No one’s writing the books I want to read…

August 24, 2006 § 16 Comments

At least… that’s how it seems. Recently, I revisted a trilogy that was once a fave of mine– The Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers. I’ve never been a big romance fan, but considered this more “historical fiction.” I discovered that I have very low tolerance for any romance in the re-reading. Don’t get me wrong– Ms. Rivers is an excellent writer. I just realized how much I don’t like the stuff personally– it feels intrusive to the story somehow.

I also had previously been quite impressed with how much research she apparently did to accurately portray life during the Roman Empire. However, several years later and much study on my own part revealed to me her total lack of understanding or study of what 1st century Christianity was like. Considering that was the whole blasted point it seems like a mighty HUGE oversite on her part. And it just blew open a whole cans of worms that have been wriggling and niggling at the back of my mind in reference to Christian fiction– or any contemporary Christain writing today.

In stewing over this, I realized that my dissatisfaction cannot simply be with the authors of stuff I find objectionable. It has to be with the root– with what passes for mainstream Christianity today– whether Protestant, Catholic or Anabaptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, non-denominational, house church or whatever your flavor. There is this unspoken rule of “these are the Essentials that make us all Christians, and we’re ok with that.” Actually, it is commonly attributed to Augustine the saying, “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” A quotation, I would like to point out, that does not appear anywhere in scripture but which is pranced out any time someone starts to cast doubt on the way folks are running their churches.

My problem is that there are some big whopping holes in what is being passed off as Christianity– no matter your persuasion. And the holes occur directly in the middle of the words Jesus spoke to His followers. These are holes that become apparent if we compare what our Christianity of today looks like compared to that of the first and second century. Or better yet, even against the solid and irrefutable teachings of Jesus. He told us to turn the other cheek, love our enemy and not resist an evil person. He never tells us that there is an exception to these things. So why do so many Christians feel justified going to war? And that’s just one example of the wrongness of today’s “Church”.

In Ms Rivers’ books, she not only has a first century Christian fighting and killing their “enemies”, she has a character who is a Christian actor– seemingly ignoring the fact that being an actor was on the list of “Things You Cannot Do if You are a Christian” (for which there were many reasons, historical and so forth, but that’s another topic.) I’m sure she must have been unaware of this fact. What she did that irritated me so much was that she simply took modern day Evangelical Protestantism, and stuck it in a place it did not belong– 1st century Rome. Many of the highlights of protestantism today are simply gnostic teachings re-vamped for today’s modern Christian. And your average evangelical doesn’t even realize it.

And I feel like nobody’s talking about these things! It seems that most folks are ignorant of their own faith’s teachings, favoring other peoples’ teachings about the faith. Rather than reading with simple childlike faith what Jesus had to say in, oh, maybe His Sermon on the Mount, and believing that He really meant it, folks seem to put more faith in Luther’s version of things. If we read scripture through someone else’s filter, we aren’t getting the full picture. If we allow our faith to be shaped by the traditions of men, rather than the teachings of Christ, can we truly be sure that we are following Him?

The books I come across out there and the people I talk to reflect this– this watered down, false doctine-riddled mess that hardly lives up to the glory, majesty, power and love that Jesus preached. That Jesus preached. Not Wesley, Luther, Augustine, Swingley, Billy Graham or even Paul himself (not that I am casting aspersions on Paul– but Paul’s teachings without Christ’s teachings are not the whole gospel– this was Luther’s mistake.)

Do we trust that this Man Who called Himself God could communicate His will to those Whom He loves so that we could understand without some theologian telling us what He meant? Or is it ok to just figure that those who first recieved that word from His very lips were so wrong, that only today we have gotten the message right?

It breaks my heart and tears my soul, and I only wish more folks could see what’s wrong. The emperor has no clothes.

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§ 16 Responses to No one’s writing the books I want to read…

  • judetherat says:

    Question:
    If there isn’t more to this issue – as you imply – why didn’t he just tell the Israelites back at the start to turn the other cheek, and live peacefully in the land with their enemies?
    The Lord who told us to turn the other cheek and not to resist our enemies is the same Lord who told them to go and conquer the Holy Land with extreme prejudice.
    What about self-defense? Or, expanding upon that idea, crime and punishment? Ephesians 6 (among other places) talk about struggling against our true (spiritual) enemies, are we supposed to just let them have their way without resisting their influence in our lives?
    See something else must be at work here making the Truth behind the principle He’s given both simple and complex to understand.
    (Honestly, I’m more of the opinion that Jesus was giving a set of rules for individuals to follow when under religious persecution, since He seems to be quoting from Lamentations 3:30 when he says to turn the other cheek. And the context of the Old Testament passage is clearly “life under God’s discpline”.)
    You do have some good (albeit emotionally driven) ideas that would be best served with lots of prayer, fasting and asking for wisdom from God of course. I’d also suggest reading some books by Gene Edwards, since he has a somewhat similar view.

