Top Tips for Bible Study This New Year

Well, it looks like once again my post is late, this time by about two weeks.  Oh well, what can I do? (maybe actually write them on time) So, here we go.

Today, I’m gonna go over a few helpful tips that may be useful to you’re interested in Bible study.  I’m fairly certain most of my readers are, though if you aren’t, feel free to skip this post.  Or don’t, you might still find it interesting.  All of these techniques I use on a regular basis and have found extremely helpful.

  1. Understand Genre: One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen many people make (I’m guilty of having made this mistake myself) is not recognizing the genre of a book in the Bible.  A book’s genre will greatly affect its meaning and value.  The Bible is a diverse collection of documents and ideas written over thousands of years, so pinning down a single book can make it much easier to understand.  Is it history, wisdom, parable, prophecy, apocalypse, gospel, myth, a letter (and which type of letter) or even a collection of erotic poetry (I’m looking at you Song of Songs).  These are just a sampling of the genres found in the Bible.  If you aren’t sure of a book’s genre, look it up, you’ll find plenty of helpful resources available online.
  2. Attempt to understand the original intent: Unfortunately for many of the books in the Bible, it’s difficult to decisively determine the original author’s meaning.  For some, it’s not even possible.  This is why we have over 40,000 denominations today, even though we’re all basing it off of (mostly) the same books.  In spite of this, don’t give up hope!  We can certainly try!  Researching the context in which a book was written can prove very useful, and we have a wealth of commentaries, some dating back to within decades of when these books were written, others from the top Biblical scholars of today.  Often times meaning can be distorted or even lost in the translation process.  Luckily, the everyday user can now find resources that will allow them to compare copies of the original texts with modern English.  If you’re extra-curious, turn to some extra-biblical texts.  These can help open your eyes to the world around the Biblical authors and understand events, culture, and social norms that may have influenced them.
  3. View the Bible Through the Lens of Christ: Some of you may be familiar with the term “hermeneutic”.  While this may sound like a technical, esoteric term, it really isn’t.  All a hermeneutic is is the viewpoint or perspective through which you study the bible.  There are many different hermeneutics out there, all of which are useful for extrapolating different meanings from the text.  One of my favorites is to view the Bible through the lens of Christ and his teachings.  As the Bible is so big and full of so many different ideas, I find this helpful in digging up truth that can be applied to my life.
  4. Midrash Aggadah: Study the Bible like Jesus!: Better yet, why not study the Bible like Jesus!  Due to the ambiguous nature of some portions of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Jews had (and still have) a variety of study techniques for different situations.  One such tool is Midrash Aggadah, and it just so happens to be one of those favored by Jesus in the Gospels.  Rather than focusing on the legalistic nature of a passage, Midrash Aggadah attempts to find and extract the moral meaning or message from it.  Jesus would use this to find radically different and sometimes even new meaning from the same texts those around him were studying.  This isn’t just for the Hebrew Bible though, it’s also useful when studying the New Testament as well.
  5. Pray: Different groups of Christians have different opinions on the purpose and usefulness of prayer, but one thing that most agree on is for guidance from the Holy Spirit, or presence of God.  If you’re feeling puzzled by a passage, take a break, pray, and come back to it later.  You might just stumble upon a meaning you missed earlier.
  6. Study with Other Believers: One of the perks of being a part of a religious group (i.e. church) is being a member of a collection of different people.  Each of you comes from a different walk of life with their own unique traits and experiences.  By discussing your studies together, or even studying together, you can share your insights with others, and likewise, hear from them.  You might just be surprised by what you hear, and in a good way!
  7. Don’t Be Afraid to Get It “Wrong”: I would agree with the statement that there is objective truth in the Bible, and that many passages have a definitive intended meaning.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout history and even today, is that this meaning can be difficult to find, and that not everyone is going to agree.  This is ok.  The purpose of your Bible study isn’t to find this objective truth, because frankly, it’s impossible.  Rather, it should be to build your relationship with God and other believers, and to find truths that apply to your life.  Many Bible passages were written with the intent of having multiple meanings, this is even built into the very language much of it was written in.  So when you and your peers come to different conclusions, don’t be discouraged, but encouraged.  With the right mindset, you might just learn something new.

