Things to Think About

When The Bible Is Filled With Discrepancies And Contradictions

I once spent an entire year reading only the gospels during my quiet times. More specifically, I read the gospels using Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry’s The NIV Harmony Of The Gospels. Have you ever used a ‘harmony of the gospels?’ It can be a meaningful, interesting, confusing, and troubling experience all at once. Why confusing and troubling? Because in books like this the editors line up in chronological order the events from the life of Christ providing a comparison of the similarities and sometimes differences between the gospel writers as they attempt to retell the stories and teachings of Jesus. What you soon discover is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John often disagree as to what happened, or one of the writers might leave out something significant that the others included or vice versa. Critics of the Bible use words like discrepancies and contradictions to describe these differences. 

I like the word differences better than discrepancies or contradictions. You see, I’m not trying to discredit the Bible or prove that it is a man-made book which is usually the agenda of those who revel in discovering the differences in the accounts of Jesus’ life. I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God but I also know that there are some differences, and sometimes significant differences in the four gospel accounts. How do I explain those differences? I don’t. I have no good explanation for them. I’ve heard some attempts but nothing that was completely satisfying to me.

I don’t know why Matthew said it was the mother of James and John who asked a favor of Jesus, and Mark says James and John were the ones who asked. I don’t know why Matthew tells the story of two blind men being healed by Jesus and Mark and Luke, telling the same story, say it was only one man. I don’t know why Mark says that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give his disciples the words to respond with when standing before their interrogators but Luke tells us that Jesus promised them that he would give them the words. What did Jesus really say? Was it the Holy Spirit who would visit the disciples? Was it Jesus? I don’t know. Why does Mark say that the women who visited the tomb of Jesus on that early Sunday morning were met by a young man, while Matthew says it was an angel, and Luke says it was two men? Which story is right? I don’t know. And to be honest with you, I don’t really care that much.

None of these differences touch upon anything too important. However, if we had discrepancies between gospel accounts pertaining to the nature of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth…subjects like that, then we would have a problem on our hands.

Critics of Christianity and the Bible argue that even if these differences are minor they prove that the Bible was written by man, contains errors, and cannot be trusted. This is not an entirely incorrect line of reasoning. In other words, if Mark was wrong in reporting that there was one man waiting at the empty tomb when there were really two…where else was he wrong? I understand this way of thinking but it’s not my way of thinking.

I’m not bothered by these differences. They make me curious as to what really happened, whose story is the correct one, but they don’t bother me. The overall harmony of the Bible, for me, is an argument in favor of it’s inspiration. I find the relatively few ‘contradictions’ interesting but not something I stumble over.

After spending a year reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John I felt that together they gave me the whole picture of Jesus’ life and ministry. I guess even that is not entirely true since John tells us that there were many other things Jesus did that were not recorded. I need all four of the gospel stories in order to get the whole picture. If I only had Luke there would be details I missed out on. If I only had John there would be a lot of information missing. No single gospel writer possesses the whole story.

No single Christian or denomination possesses the whole story. Every stream of Christianity has some important point of teaching where they are wrong. We need each other with all our differences in order to see and experience the totality of Christ. And even with one another’s unique perspective, we still “see in a mirror dimly.” I want to be looking for that part of Jesus in others that is lacking in me. Regardless of the ‘group’ I identify with the most, those outside of that group have something to teach me, something to show me, something I need. We might have significant disagreement over important theological topics but they are still my sisters and brothers in Christ. Even if I am right on a certain point and they are wrong, God loves us the same.

The gospel writers, like the body of Christ, do not always agree and yet there is a harmony between them. There is far more that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have in common than not. At any given time I can choose whether to focus on my differences with someone or focus on my similarities. It is at those points of similarity that we have harmony. When we disagree with one another we have an opportunity to practice love, humility, honor, and respect. Disagreements provide us the opportunity to experience harmony despite the disagreements.

