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People of the Book

I've seen several iterations of this online, and each time it makes me annoyed. Someone posts some wildly inaccurate meme about a biblical story. For example, a post incredulously asking how Adam and Eve are the common ancestors of all people if they only had two sons. Even a cursory reading of the source material demonstrates that this “smoking gun” simply gets the points incorrect and that the Bible clearly notes that besides Cain and Abel they had “other sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:4). I mean the birth of Seth is in the same chapter as Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) and shows shows the “two-sons” claim is wrong right off the bat. And this sort of fast and loose criticism of the Bible is not relegated to social media. Years ago, I stopped listening to NPR’s Science Friday after an episode where host Ira Flatow had a “debate” about Intelligent Design where the evolution expert confidently asserted the ridiculousness of Creation, including the act of Adam putting two of each animal on the Ark. Obviously, no one says everyone on earth has to subscribe to every belief system but, at the very least, get the basic facts of your disagreement correct. But the part that is most irritating isn't the blatant ignorance of those casting out these erroneous points; it's that the Christians around them allow them to go unchecked.

In the case of the Science Friday episode, while the person opposing Intelligent Design was some sort of scientist by profession (so many years later, I can't recall which field), the guest brought on to engage him was a generic Christian who—as far as could be told by her introduction—had no scientific background whatsoever. The entire setup was appalling on several levels. And while I definitely found the uneven matchup to be farcical for a show on science, I couldn't help but have a bit of my irritation directed at the Christian guest as well. After all, some of the things being said were things your average Sabbath School (or Sunday School) teacher should have been able to refute. Yet, they were glossed over uncorrected. Likewise, these social media comments opposing the Bible are often flooded with responses by Christians who defend the Word with statements like, “Well you just can't understand if you don't have faith.”  Hmmm. How about, “Your foundational premise is off; read the Bible before commenting about it.”  Now I'm definitely not advocating that believers should start arguing with folks each and every time they come across one of these postings. However, if you insist on wading into the fray, you ought to dispute the original false statement. But I'm embarrassed to note that even on my friends’ timelines, I've seen them engage in protracted and heated exchanges with nonbelievers where no attempt has been made to disabuse them of the things they think the Bible says.

Why does this happen?  It’s not that these believers are simply ignoring the content to avoid argument. Obviously, they are willing to participate in the dialogue. The only logical conclusion is that these Christians themselves are ignorant to what the Word says! It's a sad commentary on the state of Biblical literacy among Christians. This is a ubiquitous problem throughout Christendom: while Adventists used to boast about being “People of the Book,” the ignorance is observable in our denomination as well. I recall starting a new church assignment and asking for youth and young adult volunteers to help with VBS. There were several willing helpers for which I was grateful. But I saw that many of the volunteers often knew only as much as or less than the Biblical topics as the children did!

Pastors and bible workers do members a disservice when we provide fill in the blank Bible Study guides as the extent of baptismal preparation and evangelism. And we shouldn't use quarterlies with “here's the answer to the question right in this sentence” and call that discipleship. When parents send students to our academies and colleges and become incensed that their children are challenged to use critical thinking, we fail on two fronts: 1) by having set up the expectation that our institutions’ primary goal is indoctrination and 2) when we acquiesce to their demands and reprimand instructors or water down curriculum. Sadly, our young people often learn the broad strokes of Bible stories as presented on felt boards and never graduate to more detailed, refined, or nuanced understandings of the Bible. This is not to say that everyone ought to be a Hebrew and Greek scholar, but knowing that all of the animals weren't taken to the Ark two by two is a low bar to strive for.

And as much as I can criticize our churches and church schools, there also exists a level of individual responsibility. In the vast majority of the world, it's relatively easy to get a physical copy of the Bible and/or access to a Bible app or online version. There's little excuse for people not to read it for themselves. There may be times when, like the Ethiopian court official (Acts 8), it becomes necessary for someone to help explain finer points to aid in understanding. But not understanding some of the theological details doesn't preclude one from studying the salient and simple concepts.

With half of the year behind us, many folks have long forgotten their New Year's resolutions (if they made any). If you recognize the fact that you likely need a boost in your Bible knowledge, why not take advantage of this opportunity to make a “Half-year resolution”? Start a Bible reading plan that will carry you through the next six months. Join or form a small group or class to supplement your Sabbath School class. Get a reading buddy or book club friend and focus on a book of the Bible. Because if we want to claim that we're “People of the Book,” we have to first open the Book. And the next time God gives you a chance to have a meaningful conversation about the Word with someone who is confused about the Bible, you can share something more substantive than, “just have faith.”

 

Courtney Ray is an ordained pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

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