So here are seven tips for a new year, I figured that’s a good number.  I often employ a very academic approach when studying the Bible, which some of you may find unfamiliar or even uncomfortable.  That’s fine.  What works for me will not necessarily work for you.  I do hope, however, that for those who are interested, I’ve inspired a year of discovery and reinvested interest.  And who knows, you might even employ a trick or two that I’ve discussed today.

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New Posts Coming Soon

Hey guys, sorry for not posting anything these last couple of weeks!  I’ve been on break from school, and spent a lot of time visiting with friends and family.  I probably could have fit in a post or two, but it just didn’t end up happening.  I promise to post something by the beginning of next week, even if it’s just a short snippet or game playthrough.  Happy New Year!

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The Banner Saga Playthrough-Part Four

Hey everyone, welcome back to my playthrough of The Banner Saga!  Today I’ll be playing Chapters Five and Six.

If you’re new to my playthrough but are interested in watching, I’d strongly recommend going back and watching Parts One, Two, and Three first.

Chapter Five is very short ( as in less than 10 minutes) and introduces a new, and very important, character in addition to expanding on the world’s mythology.  Chapter Six returns to a more traditional format and follows Rook’s journey, as well as how terrible I am at resource management.

If you’ve enjoyed my playthrough so far continue to watch and please and support the developers at Stoic Studios by purchasing their games and soundtracks.  The Banner Saga Trilogy is available on all major platforms (including smartphones) and is rated T for Teen.

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On God Providing and Why Bad Things Happen

A common theme we see throughout both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament is that “God will provide”.  This is assured both implicitly and explicitly hundreds, if not thousands of times (If someone could give an exact number in the comments that would be greatly appreciated).  As such I am not going to bother going over exact verses today, rather, I’ll be going over what I take away from them and what that means.

Numerous times throughout the Bible we see God provide for his creation, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in little ways, and often in ways in between.  We see this in history, poetry, myth, genealogy, prophecy, and parable.  It’s one of the most shared ideas among the authors of the different biblical books, and it is certainly a comforting one.  So then why do so many people go without, and suffer in our world?

When I see “God will provide” I read it as “God has provided”.  Sure, I believe miracles can and have happened, but I’m pretty sceptical of them in general.  Rather, I believe God has provided from the start.  We have the resources to stop poverty, reduce violence and discrimination, and to lift up “the least of these” (Oops, it looks like I just quoted a Bible verse.  Bummer.)  But you know what?  Largely, we’ve chosen not to.

A common question and field of thought is, Why could an omnipotent and completely good God allow bad things to happen?  Known as Theodicy, this discussion and often debate has been pursued by humankind for thousands of years, and has no clear answer.  Things get even more complicated (albeit more interesting) when you throw things like atheism and non-deistic religions/spiritualities into the mix.  So why does God allow bad things to happen?  I’m gonna turn that question right around.  Why do we allow bad things to happen?  God has provided, we have everything we need.  The world will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get it pretty darn close.  Sometimes as Christians (if you, the reader, are one) we hyper-focus on the Great Commission (Spread the Good News) and forget or place too-little emphasis on the Great Commandment (Love God, Love Others).  After all, didn’t the Great Commandment come first, and isn’t it the core of all Christ’s teachings?  Many of the problems in the world are our fault.  We choose to allow them to happen, to still exist.  So why do we allow bad things to happen?

 

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The Banner Saga Playthrough-Part Three

Greetings, to the several people who are watching my playthrough of The Banner Saga.  Last week I took a brief hiatus for Thanksgiving, and now we’ll jump right back into the action with Chapter Four.

If you’re new to my playthrough but are interested in watching, I’d strongly recommend going back and watching Part One and Part Two first.

Chapter Four returns to Rook and friends as they realize their newly found haven may not be as safe as they initially expected and follows them as they seek new shelter from the encroaching Dredge.

If you’ve enjoyed my playthrough so far continue to watch and please and support the developers at Stoic Studios by purchasing their games and soundtracks.  The Banner Saga Trilogy is available on all major platforms (including smartphones) and is rated T for Teen.