Caught in the Gray Middle

There are many pastors out there (I know this because I talk to them) who feel caught in the middle. Even though they still believe that (fill in the blank) is wrong they no longer believe that the Bible is entirely clear on the subject. They have come to understand and appreciate those who interpret the Bible differently than they do. And…they are afraid to say so. Some have doubts about what they have always believed. But they are afraid to say so. Some have even changed their position. But they are afraid to say so. Some have told me that they are not exactly sure what God thinks of (fill in the blank) but they are afraid to say so to anyone but me.

We’ve gotten to the place where you can be attacked or get in trouble just for thinking, or re-thinking, or questioning, or respectfully listening to those who think differently than the group you belong. You can be judged and slandered and ‘unfriended’ on Facebook (and in life, I know, it’s happened to me) for revealing that you appreciate certain authors or speakers. 

Whatever denomination you belong to, there is a good chance that there are certain theological distinctions held by your group that if you strayed over to a different position you would get in trouble and possibly defrocked. In some groups you would be attacked if you simply said, “I’m rethinking my position on…

Spiritual gifts
Women in ministry
Ecclesiology
Baptism
Eschatology, to name a few.

You don’t have to say, “I’ve changed my position on (fill in the blank). ” but only, “I’m rethinking my position on (fill in the blank).” That alone is enough to be called into the principle’s office.

How many times have you said, or heard someone else say, “The Bible is clear…” or “The Bible clearly teaches…”? 

When I read my Bible I tend to see more clarity than I do vagueness but there are definitely some things that I see as gray while some of my friends see the same things as black or white. It seems to me that some things some Christians think the Bible is clear about are not as clear as they think. If the Bible were clear then why are there so many denominations and different opinions held by Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians?

There is a small but growing group of Christians who are caught in the middle. They don’t see black or white. They see gray. Not everything is gray to them, it’s not like they don’t believe in absolute truth or the basic tenets of the Christian faith, but some of the other things are gray to them. They have friends or fellow-pastors who see many things as black or white…but they see those same things as gray. This group (gray Christians) doesn’t have as strong an opinion about some things other Christians have strong opinions about. And some in this group are afraid to admit this publicly. Rather than saying, “The Bible is clear about…” or “The Bible clearly teaches…” they would say, “I’m not sure what God thinks about…”

Do you see certain theological topics as gray while those around you see the same subjects as black or white? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Be humble and patient with those who see black and white. Remember…they could be right. I wish I didn’t have to say this but be very selective with whom you share your ambiguity. Ambiguity can get you in trouble.

Do you see certain theological topics as black or white? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Be humble and patient with those who see gray. Remember…they could be right. Work at being a loving, respectful, honoring and safe person for those who see gray. After all, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ. We all love Jesus. We all believe that the Bible is God’s word, it’s just that some of us see things as black or white and others of us see things as gray.

We may never know with certainty who is right and who is wrong until we die and take that required theology exam that will determine who gets into heaven and who stays outside with the rest of us C+ students.

Those pathetic PC (politically correct) Christians.

When I see the phrase politically correct, I first focus on the word ‘political.’ Then I think of politics. Then I think of politicians. From there I think of things some politicians do or say in order to get elected. There is a dishonesty associated with it and a manipulation of the electorate.

I asked a group of pastors how they would define ‘politically correct.’ Only one of the 53 responses to my question came close to mine: “Whatever phrasing or actions that will gain you the most (or cost you the least) votes.” Many of the comments were similar to these:

  • To go along with what the masses say instead of what is the truth.
  • The willingness to cast truth aside in order to not offend someone.
  • Not speaking truth
  • Setting aside all personal convictions to appease others.
  • It is a thought control tactic used by the liberal left which on the surface has the express purpose of not offending the disadvantaged and those who oppose Christian values, but which the unexpressed undercurrent is to silence truth and erode religious freedoms.

On the other side there were definitions such as:

  • Being kind and speaking in love.
  • Using language that isn’t offensive.
  • Choosing vocabulary for referring to people that is not based on prejudice nor intended to hurt or demean.
  • Choosing alternate, often unfamiliar language or practice, in an attempt to minimize actual or perceived offense toward a particular group.
  • A term that only people of privilege use to describe with disdain those who think differently about the power of language than they do.

