Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When Jesus’ teachings or actions were questioned by the religious leaders of His day, He always had an answer that they couldn’t refute. Often His answer made reference to their ignorance of Scripture even though they were supposed to be experts in Old Testament Law: High Priests, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. Jesus seemed to delight in pointing out their ignorance of the subject of their studies. We can almost see the smile on His face as He asks His favorite question: “Haven’t you read …?” Six times we read this question or something similar in the gospels, along with other retorts. The following quotes are mostly from Matthew’s gospel. Mark and Luke give some of the same, with variations. The quote from John’s gospel is unique.
  • “Haven’t you read what David did …?” (Matthew 12:3; also Mark 2:25; Luke 6:3).
  • “… or haven’t you read in the Law that …?” (Matthew 12:5).
  • “Haven’t you read that …?” (Matthew 19:4).
  • “Haven’t you ever read that …?” (Matthew 21:16).
  • “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures …?” (Matthew 21:42; also Mark 12:10).
  • “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God!” (Matthew 22:29).
  • “… haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God that …?” (Matthew 22:31; also Mark 12:26).
  • “And you don’t have His word abiding in you …! You search the Scriptures because you suppose that you have eternal life in them …” (John 5:38, 39).

But these guys were theological/biblical experts! Many of them had committed great portions of their Bible (the Old Testament) to memory. They were the PhDs of their day. They had answers for questions that others weren’t even knowledgeable enough to ask. And they looked down on Jesus’ followers as ignorant riff-raff:

“No one of the rulers or of the Pharisees (i.e. us) has believed on Him has he? But this crowd that doesn’t know the law is cursed!” (John 7:48, 49).

The people that Jesus hung around with – fishermen, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes – probably really were ignorant of the Scriptures, but I can’t find one place where we read of Jesus calling them down for their ignorance. What gives?

The question is not about the words of the Bible. I’m sure the Pharisees and Scribes had often read the words Jesus quoted in the questions. (I have too.) But apparently they hadn’t understood them. And they had obviously not seen their relevance to the situations they were in.

When we hear the bizarre statements of TV preachers; when we hear the Bible twisting of religio-political spokesmen, we sometimes have to wonder, “Haven’t they read the Scriptures they quote or the Bible they thump?”

We hear many religious opinions dogmatically pronounced on theological and moral issues, but we hear very little examination of these issues from a biblical viewpoint. It seems almost as if those who speak out on abortion, homosexuality, poverty, war and government have decided that the truth of their position is settled and there is no need to inquire of the Scriptures.

And the question that keeps popping up in my mind is, “Would Jesus hit me with the same rebukes? After all, I have a Master’s Degree in Theology. I’ve read through my Bible many times in the original languages. I’ve taught Bible and Theology in college. I’ve often been the “expert” that others have come to with their questions. Would Jesus say to me, “Haven’t you read …?” Well, I suppose He might. What would I say?

Bill Ball

Friday, October 9, 2009


Sherry sent me a link to an article with the above title in NEWSWEEK (http://www.newsweek.com/id/216910). She simply said, “Your Thoughts?”

The article begins by telling us, “Evangelical Christian Brent Childers explains his journey from believing that homosexuality was an abomination to marching in a pro-gay march on Washington.” We’re told that Mr. Childers is “speaking out against the harm caused by religion-based bigotry” and that he was once “one of those bigots … a man who condemned homosexuality as a threat to children and society, told his own son that being gay is a ticket to hell,” and that “once I walked away from the Church’s teaching of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God transcended to a higher spiritual plateau.”

Mr. Childers is now the executive director of an organization devoted to promoting understanding in this area. The article is worth reading by every evangelical Christian who is concerned about these issues.

I am in sympathy with Mr. Childers and agree with much of his argument. However, what causes me discomfort is that although he is labeled an evangelical, he doesn’t base his argument on Scripture, but on an inner voice. In fact, he pretty much ignores Scripture.