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What is Generational Theology?

As promised, today I’ll be going over a theology topic.  It’s not a particularly deep topic, nor is it inherently complicated, but it an important topic that I think doesn’t get addressed enough.

Merriam-Webster defines theology as

the study of religious faith, practice, and experience
especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world

Essentially, theology is how we view God, God’s nature, and how these views will affect the way we live our life.  While the term theology can technically refer to any religion, it usually is usually used when discussing Abrahamic religions, and when I use it will be in reference to Christianity unless I say otherwise.

In an ideal world, we (Christians), would come to our theological standpoints after extensively studying the Bible, church history/tradition, translation/canon issues, etc.  However, most Christians don’t have the time or interest to do so.  Most will be content to simply listen to sermons and/or go to Sunday school and/or do the occasional guided bible study.  This is perfectly fine.  Not everyone needs to be a theologian, and after all, it’s more important as a Christian how we live our lives than if we can complete a multiple choice test on what’s “proper theology”.  Because spoiler alert, with over 40,000 denominations worldwide, with an estimated two new ones forming every day, I can guarantee that everyone is a heretic to someone.  The danger, however, that can (and often does) stem from taking what we’re told about God at face value, is Generational Theology.

So, what is Generational Theology?  Simply put, Generational Theology is any theological belief that is relatively new but we assume has always been a Christian belief simply because it’s been believed for a couple of generations or more.  Basically, we forget that it wasn’t always an accepted belief.  Generational Theology is not an inherently “good” or “bad” thing, but it often has negative consequences.

The purpose of this post is not to tell you what to believe theologically, but rather to foster critical thinking so you will examine your beliefs and come to the conclusion of what you believe is true.  Having an informed opinion is important.  That being said, I feel I should give a clear example of Generational Theology, one that hopefully shouldn’t be too controversial.  So, here’s one: The Rapture.

That’s right, the Rapture is not a biblical concept and is quite new in Christianity, less than 200 years old in fact.  Historically, the book of Revelation has been viewed as allegorical or metaphorical, it actually wasn’t originally supposed to be in the Bible.  It is an example of the Apocalypse genre, a genre of literature that was quite popular but largely denounced among early Christianity.  When establishing the Biblical canon (which in and of itself is a complicated topic) the addition of Revelation to the canon was hugely controversial.  The majority of authorities were against it, but a vocal minority was able to just barely get it in.  Even if we were to assume the book of Revelation was to be taken literally, the term “Rapture” is never found in any form inside.  To this day the majority of Christians worldwide don’t believe in the Rapture, or the idea that believers will be taken up to Heaven at the end times and then Jesus will come back and commit torture and genocide on all unbelievers all whilst fighting the antichrist (Who by the way, was Nero Caesar.  The Antichrist has already lived and died).  The idea of the rapture originated with Puritans and was popularized by John Nelson Darby, a theologian who was frequently criticized for rejecting Christ’s nature and the message of the Gospel.  So, as much as you may think the Rapture has always been a Christian belief, it has not, and even today is not believed by the majority of Christians.

Hopefully, now you understand the importance of thinking critically.  There’s no need to become a full-blown theologian or even put in an enormous amount of effort if that doesn’t interest you, but I’ve found this mantra helpful:

If you can’t imagine Jesus doing, saying, or teaching it; it probably isn’t true.

After all, God gave us brains, we might as well use them.  Or, as the author of Proverbs more aptly put,

It is the Glory of God to conceal a matter, and the honor of Kings to discern it

Proverbs 25:2

That’s it for this post, have a good week and a Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

 

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The Banner Saga Playthrough-Part Two

Hey everyone, I’m back with the second part of my The Banner Saga playthrough.  Remember how I promised it would be shorter?  Well, it technically is, but only by like 10 minutes.  Apparently, Chapter Three was much longer than I remembered.

If you haven’t watched the first part you can watch it here.

Chapter Three focuses on Hakon’s party as they continue their journey in the wake of SPOILER’s death, and continue to face the unexpected threat of the Dredge.

