaks out will go up before them; they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king will pass on before them, the Lord at their head. - Micah 2:12-13 (NRSV) fal.cn/KaoU...
You will have much to eat and be filled. And you will praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has done wonderful things for you. Then My people will never be put to shame. You will know that I am in Israel. You will know that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other. And My people will never be put to shame. - Joel 2:26-27 (NLV) fal.cn/Ka.Q...
"The Bible tells us that God is the author of peace. If God authors peace, why do we often find ourselves in a constant battle against anxiety and fear?" Read Mary Southerland's reflections on finding God's peace amidst stress: fal.cn/KapF...