  • krikketgirl says:

    Yes! And…no.
    I would argue that there are a few basics that seem indicated in the Bible. Things like repenting, being baptized, and following Jesus. Things like caring for the widows and orphans.
    BUT.
    Most of us disagree on how, exactly, we should be doing those things. A lot of the divisions between churches are stylistic differences. For example: I celebrate a weekly seventh-day Sabbath. Now, I don’t think this makes me more or less Christian than anyone else…I just happen to believe that the practice comes closest to the commandment to “keep the Sabbath.”
    The thing is, there are a lot of divisions, some over doctrine, but many more over what, exactly, should be done to follow Jesus–outside the repenting, the baptizing, and the caring for widows and orphans.
    That’s where the theologists come in: to try to come to some conclusion about how best to follow God now, when we’re not living in the first century after Christ’s death.

  • singersdd says:

    Speaking as another who attends church on Saturday as the Sabbath, I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. Most people who attend Christian churches today have no idea exactly what their churches teach. People who grew up in the Catholic church start attending the local Methodist church and think that only weekly communionn has been done away with; but that’s definitely not the only difference.
    BUT (you knew there was a but), people don’t want to know that their church teaches things that were originally paganism. They don’t want to know that adding to or taking away from the Bible is a big sin (see Prov. 30:5 & 6 and Rev. 22:18 & 19). They have to see for themselves what it is, exactly, that pleases God and I think God has to open their eyes to see it before they can even realize that they’re missing something.

  • Re: Question:
    Also bear in mind that turning the other cheek and the various other things that Christ told us to do weren’t really so much about ignoring our enemies as they were about shaming them.

  • DT says:

    Re: Question:
    If there isn’t more to this issue – as you imply – why didn’t he just tell the Israelites back at the start to turn the other cheek, and live peacefully in the land with their enemies?
    Because when Jesus came, He was doing a new thing– making a new covenant. The covenant with the Hebrews was one in which they as a wordly nation were God’s “kingdom” here on earth. But God had always had another step in mind. He was going to introduce the Messiah through the Jewish nation to the rest of the world– as He kept telling them over and over again through the prophets.
    When Christ came, He taught things that no prophet had ever taught. He took specific teachings from the Law and said, “You have heard it said” or “it has been written…” and then He would say “But I say to you…” This was one of the reasons that the Pharisees and teachers had so much trouble with Him– He was teaching a whole new way. Of course, saying He was God was just the topper.
    What about self-defense? Or, expanding upon that idea, crime and punishment? Ephesians 6 (among other places) talk about struggling against our true (spiritual) enemies, are we supposed to just let them have their way without resisting their influence in our lives?
    Well, Jesus never gave exceptions to His commands. Matt 5:38-39 You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
    The context of this command is not yet religious persecution– He gets to that later in the sermon, but simply the concept of “eye for an eye.”
    If Christ gives us a command, and no loop hole, what are we to do if we are to be obedient children? You ask about self defense. Well, if someone comes up and starts to hit you, what does Jesus say to do? And here’s the question that this raises. Do you trust Him? This Man has just said, “don’t resist the bad guy, let him beat you up.” But Who is the One saying this? Is it not the One Who formed you in the womb, Who holds your every breath and counts your every hair? Is it not the One Who hung on the cross so that you might live?
    This person that may be trying to kill you is in darkness, with no understanding of God’s love and light. He is right where each of us are before we meet Jesus and come under the guidance and renewal of His Spirit. And Jesus has given YOU a command. And HE holds the cards. And if this were the only command of this nature, it might be enough, but it isn’t. How do you love your enemy? How do you truly leave your life in God’s hands, and trust that– no matter what– He will see you through?
    As for crime and punishment, that would take so much longer than the space allows here.
    Ephesians 6 does talk about our “true spirtual enemies.” and what does Paul say about them? That they are NOT flesh and blood. The forces we struggle against aren’t other people– it’s the hordes of Satan, and our own corrupt sin nature.
    We are called to battle, yes, but it is very important that we know with whom we are to be engaged. Not the Muslims, or the guy down the street who keeps stealing our paper or that nasty boss who keeps undermining us or that junkie on the street who is holding us at gunpoint for our wallet. Those are the folks that Christ died for, and maybe He will ask us to sacrifice ourselves for them too– so that they can get one step closer to finding Him. But that’s not going to happen if we ignore His commands and never learn what it means to truly love our neighbor as ourselves.

  • DT says:

    Re: Question:
    It isn’t really about ignoring them at all– it’s about loving them– the way Christ has loved us.