If you miss my traditional blog posts, worry not, because next time I will be writing another of my in-depth theological examination.

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The Banner Saga Playthrough-Part One

Hey everybody, I know, I haven’t written a post of any kind in forever.  I have no good excuse for not doing any, so I’m not going to offer one, instead, I’ll just start creating new ones on a more regular basis.

In addition to normal blog posts, I’ve also started a no-commentary playthrough of the first Banner Saga Game.  This first part encompasses the first two chapters, future playthroughs will be one chapter at a time.

The Banner Saga is a Trilogy of Strategy RPG’s with a strong emphasis on mature storytelling and difficult decisions.  Gameplay is split between a tactical chess-like battle system and an adventure game-esque caravan simulator, reminiscent of the Oregan Trail.

The first Banner Saga game (aptly titled “The Banner Saga”) is a Low-Fantasy Nordic epic following two bands of refugees as they flee from a mysterious foe in a world were the sun itself has stopped in the sky only days ago.  Released in 2014, it received universal acclaim for its gorgeous art style (inspired by Eyvind Earle, the artist who created Disney’s Sleeping Beauty) and evocative score by Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory.  It went on to spawn an entire trilogy of games, where every choice you make has lasting consequences that carry into the next entry.

Interested?  I hope so.  Below I’ve embedded the first part of my playthrough, on YouTube.  It clocks in around 1:42 hours, further entries will be shorter.  It’s available to watch up to 1080p60, though is available at lower resolutions if that’s all your device can output.  If you enjoy the first two chapters please continue to watch my playthrough (new parts released every few days) and support the developers at Stoic Studios by purchasing their games and soundtracks.  The Banner Saga Trilogy is available on all major platforms (including smartphones) and is rated T for Teen.

 

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Your Vote Counts

Hey everyone, just a reminder to all of my American readers to register to vote.  If you haven’t already, please do so.  If and when you are registered, please remember to go and vote for the candidates and policies you feel will benefit all people-groups in America the best.  America has one of the worst voter turnout rates out of any developed country in the world, which is especially ironic since we place such a high emphasis on democracy.  Your Vote Does Count, so make sure to cast it and remind those you know to do so as well!

 

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Social Justice: Not Compatible with Christianity?

If you’ve been paying any attention to American Christianity lately, you’ve probably heard of the “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel“.  If you’ve taken the time to read it, chances are you’ve found at least part of it to be confused and/or concerning, and when you consider that thousands of prominent Evangelical (in this post Evangelical means any Christian group who affirms any form of Biblical-Inerrancy, which yes, still refers to a broad range of viewpoints, but at least narrows it down a little) it becomes especially alarming.  If you still haven’t read it and would like to, you can find it here.

While it is well-organized and not particularly dense, “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” is somewhat lengthy so I’m not going to over the entire thing today.  I will look at a few highlights and compare them with the Bible (which they claim to have based it on) and reality.  I’ll then briefly summarize why Social Justice is integral to the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus, the principles on which Christians supposedly follow.