In his book, THE TRUE BELIEVER, written well over a half-century ago, Eric Hoffer deals with a phenomenon seen in mass movements. He tells us that, “All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.” He also says that, “The frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements …” and that “… frustration of itself … can generate most of the characteristics of the true believer …”

Now, I’m not a psychiatrist, nor a sociologist like Mr. Hoffer, but I am very tempted to label Mr. Childers as a “true believer,” one who is totally committed to his cause or “movement” and yet one who can, once convinced of the error of his cause, do a complete 180 degree turn. As Mr. Hoffer says, “It takes a Saul to make a Paul.” There is no middle ground. There seems to be an inability to live with tension or unresolved conflict. I’ve been around long enough to see this tendency in history and politics and even in my day: many European Communists were former Nazis; many Neoconservatives were former liberals. I’ve seen it as well in many of my own acquaintances (and in myself to a certain extent), as well as in movements within the church, having to do with theology and practice.

I believe the problem that Mr. Childers is caught up in is really much larger than the question of gay rights. If I may oversimplify, it is the perceived tension between the ethics of Jesus and the ethics of the whole rest of the Scriptures. It may be stated in many ways, such as “love versus doctrine,” “Jesus versus Paul,” etc. It is sometimes stated as “What would Jesus do,” versus the clear commands given elsewhere in the Scriptures.

But is there really a conflict? Am I forced to choose between marching down the street in a Gay Pride parade and standing on the curb holding up a placard stating “God Hates Fags”? I don’t think so!

Over and over in the Gospels, we see Jesus rubbing shoulders with sinners in apparently an unjudgmental manner.
 “And it happened that He was reclining (at dinner) in the house and many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were reclining together with Jesus and His disciples” (Mathew 9:10). I wonder if there were any homosexuals in that crowd.
 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look a glutton and a wine guzzler, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Mathew 11:19).
 “Amen! I’m telling you (the religious folks) that the tax-collectors and whores will get into the Kingdom of God ahead of you!” (Mathew 21:31).

Is this a conflict with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor perverts, nor homosexuals (or a whole bunch of others) … shall inherit the Kingdom of God”?

If we believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and inerrant then we have to say no. But we also have to interpret each in the light of the other. We don’t need to become “red letter Christians.” We have to recognize that the red letters are no more and no less inspired than the black letters.

We should notice that when Jesus socialized with sinners, they were still sinners; He himself even referred to them as such. He was not condoning their behavior, but neither was He condemning them. He told a woman caught in the act of adultery (a capital offense under the Old Testament Law), “neither do I condemn you” – though He did add, “Go and from now on sin no more!” (John 8:11). Rather than condoning, He was transforming.

Though Paul wrote about different topics, there is no contradiction with Jesus’ ministry. One could even say that it was assumed that Christ’s followers would behave as He did.
 “If someone of the unbelievers should invite you over and you want to go …” (1 Corinthians 10:27).
 “I wrote to you in my (previous) letter not to associate with fornicators. However, I didn’t mean the fornicators of the world, or greedy people or swindlers or idolaters – because then you’d have to get out of the world!” (1 Corinthians 5:10).

He goes on to say that his readers should disassociate from people like that who claim to be “brothers” (verse 11). In other words we should be doing like Jesus did – hanging out with sinners, but avoiding religious hypocrites!

So what should we say about Mr. Childers’ change of heart? Should we have a similar change? If we are card-carrying gay bashers, yes, I believe we should. Nowhere in the Gospels, nor anywhere else in the New Testament are we given the right or responsibility to hate people that we perceive as sinners. We are to love them and seek their transformation through faith in Christ.

As far as the church, we already tolerate, even ignore all sorts of other sexual misbehavior – adultery, fornication, unbiblical divorce; so why do we get bent out of shape about this one? Shouldn’t we be dealing with the sins within the church? Shouldn’t we be helping sinners to recover?

And, as I’ve contended before, the church and America are two separate entities. I believe we need to reconsider our “stands” on issues. Should not the homosexual citizen have similar rights to those of the heterosexual?

As for myself, I won’t be marching in the parade, nor will I be carrying a placard!