  • DT says:

    That’s where the theologists come in: to try to come to some conclusion about how best to follow God now, when we’re not living in the first century after Christ’s death.
    The problem is that the theologians are always trying to re-invent the wheel. They want Scripture to say some new thing that it hasn’t for the past 2 millenia. And the trouble is that it can be so much simpler than that. We actually have the writings of those to whom the gospel was first preached in the first and second centuries. We have a litmus test, so to speak, by which we can judge our own understanding of scripture.
    We can read scripture, trying to peel away the filters we may hve been brought up on… just try reading *what* it says, not what you have been taught that it says. ANd then look at what the first and second century Christians practiced and wrote. Invariably, the simplest understanding is the correct one.
    But theologians don’t want things simple– then even the little peole could actually understand scripture for themselves!

  • DT says:

    BUT (you knew there was a but), people don’t want to know that their church teaches things that were originally paganism. They don’t want to know that adding to or taking away from the Bible is a big sin (see Prov. 30:5 & 6 and Rev. 22:18 & 19). They have to see for themselves what it is, exactly, that pleases God and I think God has to open their eyes to see it before they can even realize that they’re missing something.
    You are so right! And this is the thing that drives me nuts. Because today’s pagans can see the hypocricy and mixture, even if your average Christian can’t. I was having a discussion about early church history with one of my liberal agnostic professors last year, and he was calling all the sects of the first couple of centuries Christians. It was so frustrating, because he was lumping the Gnostics in with the Christians, and how can you argue they were different when many Christians today believe gnostic teachings!?
    Maybe I’ll start a new group… an early church group here on LJ…

  • krikketgirl says:

    And again, yes…and no. I think some theologians try to reinvent the wheel. I think some theologians don’t think the little people can figure things out for themselves.
    But.
    Let’s take your statement that we need to read what’s there, not what we’ve been taught…well, certainly, we should. But how? No matter how hard we try to escape our filters, there will always be filters there. Again, I’ll turn to my Sabbath example: when I read, and I take the whole Bible into consideration, I am led to the conclusions not just that I should observe a seventh-day Sabbath (and in observing, abstain from working and such), but that it is best to do so. However, the majority of Christians read the very same Bible and reach an entirely different conclusion (though some now are beginning to see the value of a day of rest)–that this particular commandment was done away and there is no reason for observing it.
    We are reading the same Bible. We are all striving for the same truth. But for some reason, the words that seem very clearly to indicate one meaning to me, very clearly indicate something else to someone else. How do we get around that?
    A book I read described the attempt to refine our faith as “repainting Christianity.” We are all, in a sense, repainting our faith and our beliefs in order to get as close as we possibly can to the truth. There are some things that I know absolutely are true and essential to faith. But there are other things that seem a bit murkier: is it a law to observe the Old Testament holy days, or only a good idea…or is it irrelevant? Even here, I have to frame things according to my experience and practice, because it is the only viewpoint I have.
    The best we have been able to do, then, so far, is to separate ourselves into like-minded groups, in the hope that thus we can have people with whom we don’t need to argue certain core things and can get on with the business of carrying out the great commission.

  • krikketgirl says:

    They don’t want to know that adding to or taking away from the Bible is a big sin
    But haven’t we all committed that sin? Hasn’t our own church committed that sin?

  • singersdd says:

    Maybe so, maybe no. But you have to think that our church is trying awfully hard not to add to or take away from what it says in The Book…
    All we can do is our best with what we understand it says. I think that’s all anyone can do.

  • DT says:

    And again, yes…and no. I think some theologians try to reinvent the wheel. I think some theologians don’t think the little people can figure things out for themselves.

    Yes, sorry– I have been trying to cut down on the amount of absolutes in my posts…
    We are reading the same Bible. We are all striving for the same truth. But for some reason, the words that seem very clearly to indicate one meaning to me, very clearly indicate something else to someone else. How do we get around that?
    Ah therein lies the question… I think a good place to start is by just starting fresh. Ask a question, any question, and then see what the Scripture has to say about it. For instance, we could ask the question, “What is the Christian’s relationship to the Old Covenant Law?” We only need to look in the New testament for the answer, because we aren’t going to find answers about Christians in the OT– they didn’t exist yet. So we can start at Matthew and go on all the way to Revelation, and just take note of any verses that seem to address this specific question. And there are lots of verses. (My study group did just that recently and these are some of our conclusions.) Or we could ask, “What did Jesus teach about loving your neighbor?” “What does the New Testament teach about baptism?.. or the Holy Spirit?” Any specific teaching or doctrine. Seems simple enough, right?
    It’s when we start drawing our conclusions that things can get wonky. Because, once you have the verses, and they all point to a conclusion other than what you have been taught, it is now on us to decide whether we will let scripture shape our doctrine, or doctrine to shape our scripture. Do we believe what we believe because we have been taught it, or because it is truth. Are we going to base our understanding of scripture on prooftexts and traditions, or on the very Word of God itself?
    And how do we know if we are doing this? There’s the rub. We don’t speak Greek, and we can’t email Paul with questions. But we have the writings from the first and second century church. We have the documentation of how they understood and lived out the scripture. And everytime, you will find that when you read the scripture with just simple childlike faith, you will more than likely draw the same conclusions that the first century church did– and they spoke Greek and could ask the Apostles questions. Wouldn’t their understanding be better or closer than ours?