I found it interesting to trace the origins of the phrase ‘political correctness’ or ‘politically correct’. I thought of sharing with you the history of PC and how it has evolved in meaning over the years, but that would digress from my point. When you have the time Google it, I think you will be surprised.

My point is that many Christians today are accusing other Christians of being PC. This indictment is usually accompanied by an air of contempt and belligerence. The claim is that certain believers, churches, and entire denominations have caved in to social pressure and have knowingly walked away from the truth of scriptures in order to better fit in to the non-Christian culture. Are there PCers like that out there? Probably, but I don’t know any of them…and I know a lot of Christians and Pastors and churches.

What I see happening is that there is a growing group of Christians who are trying to walk out their faith as closely to the example of Jesus as they can. As they attempt this they are becoming kinder, more accepting, more tolerant, more loving. They want to avoid offending others as much as possible. They love God. They believe in the Bible. Theirs is a different kind of PC, not ‘politically correct’ but ‘people compassionate.’ Do they get it right in every area of doctrine and practice? Of course not, but neither do those who are on the other side. Nobody gets it completely right.

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Few would argue that the apostle Paul was not afraid to speak the truth, confront sin and doctrinal error. His letters are filled with examples. Recently while reading through I Corinthians I came across two passages that made me see how balanced Paul really was.

I Cor. 9:20 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  (NASB)

I Cor. 10:32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.. (NASB)

They say, “You can’t please everybody.” but is seems that Paul tried. Paul didn’t want to offend if he didn’t need to. Paul was trying to build bridges rather than walls in order that he might win people to Christ. I could imagine that if I said the same things Paul said in the above scriptures that some would accuse me of being too PC, a people-pleaser, that I’ve caved in to societal pressure.

I don’t want to call someone PC too flippantly, especially if my words accompanied by contempt and belligerence. I don’t want to accuse someone of being PC without talking to them and seeing their heart, their motives, their convictions. And if I happen to actually take the time to get to know the person I’m concerned about and end up not liking their motives, convictions and heart, if I still strongly disagree with them…I don’t want to attack or be offensive, I don’t want to be belligerent.

I think there is more PC out there among Christians than we imagine but it is not political correctness, it is people-compassion.

Don’t Be a But.

When I read the words of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament, I find myself challenged to evaluate my reactions to those who I disagree with. For example:

Because Jesus, in the ‘High Priestly Prayer’ of John 17, prayed three times to the Father that his followers “may be one”, I ask myself, “Are my words, attitudes and actions creating oneness or two-ness? By ‘two-ness’ I mean a division, my group versus their group.

One theme from the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is a different kind of priest than those under the old covenant. Did you know that the Latin word for ‘priest’ means ‘bridge-builder’?

Peter calls us a ‘royal priesthood’ (I Pet. 2:9), I must ask myself, “Are my words building bridges or building walls?

Three times Jesus told us to ‘love one another’ (Jn. 13:34, Jn. 15:12,17). Do my attitudes towards those I disagree with reflect love…or something less than love, or even contempt and judgment?

Paul added to Jesus’ reminder to ‘love’ by saying in I Cor. 13 that love is patient. I must ask myself if my words and actions and attitudes towards those I disagree with reflect patience or impatience? Do I rush to correct, judge, or label someone who is different than me?

Paul said in Gal. 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I must ask myself if my words or actions or attitudes towards those I disagree with are filled with that type of fruit? I fear that sometimes I have fruit but it is rotten, worm-filled fruit.

Peter said (I Pet. 2: 17to show honor all people. Does my life reflect showing honor to those I disagree with?

Because Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (II Tim. 2:24-25), I must ask myself if my words or actions or attitudes towards those I disagree with are quarrelsome in nature, unkind, impatient, lacking in gentleness?

YEAH, BUT…

There’s always a ‘YEAH BUT.’

