I don’t know if I would call it naive, overly trusting, or simply ignorant, but innocently enough, I never thought to question the things that I was taught…in school, in jobs, in life. If someone was an expert, a professional, or a teacher with experience, I simply thought, “Who am I to question them?”
In many respects, this philosophy is wise and trustworthy. Those with experience and training often are the ones who we should rely on. In so many areas of my life, most especially when I became a parent, I learned from experts about safety, child-rearing, and many other aspects of life. The reality is that trusting someone who knows what they are doing is a valuable approach. But like any approach, it has pitfalls if there is not balance.
We cannot allow another person’s input, no matter how trustworthy or reliable they may be as “experts” to substitute for making up our own mind. I have written in a separate blog (here) about my ignorance related to the Bible. There are many serious warnings about being ignorant in the Scriptures and I point them out in that post. However, I want to look at ignorance from a slightly different angle, considering how to be wise and cautious about who we allow to be an authority in our lives, to help us answer life’s toughest questions, and who help influence what we think about important topics. Especially if that person is a “Philip”, someone who is guiding you in your understanding of the Bible.
Today’s culture has shown us how dangerous this type of blind trust in “experts” can be. Frankly, when the internet came along, this got even harder. You can find a smart person to make an argument about almost anything with facts that back it up online, whether we are talking politics, religion or science. So much of what is presented to us in the media is meant to make up our minds for us, not give us objective information to assess for ourselves. Moral relativism is making it harder to even claim anything as “truth” when there is “your truth” and “my truth”.
When many experts cannot agree on the “right” course or when there is only one acceptable “right” course and everyone else is silenced, we are left to assess it for ourselves. If we haven’t stretched our intellect to work through idealogical arguments, we will not be ready to do so when the stakes are high. The Bible lays out this pattern…milk for new believers and solid food for the mature (Hebrews 5).
Why be wary?
Let’s talk through the current state of the country in a few key areas to establish that “trust the experts” isn’t necessarily the best approach.
We have entrusted our children to public schools which most, including myself, would argue are better equipped to teach our children since they have the resources and training in childhood development. Many teachers have an incredible ability to connect with children and dedicate so much effort to their learning. They have a dedicated curriculum and path for development. I look up to many teachers from my formative years. However, as culture has shifted, the worldview being dictated by those in power to incorporate into education can result in them learning many things that contradict the Bible or other things you may not agree with. What happens if/when schools begin teaching things that contradict what we believe? They have our children for most of their waking hours and if the teaching becomes propaganda, what power do we have to overcome it? I’m not fatalistically claiming we are already there, but we need to ask ourselves whether the direction and authority behind our children’s education, most especially their worldview education, is appropriate.
A doctor is obviously thoroughly trained in their field but that doesn’t mean that their expert advice is up-to-date or the best course of action. This is particularly true of women’s health, where many aspects of a woman’s health simply aren’t taught at medical school. As an example of this, I’d like to share a bit of child-birthing history, which as we all know, women have been doing since the beginning of time. When women started giving birth at hospitals, they had a spike in deaths of the mother and baby. They later determined that the hospitals, not yet aware of bacteria and how it spreads, were not sufficiently cleaning their hands and they were dying from infections they got at the hospital from the staff passing germs. This phenomenon was called “childbed fever” and was a mystery for many years. We could look at the HPV vaccine, birth control, breast feeding or a number of other topics where women were told what was best for them without much explanation and it sometimes had disastrous consequences.
We have been sold the new “best thing” for years while later finding out that they are horribly bad for you. I could obviously point to smoking, but I want to capture a different trend. Dr. Pepper was first advertised and recommended as a meal replacement due to the high calories when it first came out…only to find that its extremely unhealthy and full of sugar without any nutrients. So we later replaced the sugar with a substitute, same great flavor and no negative consequences! Until there were.
There are so many discoveries that were sold as “consequence free” decadence that didn’t stand the test of time. I’m not saying any of these things were intentionally destructive. Simply that many of the shortcuts we have found didn’t turn out to be quite the wonderful things we thought. We have to keep our minds ready. We have to assess the reasoning of the “experts” and get into the habit of thinking for ourselves.
And then there is politics…I don’t want to tread too far on this topic, but we can probably all agree that politics have become more polarized and the conversations more confusing. There is a standard, accepted narrative and then there are the nay-sayers or those who fall short who are “cancelled”. When we boil it down, we have to remember that we often agree on the problem. For example, we want to help the poor and we want people of all colors to be treated fairly. We used to argue over the solution, but now we are arguing over the moral rightness of a great many things. We are no longer simply discussing small versus big government or international affairs, no matter where you find yourself on the aisle. Blindly taking one side or another is going to lead to much larger consequences based on the current stakes.