  • DT says:

    We can also search out scripture on our own, and when we find inconsistancies, or outright heresy, speak up. And we can pray for God to grant us wisdom, and love, and that He would raise up His Church in the manner He intends, for His glory!
    We don’t have to be satisfied with what we have, just because it is all we know.

  • krikketgirl says:

    For many things, perhaps, that will work. But one runs into problems sometimes with taking a verse out of context as an answer to a problem. For example, there is a verse that says, “…women are saved by childbearing…” So…do I take that to mean that basically, baptism or no, I’m reconciled to God only by having children? Of course not! There is some further understanding that needs to take place.
    There are many things that one can get a definitive view of through reading alone. However, the gospels are not a total picture of how people lived. I am not even arguing doctrine, per se; I’m simply talking about how they lived. Because that, to me, is the crux of the matter. Christ said to repent, to be baptized, to follow Him. There isn’t quibbling over those base commands; the quibbling comes in over style. Full-immersion baptism, or sprinkling? Adult or infant? Do you have to be rebaptized if you change churches, or not? Are women allowed to speak in church? Does that apply only to giving sermons, or to Bible studies and children’s lessons as well? Is the Holy Spirit a ‘he,’ or an ‘it’?
    We are in absolute agreement that there are many degrees of confusion that could be avoided by a simple study into what the Bible actually says, by the way. I think that I have basically two points: 1) I don’t think any of us ever have or ever will get it 100% right. Period. When I face my God after the end of this life, I’m fairly sure there is going to be a good long sheet of paper that details all the times I added or took away from the Bible, through faulty understanding or bias. 2) There are a plethora of everyday-living situations and ‘stylistic’ concerns that are not clearly and directly addressed through Scripture. Yes, we can make some assumptions and we can use the Scripture as a guide to help us as we make decisions regarding our beliefs; the life of the first-century church is certainly worth reading in as much detail as possible; but ultimately there are things that have to be down to our best understanding and not an out-and-out command.

  • DT says:

    Well, we have to avoid prooftexting, first of all, and yet, believe that every word of God is tested and that He meant all of it.
    There are many things that one can get a definitive view of through reading alone. However, the gospels are not a total picture of how people lived. I am not even arguing doctrine, per se; I’m simply talking about how they lived. Because that, to me, is the crux of the matter. Christ said to repent, to be baptized, to follow Him. There isn’t quibbling over those base commands; the quibbling comes in over style. Full-immersion baptism, or sprinkling? Adult or infant? Do you have to be rebaptized if you change churches, or not? Are women allowed to speak in church? Does that apply only to giving sermons, or to Bible studies and children’s lessons as well? Is the Holy Spirit a ‘he,’ or an ‘it’?
    There is a difference between culture and command. We live under Christ’s law of liberty– we are free to live however we want and worship Him in any manner– as long as we do so in obedience. For instance, you bring up baptism– which is something we can learn directly from scripture. If you are saved by faith through baptism, we understand that you need to have that faith in order for baptism to save you. And the word baptism itself is the greek word for “immerse” or “dunk” or “plunge” and other verses talk about going down into the waters of baptism and being brought out again. So there we have Scripture that paints a fairly plain picture of what is intended. It is unfortunate that someone decided to transliterate “baptizmo” rather than just simply supply the word it meant– immerse. would have solved some problems. Maybe.
    Paul is fairly clear about women speaking in the assembly– but he doesn’t say anything about elsewhere, and he says they shouldn’t have authority over men, but that doesn’t mean they cannot teach other women or the children, or that they can’t discuss with the men.
    The Anabaptists had a really cool policy– “where Scripture is silent, we are silent.” Basically, there is stuff that is in scripture that isn’t up for debate, and needs to be re-established. But there is now so much more that we have freedom in. Instruments in worship? Play ’em if ya got ’em! Or not, if you find it offensive. Keeping kosher? Keep it up, but it’s ok if I have a ham sandwich. Want to watch a movie? Ok, but I don’t think I’ll be seeing it… All things are allowed, but not all things edify.
    I just want to see people take seriously the words that our Saviour spoke and that His Apostles wrote– those are the words to live by– they are the words that contain life.

  • You are one smart lady!
    So many people don’t know anything about their own religion. Myself included! And it seems like no matter which church you look at they have their own interpretation of the Bible. Some churches have made me feel really uncomfortable because of their particular interpretations and I left the church a long time ago. It’s kind of sad really. I miss worship.

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