Yeah, but what about orthodoxy?
Yeah, but what about heresy?
Yeah, but what about bringing correction?
Yeah, but what about loving the sinner but hating the sin?
Yeah, but what about defending the truth?
Yeah, but what about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple?
Yeah, but what about holiness?
Yeah, but what about obedience?
Yeah, but what about speaking the truth in love?
Yeah, but what about balance?

What about it?

I believe there is a place for all the ‘YEAH BUTS’ but I also believe that we’ve been giving too much of a place to them.

Believe me, if I choose to not correct others or act belligerently towards those I think are in error there will still be enough correction and belligerence out there to get the job done. The ‘YEAH BUTS’ are alive and well, they aren’t going anyplace. Those who feel an obligation to fight are alive and well, they aren’t going anyplace. I’m not worried about a lack of the ‘YEAH BUTS’, correction, or belligerence. I want to be part of something different.

Books I Read In 2020

In 2020 I decided to limit my reading to female authors, writers of color, and authors of people-groups other than my own. This was such a great experience even though I caught some heat from a few Christians who felt I should not even be reading certain books…I’ll leave it up to you to guess which books these were.

I’m certain I’ve missed a couple, but here they are and not in the order in which I read them. Let me know if you have read any of them or if you think I’m a heretic for having done so.

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Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Chua, Amy

Angela Davis: An Autobiography

Does the Bible Condemn Gay People?: A Close Look at What Scripture Says About Homosexuality by Grant Andrews

The Shift: Surviving and Thriving after Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity by Colby Martin

Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture by Angela Y. Davis

Soul Care in African American Practice by Barbara L. Peacock

The Bible, Christianity, & Homosexuality by Justin R. Cannon

Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven by Amy-Jill Levine

The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation by Hugh Turley

Seeing Jesus in East Harlem: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put by José Humphreys

After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity by David P. Gushee

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee

“All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans (Myths Made in America) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker 

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice

Becoming by Michelle Obama

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Womanist Midrash: a reintroduction to the women of the Torah and the Throne. by Wilda C. Gagne

Does Jesus really love me? by Jeff Chu

Strength to love by Martin Luther King Jr.

And indigenous peoples history of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Do You Feel Like a Failure?

Failing is different than being a failure.

“John, you’re so good at trying.” – Moira Rose

To fail is the inevitable and reoccurring result of being human. There is an important difference between failing and being a failure. 

Thinking of oneself as a failure is the embracing of a false narrative that ignores or misses one’s true identity in God.

“I can’t do anything right.” = false narrative

“I’m so stupid.” = false narrative

“I screw up everything I set out to do.” = false narrative

“I’m a failure.” = false narrative

I have to push back against this false narrative in my life. I’ve failed in so many ways and so many times that it is easy for me to identify as a looser, poor excuse of a Christian, a failure. However, my friend Henri Nouwen, (Life of the Beloved) has helped me see my true identity as being “The Beloved of God.”

Do yourself a favor sometime. Get out a concordance, or find one online, and search for all the times the word “beloved” comes up. You will discover two things. First, Bible authors often referred to their readers as “beloved.” And, Bible authors often reminded their readers that they were the beloved of God.

You may have failed as a parent, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed as a wife or husband, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed in some area of addiction, but you are the beloved of God.

You may be a pastor and have failed to grow your church, despite having tried all the things the “experts” have told you, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed in developing a consistent devotional life, but you are the beloved of God.

You may have failed at imitating Jesus to the people around you, but you are the beloved of God.

Stop the false narrative. You are not a failure, you are the beloved of God. And even if you fail at stopping the false narrative, you are still the beloved of God.

A Poem of Hopeful Despair

TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE
by dave jacobs
 
 
There is too much violence.
There is too little peace.
 
There is too much argument.
There is too little communication.
 
There are too many strong opinions.
There is too little openness.
 
There is too much hate.
There is too little love.
 
There is too much talking.
There is too little listening.
 
There is too much pride.
There is too little humility.
 
There’s too much noise.
There is too little quiet.
 
There are too many sides.
There is too little unity.
 
There is too much black and white.
There is too little gray.
 
There is too much rejection.
There is too little acceptance.
 