Now, I’m going to zoom in and switch to some of my own experiences. My husband is an incredibly handy man, just like his father. He knows how to build things, fix things, and design things. It’s quite a gift. But I was extremely wary of him doing work himself that I felt should be reserved for a “professional”. So when our sump pump wasn’t working, I insisted he call a professional. After a bunch of arguments and a few failed attempts himself, we called a specialist. We replaced the sump pump for over $750 and it didn’t solve the problem at all! After some investigating and discussions among “fix it” friends, Cameron figured out the simple fix himself and it didn’t cost a dime. We wasted a lot of money on a replacement that we didn’t need when we let the expert “take care of it”. Now, this doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen. And even if it is the right fix, man can labor be expensive! This situation, among others, really caused me to begin to question my blind trust in “experts”.
Religion is no exception to this. Simply take a look at the structure for religious teaching through academia and places like seminary. Many, even most, of the schools that prepare you for a role as a paster of some sort teach theology as one of their primary objectives. You read ideas from Calvin and Augustine and other theological scholars and hear their interpretations. Theology, in fact, is not the study of the Scriptures-it’s the study of someone else’s interpretation of the Scriptures meaning. But remember, Jesus chose mostly uneducated men to spread the Gospel, so we needn’t place a requirement that doesn’t exist on those who teach the Bible.
If you wanted to study the actual substance of the Biblical text in an academic setting, you are more likely to find that opportunity by selecting “Biblical studies” as your major. Just because someone has a professional education in religion, doesn’t mean that they have actually been taught about the Bible itself. In fact, some colleges offer religious classes that are intended to cast doubt on the Bible through their theological argument, accepting it as a historical document but not as the word of God. A good test to help gauge if a teacher is giving you a Biblically based argument vs. a theological argument, ask a teacher to make their argument using only the Scriptures, not the position of a Church or philosopher.
For example, in Romans 14, there is a disagreement about which days are considered holy days. This is understandable considering the significant differences in special days between Jews and non-Jews: Sabbath, Passover, Feasts, etc. In verse 5, Paul says “One person considers one day more sacred than another, another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Now, the context of this verse is about holidays and not imposing them on others, but I think that the process can be extrapolated. We need to be fully convinced of the positions we hold. We should not simply do it because someone else says it should be done.
Without getting into the religious experts of today, we can simply illustrate the pitfalls of “experts” using the examples in the Bible. The religious experts (Sadducees, Pharisees, Scribes) in the time of Christ had built a system of traditions and interpretations (theology) to allow a donation to the Temple to excuse them from their responsibility to care for their parents. Jesus rebukes them harshly in Mark 7 for teaching a tradition that allowed for violating God’s law!
It is certainly not my intent to argue that no one can be trusted, but simply that many of the groups that we blindly trust are also vulnerable to being wrong and leading us astray. So without writing off everyone and arguing that no one has credibility, how can we dig into issues ourselves and weigh in on topics that those in authority institute on us.
We will start with the easiest type of authority, which also happens to be the greatest authority that exists…God and His words given to us in the Bible itself. The Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Tim 3:16) and is authoritative. Look at this next verse with me:
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” 1 Thess 2:13
The Creator of everything has ultimate authority (which has been given to Jesus) and His words are authoritative. Now, we should be careful to consider the context and the type of passage as we read the Bible. If we only read what the Bible records as the advice of Job’s friends, and quote their words without knowing the full story, then we are at risk of being just as wrong as they were found to be in the end. However, when considering context and language type, we can trust the word of God recorded in the Bible. After all, His Word is truth (John 17:17).
So our sources of earthly authority should be vetted according to God’s authority. If anyone, even an authority over us, contradicts the Bible, then we must not obey. The Bible is to be used as our standard of living. 2 Timothy 3:16 says: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” So in order to be able to vet other authority by God’s standard using the Bible, we must seek to actually understand what the Bible says.
Learning the Scriptures – What does it say?
I love it when the Scriptures explain and prove themselves. The example I gave in my post on Ignorance is from Acts 8, starting in verse 26. The Ethiopian is asking what a verse in Isaiah means and the answer is provided and explained in Acts through Philip, the teacher God sent to him. It was a prophecy about Jesus! Question answered! We don’t have to wonder…the New Testament Scriptures explain and interpret the Old Testament Scriptures in many cases. The Bible explains itself. Jesus did this often, simply by answering questions using Scriptures. Many confusing passages in the Old Testament are clarified and explained in the New Testament, in part because a lot of it was misunderstood! God also explained His plan for redeeming His people in the New Testament. The list is long, but here are a few: Jesus as High Priest and King (Hebrews), the New Covenant (also Hebrews), the Spiritual Kingdom (rather than the physical one they thought), the mystery of the plan of God revealed through the Church (Ephesians), Prophecies about Jesus and other events like Judas’s betrayal and replacement.
Even if we recognize that the Bible is authoritative and we consider the context, we must still be careful when we are discussing/studying the Bible. There is a difference between helping someone understand how to study and connect the ideas in the Bible and someone teaching you theology, or put more simply, teaching you their interpretation of Scriptures.
