As a United Methodist for the past three years, and a Christian book editor for seven, I have become fascinated watching the debates between liberals and conservatives within the Church. The most intriguing discussions are not about homosexuality or abortion, but deeper issues.
It might interest you to know that it has been my experience that liberal skeptics of the Bible will sit placidly for any discussion...except those involving predictive prophecy and mans origins. Then Mr. Hyde comes out to visit, and that is a most curious thing.
All the seemingly acrimonious debate about, say, homosexuality is really shadow-boxing. The real fight involves whether the Bible is true or not in its history and science. Anyone willing to say that the Bible is true - all of it - will see the flash of the liberals fangs. It is my contention that the liberal wing of the Church does not want the laity delving into the remarkable evidences for the Bibles veracity. This is the great secret that those who have a form of godliness do not want you to know.
As endless committees and new programs are formed to deal with declining denominational memberships (and, therefore, declining revenues), the liberal finds himself forced to deal with the causes. Except the real causes will never be addressed, and they are not being addressed on a wide scale in the United Methodist Church. I am convinced that there are two liberal camps operating here: those who are genuinely puzzled as to what to do, and those who understand very clearly that they are undermining the faith of millions.
The solution then is to pull back the curtain hiding the corrosive effects of Higher Criticism of the Bible. This is where the battle is being ferociously waged.
Primarily, we are not losing youth because the programs arent flashy or innovative enough. Adults are not bored stiff due to lack of ideas. The denomination is hemorrhaging because we cant tell folks where Cain got his wife.
Beyond this, Bible study materials within Methodism gut the Old Testament of any real meaning. Children ask if dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible and we are silent. The Documentary Hypothesis colors our beliefs about Genesis. The mythologizing of Genesis has left our people confused about sin. With a straight face, UM educators tell the laity that multiple writers penned the books of the prophets.
Have the leaders of the UMC no shame? Their contempt for the laity is evident in liberal bias masquerading as curriculum.
When people are told that Genesis is poetry, they understand that that is at odds with a plain reading of Scriptures. Because the UMC teaches that the Bible is a book about God, rather than Gods word, millions look at the world and then interpret the Bible, rather than using the Bible to interpret the world. Here is one example:
A recent translation of the Bible has altered the meaning of the words behemoth and leviathan in the Book of Job. Now, the two creatures described in Job 40 and 41 are obviously dinosaur-type beasts. However, because of evolutionary teaching of the past 200 years, our minds cannot accept man living with dinosaurs. After all, dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, due to asteroids, gastro-intestinal problems, or some such absurd speculation. The liberal is loathe to consider that Noahs flood accounts for most of the fossils. This is mainly because Noah has become a cute story for kids and nothing more.
Incredibly, men who have hated the Bible for centuries are compelling our Bible scholars to actually insert the words crocodile and hippopotamus into the text in Job. Not merely in the notes, but actually in the text. This is a significant thing, illustrating the direct influence of evolutionary thought on the Christian mind.
Marvelous, predictive prophecy suffers equally.
The absurd speculations of the German, British, and American Higher Critics, who claimed to have mind-reading abilities when presuming to know what the Old Testament prophets were thinking when penning sacred books, have polluted our Bible studies with a vicious subtlety that many Christian leaders refuse to acknowledge.
Instead of challenging the sorry scholarship of unbelievers, many UMC leaders continue on, duking it out over the Bibles stance on homosexuality. The problem is, liberals dont believe the Bible is true! It follows that appeals based on a The Bible says so defense are laughable to a liberal. What weight of influence does an edited Bible or The Discipline have on the mind and actions of a critic? None.
Thousands of UMC youth are looking to someone to have an answer to the critics (I Peter 3:15), for a Bible that is full of myths and mistakes is no more a guide for life than The Farmers Almanac. This is the crucible on which the faith depends at this time in history.
Lets say that someone watches the film Contact. In it, the main character says she was turned off by church because no one could tell her where Cain got his wife.
Sadly, our pastors dont even know enough - or are not bold enough - to open the Scriptures and show us that Eve is the mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20), and that the prohibition to marrying siblings did not come about until the time of Moses. Add this to the fact that nowhere does the Bible even hint of another race of humans (which presumably had something to do with the various apemen speculations), and one can reasonably assume that Cain married his sister, or some other close relative. This is plausible and not absurd in the least.
The Bible is simply silent on some of these details, not flawed in its presentation. The pitiful perspectives of the human mind are not enough to impugn Scripture.