There is too much Bible-quoting.
There is too little Bible-living.
 
There is too much bias.
There is too little objectivity.
 
There is too much fear.
There is too little faith.
 
There is too much suspicion.
There is too little proof.
 
There is too much judgment.
There is too little grace.
 
There is too much Bible-knowledge.
There is too little Jesus-imitating.
 
There is too much preying.
There is too little praying.
 
There is too much turbulence.
There is too little still water.

Don’t add pain to pain

The ‘Walk a Mile in His Moccasins’ quote is often contributed to various native American tribes, but it actually comes from a poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895. Lathrap, was an American poet, preacher, suffragist, and temperance reformer. For 20 years, she was identified with the progressive women of Michigan. The original title was Judge Softly.  

Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,  Or stumbles along the road.  Unless you have worn the moccasins, he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Don’t sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.
Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.
Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,
And its only wisdom and love that your heart contains.

For you know if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you,
As it did to him when he went astray,
It might cause you to falter, too.

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.

I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow minded, even unkind.
There are people on reservations and in the ghettos
Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.

Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and me.
Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions
And see the world through his spirit and eyes
Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.

Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.

15 Reasons People Are Leaving Your Church

In David P. Gushee’s ground breaking book: After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity (2020), the author’s research identified fifteen reasons why people are currently leaving the church. 

1. People leave churches to go to other churches.

2. Some leave because their faith in Christ has faded or lost salience. 

3. Some walk away because they are burned out from too many years of service. 

4. Some drift off to other weekend pursuits. 

5. Some leave because they got their feelings hurt. 

6. Some quit because they must work all the time or have complicated personal lives. 

7. Some abandon ship because they are tired of church conflict. 

8. Some leave for silly reasons. 

9. Others leave for reasons peculiar to the American evangelical experience. Those reasons begin with disillusionment over teachings that are viewed as harmful to the vulnerable. Some leave over the harm LGBTQ people and their families have experienced. 

10. Others leave over patriarchal teachings. 

11. Some leave over the damaging effects of purity culture. 

12. Others leave over white evangelical racism. 

13. Some say: all of the above. 

14. People are also leaving evangelical churches over reactionary attitudes toward science and liberal learning, over anti-intellectualism and theological rigidity, over the inability to deal with honest questions or anything other than all-happy-all-the-time faith, and over the identification of evangelical faith with conservative/Republican politics. 

15. The most embittered are leaving evangelicalism in a state of trauma, reporting their evangelical experience as one of abuse or violation. 

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David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and past President of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Kingdom EthicsChanging Our Mind, and Still Christian.

Malcolm X or MLK?

Recently I watched the documentary Who Killed Malcolm X? on Netflix. I’ve always been fascinated by this man’s rise to prominence within the Nation of Islam and the controversy surrounding his assassination in 1965. While Malcolm was fighting against racism and the oppression of black people, another minister was engaged in the same fight, Martin Luther King Jr. King will be gunned down three years after Malcolm.

Both Malcolm and MLK were responding to the same thing, but there couldn’t have been a more different approach between the two of them.

“Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom.” – Malcolm X

And then…

“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.” – Malcolm X

And in the documentary I heard him say in a meeting, “If the white man kills us, we’re gonna kill him back.”

I hope this doesn’t shock you but I really can’t blame Malcolm for promoting this way of thinking. Black Americans were being killed, unjustly incarcerated and discriminated against. They still are. Now contrast this with MLK’s approach to the same problem:

“World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.”

And again,

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

And my point?

At any given time I have a choice to respond to those in the church (Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, sisters and brothers) that I disagree with over very important issues and theologies, with either violent words and actions or non-violent words and actions. I can choose the way of Malcolm or the way of MLK.

Think of how you act when you are on social media and come across something that you passionately disagree with. Your blood starts to boil. Witty and mean responses begin to travel from your brain, down your arm to your hands, poised ready to bang on your keyboard. At that moment you have a choice, will I respond like Malcolm or MLK.

Although I understand Malcolm, I want to be like MLK. I want to practice non-violence. Will you join me?