Let’s use an example: In 1 Peter 3:21, it says “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
To understand this passage in the Bible, we need to break it apart. The passage above it references Noah being saved through water, so the verse is comparing Baptism (immersion is the literal definition of the word) to Noah being saved through water. The verse clarifies that the water is not special…it is not for cleaning physically, but it is an intentional choice to act in faith toward God that reflects the resurrection of Jesus. I can send you to Romans 6:3 to better connect the idea of the resurrection and baptism.
I’ve just outlined an attempt at helping someone to understand what the Scriptures are talking about. It is the same type of exercise you probably did in school to show you understood what you just read. You explain what it means in your own words. According to the Scripture, baptism is a part of salvation and it is compared to Noah and it symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus. That is a paraphrase of the statement made in the verse.
A theology discussion of this passage would look quite different. One might discuss whether or not it is essential to be baptized to be saved or use this in the general discussion of salvation. You could discuss the symbolism of the act of baptism and what the idea of “an answer of a good conscience” might mean. You may consider other scholars interpretation. There are many discussions about what that passage means with respect to larger religious ideas, but that is not the same as simply understanding what the passage itself says in relation to the rest of the Bible. There is value to these larger ideas, but not before we have a foundational understanding of the plain text of the Bible and how it works together.
If we genuinely want to better understand the Scriptures, we have to approach it from the perspective of trying to figure out how to boil it down to simply “What does it say?” first. Do you see the argument the Scripture is making here? Do you understand what we just read?
Finding a teacher
As the age-old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” The goal is not to tell you what it means but to help you to begin to piece it together for yourself.
We need to look for a guide like this when seeking to understand the Bible. The theological arguments should not be dictated to you by someone else but you should be able to follow the argument and agree with it. In order to do that, you have to be ready to move from what the Scripture says to putting together the overall meaning of the ideas. You need a foundation first! The Bible crafts a wonderfully convincing argument all by itself, we simply need to help others piece it together until they can do so themselves.
You may have some deep questions about important topics that you need clarification on, but if you don’t have a good understanding of the overarching thesis of the Bible, that all people needed rescuing and how God accomplished that through Jesus, then you may not yet be ready to reason through the different positions on the topic. It is possible to have a topical study to work through some of these topics, especially if you feel it is important to your decision to become a Christian, but you will usually need to revisit the topic later to more fully reason through it for yourself. I have quite a few personal examples that came up for me as I was learning the Scriptures, and more fully understanding the Bible helped me tremendously in defining my own position in the end.
Someone who is interested only in telling you what a passage means and interpreting it for you is not teaching you how to reason it out for yourself or helping you become a student of the Bible. There are plenty of people who will talk to you about the Bible and have very deep ideas and arguments, but if you aren’t being taught to fish, taught to simply understand the Bible argument alone…you need to beware. Satan is fighting for your soul, and we make it easy for him to twist the truth (the Bible) when we don’t fully understand it ourselves. Not everyone preaching about Jesus is actually a Child of God. Some of them are actually leading you astray, possibly even unintentionally. After all, they were taught by someone too.
Matthew 24:24: For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect [Christians].
2 Tim 4:3-4: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Acts 20:28-30: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
We are expected to mature to a point where we can understand more mature things. The work of a Christian only begins with the milk and God knows when we have neglected to move on to maturity. In the day of judgement, we will stand before God alone. Our preacher, parent, spouse or teacher doesn’t get to answer for us. Romans 14:12 says that at the judgement “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
Jesus has graciously forgiven our sins! God has given us rescue! We need to have an answer for what we stood for as it relates to God and the Bible. We are accountable for it and we have been given the instruction manual through the Bible and the ability to accomplish it with God’s help. Let’s mature to the point of understanding what it means, so that we can develop a reasoned position on theology or doctrine and do the heavy work of changing our lives accordingly through God’s power and help.
“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 1:9
Let us reason together
While I find it most important to consider and reason through the Bible, this is obviously a good approach to dealing with any topic that you are evaluating in life.
In order to assess confusing topics, we have to assess: “What is the problem?”, “What has caused the problem?”, “What is the proposed solution?” and then lastly and most importantly “What do I think of these reasonings?” We have to begin with understanding the issue itself and a look at the complete picture of the data before we can make up our mind about whether we are convinced of the correctness of the direction. This process of reasoning for ourselves will help us to navigate all of these issues more carefully.
In the end, we may determine that we agree with the expert or teacher, but we can know that we haven’t done so blindly and understand more fully what we have committed to. Now, with access to more experts than ever before thanks to the internet, we need to be thinking about what we are getting into and whether we truly agree. Even in Christianity, not all teachings are accepted by God. Let’s refine our understanding about the Bible and the important positions we hold in the rest of our lives to make sure we are upholding the standard we claim to live by and can actually defend the position we take.