Christians who revere Gods word should be in a rage about liberal attacks on the Bible. The old canard all scholars agree is a chief weapon in the liberal quiver, designed to intimidate Bible-believing Christians into silence. If an infinite number of scholars agreed, though, that the Book of Isaiah was written by anywhere from 2-11 authors, would they be right? Let me illustrate the position of strength that Bible-believing Christians really operate from.
Not long ago, after reading in a UMC Bible study that Genesis is poetry (and not to be taken literally); Isaiah had multiple authors; and Daniel was really written 400 years after it claims, I asked the author for evidences, internal or external.
Instead of providing the evidence, which would be relatively easy if there were any, he informed me that he had been a scholar for many years, and that I should read The Interpreters Bible. Of course, you see how meaningless this answer is. I think you can see that he really has no evidence at all.
Actually, the challenge to read The Interpreters Bible was a blessing. In that dusty collection of Bible commentaries, I found a direct paper trail leading straight back to the German Higher Critics. Consider just one entry:
Thus, we have substituted the real gospel with one that is false. This kind of teaching, which gained ground in the past two centuries, has spread through the UMC like a virus. In the above passage, the question is a simple one: Is Jesus God, or is he merely human?
Then, again, there is the separation of predictive prophecy from the Bible, by the sharp knives of the Higher Critics. They dont believe in miraculous events, so to them, no one could predict events that would be fulfilled far in the future. This is the real reason for speculating that Isaiah 24-27 was written during the Babylonian captivity, years after the setting for the Book of Isaiah. It is the reason for deciding that the eternal words found in Zechariah are symbolic. This despite the fact that Zechariah 12-14 reads like an Associated Press newstory today.
It isnt that liberal scholars want to teach you something; they want to convince you of something.
To the matter of Genesis, this is the book that is attacked with such relish by the critics. Why? Secular society has a view of origins that is in direct conflict with the Biblical account.
Did the mindless process of evolution bring us to where we are, or is I Corinthians 15:39 true when it says that All flesh is not the same flesh; but one kind of flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another of fish, and another of birds?
Thats not what National Geographic says.
Whos right? This is the point where we are failing ourselves and our families. We are allowing fallible men to tell us that the infallible word of God is fallible.
Georgia Harkness, a UM theologian, once said, When descriptions of events were written down long after the events occurred, inaccuracies crept in.
Harkness hit the nail on the head. This is the reason scholars came up with the Two Creation Accounts. Have you heard of this? It is the teaching that Genesis 1 and 2 were written by two authors, separated by some distance of time.
Of course, anyone is able to read that Genesis 2 is simply a more detailed account of the first chapter. That can hardly satisfy the critic, however. The two chapters must be split apart by time so that one can allow for inaccuracies. Thus, the very book of beginnings is flawed and untrustworthy in matters of science and history. If the authorship is open to question, so is the concept of sin. Et cetera, et cetera.
The Documentary Hypothesis - the idea that Genesis was written by four or five anonymous scribes during the period of captivity - opens the rest of the book up to charges of fraudulence, sloppy editing, and myth-making. It is astonishing that this theory, having literally not a shred of evidence to back it up, save that in the critics mind, has become a cornerstone of UM scholarship. Even though writing is mentioned very early in the Bible (Genesis 5:1), and Moses, the traditional author/editor of the Pentateuch, was a writer, the critic must pound Genesis on the anvil of doubt and then fashion it to conform to liberal presupposition.
Millions of kids and their parents have been given a fragmentary Bible that is true in some parts, but untrue in others. This has shipwrecked their faith.
If Job is a fictional character, on the same level as Captain Ahab or Rhett Butler, doesnt his hope of a redeemer (Job 19:25) seem less real and more dim - dreamdust to scatter over a primitive people who fearfully scanned the skies looking for some meaning from the gods?
If, on the other hand, there was a real person named Job, who suffered as the Biblical account states, might he serve as a model for us as we search for the meaning in our lives? Absolutely. Job also stated that he had made a covenant with his eyes not to look with lust upon a girl. If Tom Joad said that, would it help a modern man battling lust? I doubt it. The meaning is just not there.
If the real Job, though, overcame his wandering eye by pledging to stop (presumably with Gods help), then thats something the modern man can apply.
Likewise, is the worlds obsession with positive self-esteem the right cure-all, or is Pauls inspired declaration For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord loves the church, (Ephesians 5:29) the right path to a healthy sense of self-worth, modeled on the compassion and sufficiency of Christ?
This is what we need to tell the people. God has given us, in the Bible, all we need for this life. We shouldnt let the enemies of Christ take it from us.
Jim Fletcher email@example.com