Bill Ball

Friday, October 2, 2009


In the July 31 issue of THE WEEK magazine was an article entitled “Washington’s ‘invisible army’ for Christ.” It described an apparently loose-knit organization to which many members of America’s political elite belong, especially, but not exclusively those on the right. It mentioned that three of the recent politicians “embroiled in sex scandals” were longtime members. It mentioned that the group, known as “The Family” had been around since 1935, when it was founded based on a vision of Abraham Vereide, “an itinerant preacher” and Norwegian immigrant. Its present leader is Doug Coe, a well-known, but rather retiring and secretive person.

The article also went on to say that secrecy or invisibility is the first rule of The Family. It also mentioned that personal morality is not at the top of their list of requirements for membership. Then on August 12, Jeff Sharlet appeared as guest on THE DAILY SHOW. Sharlet is the author of the book, THE FAMILY: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which is referred to in the above article as “the authoritative book.” He is a research scholar and author on various religious topics.

I was fascinated. Sharlet painted a picture of a cultish, almost conspiratorial group that was mainly concerned with power. Could this be “the vast right-wing conspiracy” that I had heard of? Many of my right-leaning friends seem to believe in conspiracies on the left; here was a left-leaner who was telling of a conspiracy on the right! I bought the book and read it. I had to!

Well, the book was not what I had expected! Sharlet is a good writer and it reads almost like a novel. And the book was informative; I learned a great deal about the history of The Family, or as it is also known, The Fellowship, but I had a hard time with the thesis of the book and how it is “proven.”

Mr. Sharlet wants to demonstrate that religion, especially “fundamentalist” religion and politics are hopelessly intertwined. “This is a story,” he tells us in his introduction, “about that imaginary place, so real in the minds of those for whom religion, politics, and the mythologies of America are one singular story and how that vision has shaped America’s projection of power onto the rest of the world.” The imaginary place is America as the “shining city upon a hill.”

But first, the values of the book. It reveals the history of a movement that began with 1930s union busting and anti-New Deal crusading, and carries through the anti-Communism crusades of the 50s, down to present day right-wing power politics. It shows ties between members of The Family and many political movements. While biblical doctrine seems to be relatively unimportant in The Family, Jesus is, but it is Jesus as a sort of undefined idea, rather than the Jesus of the New Testament. Power is important. They hold to a misunderstanding of Romans 13:1 (KJV): “The powers that be are ordained of God,” and seem to make it mean that those in power are more important to God than those without power. Win those in power to “Jesus” and those below will be blessed – “trickle-down” evangelism. This is in total contrast to Jesus’ example and teachings, such as in Luke 22:24-27.

What’s wrong with the book? Well at least two things. To prove his thesis, the author gives a sketchy, very selective outline of American church history, tying The Family, or at least its philosophy, back to a rather select string of individuals and showing little, if any real connections between them: Jonathan Edwards, Charles G. Finney, Billy Sunday, etc.

Secondly, is his painting with a broad brush. Every well-known Christian leader gets splattered, whatever their connections (or non-connections) with members of The Family. Every political leader (at least on the right) who professes faith in Christ gets splattered. The impression is given that all well-known American Christians are tainted and are part of the conspiracy.

One sketch that struck me as humorous was that of Hillary Clinton. Though she had connections with many in The Family, we are assured that “she’s not a member of Coe’s Family.” So we, the liberal readers can breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that she’s not a part of this vast right-wing conspiracy.

What is sad to me about the book is that the picture painted in this book of America’s evangelicalism is accurate enough. It pictures us as concerned more with political power than with the teachings of the lowly Jesus. It shows a “fundamentalism” that is really unconcerned about the fundamental truths of the gospel of Christ. It shows a moralistic politics that is unconcerned about personal morality. And whether we accept the book’s “facts” and/or its conclusions, it does, I believe, present a picture of Christianity that is held by many today.

Paul told the religious people of his day, “… the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you …” (Romans 2:24). Would he say that of us today?

Bill Ball