  • (Stated Purpose): “We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement.” So far nothing inherently wrong, but as we’ll see their purpose comes to clash with the content of their statement.
  • “We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching” Well, it appears we’re running into problems right on the first page.  First, let’s take a moment with what each of these ideologies actually is.
    • Intersectionality: “An analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” (Wikipedia)  It appears that intersectionality is not a set ideology, but rather a problem-solving method for discerning how aspects of society can oppress the marginalized in society.  Saying this contradicts scriptures is like saying using a calculator or psychology contradicts it, far too generalized too actually mean anything.  In addition, we can consistently find in both the New and Old Testaments teachings and commandments to lift up the marginalized in society, specifically forming a key part of Jesus’ ministry.
    • Radical feminism: “A perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.” (Wikipedia)  First of all, it’s important to note that no perspective within feminism believes or calls for women ruling over or being treated “more equal” than men.  If someone believes and/or acts upon that, they are no longer a feminist.  Throughout most of Church history, we have seen Christians striving to change society (and often succeeding) for better or worse.  And hopefully, now we all view men and women as equal and believe they should be treated as such.  Again, nothing un-Christian here, though you are welcome to disagree with this approach to feminism personally (I myself tend to lean more towards traditional Liberal feminism with a tinge of Black and Marxist feminism).
    • Critical race theory: “A theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power.” (Wikipedia)  This denial just has some nasty racial subtext.  It’s essentially calling for freedom from accountability of Christianity’s racist past.  No, not all Christians supported slavery, and while they were also at the forefront of the abolition movement, just as many if not arguably more supported it.  The problem is Scripture can be twisted to mean almost anything you want, often leading to oppression/exclusion.  So denying a research method that seeks to examine racism in society betrays underlying beliefs of the documents’ creators.
  • “WE AFFIRM that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection.”  No complaints here, I actually like this one.
  • “We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”  There’s a difference between literal biblical and Christian righteousness.  One often calls for violence and oppression, the other will always call for peace.  Once again, the problem with following a “biblical” model of righteousness is that the Bible can be twisted into almost whatever you want, evidenced best in the slavery/abolition debate.  Both justified themselves with Scripture, but clearly only one was Christian.
  • “WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living.”  Unfortunately, the Abrahamic law does not cover all possible legal or moral issues, and some of it clearly very wrong (as Jesus himself taught).  There are many things that nearly all Christians (and people in general) consider wrong, but are not explicitly covered in the Bible.  Once again, this denial is an attempt to escape accountability, because “if it’s not explicitly there they should not be bound legally by it.”
  • “WE AFFIRM that all people are connected to Adam both naturally and federally.” Please define and justify the statement “connected to Adam…federally”.
  • “WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.”  Yes, the gospel books are themselves complete.  However, the Gospel itself is the Good News, which can be summed by both the Great Commandment (Love God, Love others) and the Great Commission (Go forth and spread the Good News).  I would think the Great Commandment includes Social Justice, and the Great Commission is not really directly related to, being in itself concerned with evangelism.
  • “Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ.”  While noticeably lacking in a few demographics, I have not contention with this statement.
  • “We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.” Technically true but laws and regulations can reduce sinful behavior, especially that which bring harm to others.
  • WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith.”  I really don’t see what this section is doing in a statement on Social Justice.  The only reason I could think of is the authors are basically saying “If you don’t agree with us, you’re not a real Christian”.  So to the other 40,000+ Christian denominations out there, many of whom view Social Justice as a positive force or for some even an integral part of Christianity, sorry.  I guess according to these guys your fake.
  • Most of the “Sexuality and Marriage” section Regardless of what you think about subjects such as gay marriage, we really need to stop saying sexual orientation is a choice (because it’s not).  In addition, their statements on gender expression are wrong, because “male” and “female” does not mean the same thing in every part of the world.  Western gender norms are quite different than those we would see in biblical times, as well.  And conversion therapy?  Just no.
  •  The entire “Complementarianism” section: Separate but equal is not equal.
  • “All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.” Fair enough. It’s an old concept, but it checks out.  Move along.
  • “WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin” I hope so.
  • “We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions.” Here it is, literal, explicit, they’re saying it themselves, no subtext required denial of Christianity’s role in racism.  No, racism is not Christian, and no, not all Christians back then were racist but racism and slavery were most definitely convictions of not just evangelical Christianity but other groups as well for hundreds of years.  This is an explicit denial, not an apology or even an explanation!
  • “Historically, such things [Discussions of Racism] tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.” So the church discussing racism will ultimately lead to departure from the good news…not sure I follow.

 

Ok, so maybe I looked at more than a few points, but it was kinda’ hard not to.

Is an interest in Social Justice actually newfound in Christianity?  If you know your history (or have access to Google), it appears not: “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.” (https://www.dallasnews.com)

A recurring theme in many Biblical teachings is caring for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and lifting them out these situations.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mathew 25:40, NRSV)

A significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved social justice.  His teachings were radical and viewed as “heresy” by many of the leading religious leaders at the time.  I truly hope this document represents a minority belief in American Christianity, but it’s over 8,000 signers (at the time of this writing) suggest otherwise.  To reject social justice is to reject the Gospel itself.

 

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