The third president’s attempts to revise Scripture offer a warning about our own tendency to “edit” the truth.
I first heard of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible as a warning. I was a teenager in a Bible study, and one of the pastors of the church brought up the third American president and his effort to “fix” the Scripture. Jefferson—who wrote the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”—took for himself the liberty of editing the Gospels. He cut them up, using a sharp knife to excise what he saw as the problematic parts of the sacred text.
But, the pastor said, don’t we all kind of do that? We have our favorite verses. And there are other parts of the Bible we ignore. Whether or not we wield actual scissors, we have to be careful, because it’s so easy to mutilate the Word of God.
There is certainly some truth to this, but it turns out it is not as easy to “fix” the Scripture as that pastor imagined. Jefferson, at least, had a hard time of it, according to a fascinating new book by Peter Manseau, the curator of American religious history at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The Bible resisted Jefferson’s cuts, and the truth is stronger than its would-be editors.
The Jefferson Bible: A Biography is part of an excellent Princeton University Press series on the “lives of great religious books.” This installment follows titles on John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, and C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, not to mention “biographies” of the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Job, Song of Songs, and Revelation. ...
The Trump era was not a new Babylon, and the Biden era will be no new Jerusalem. (And vice versa.)
Nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ, the city of Jerusalem was besieged, conquered, and razed by the Babylonian empire. The victorious invaders captured the king, destroyed the temple, and took thousands of Israelites into exile in Babylon.
Christians have long looked to stories and prophecies from the Exile era for guidance in how to live as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11) whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). There’s the wisdom of Daniel, the shrewdness of Esther and Mordecai, the righteousness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The exile framework for examining our lives and conforming them more to Christ can be especially useful in times of political and social upheaval, and this year is certainly one of those times.
The presidential election results bring exile to mind for many American Christians. For those on the political right, the victory of President-elect Joe Biden may seem like the start of a season of hardship. Author and legal scholar F. LaGard Smith made this link explicit in a recent contribution to The Christian Post, warning that our country is “headed to Babylon” because of how a Democratic administration will facilitate an ongoing “national moral rebellion” that will curtail religious liberty. For those on the political left or center, meanwhile, the defeat of President Donald Trump may seem a kind of release and restoration, an opportunity to return to older, better patterns of life, as the Israelites did when they were finally able to rebuild Jerusalem.
I too am troubled by the drift of public opinion on religious liberty, and I too am glad Trump will leave public office—that is, I understand why both perceptions make ...
Even among Christians who agree Scripture comes first, there’s a debate over whether to learn from or reject secular theories that see racism as structural.
A year and a half after passing a controversial resolution on critical race theory, Southern Baptists are debating the topic again.
Seminary presidents issued a statement last week saying that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory” is incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination’s core beliefs.
Their statement launched another wave of discussion around the place of critical race theory in Christian discourse and teaching, with fellow Southern Baptists and Christian leaders outside the denomination weighing in.
The term “critical race theory” (CRT) is frequently ill defined. According to scholars, it is an approach to the issue of racism that analyzes systems and biases embedded in social structures.
In the resolution approved at the 2019 annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) referred to the theory as “a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society” and clarified that it could only be employed “subordinate to Scripture.”
“Some in our ranks inappropriately use the label of ‘CRT!’ to avoid legitimate questions or as a cudgel to dismiss any discussion of discrimination. Many cannot even define what CRT is,” tweeted SBC president J. D. Greear on Thursday. “If we in the SBC had shown as much sorrow for the painful legacy that sin has left as we show passion to decry CRT, we probably wouldn’t be in this mess.”
To certain Southern Baptists, the SBC has not done enough to dismiss critical race theory, allowing secular thinking to overtake a biblical worldview. Concerns over the influence of critical race theory ...
In an uncertain and difficult year, a record number of people searched for healing, fear, and justice.
During the hardest moments of a particularly difficult year, Bible searches soared online, and a record number of people turned to Scripture for passages addressing fear, healing, and justice. The popular YouVersion Bible App saw searches increase by 80 percent in 2020, totaling nearly 600 million worldwide.
Isaiah 41:10 ranked as the most searched, read, and bookmarked verse on the app: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
“Through every hardship, people continue to seek God and turn to the Bible for strength, peace, and hope,” said YouVersion founder Bobby Gruenewald. “While 2020 is a year so many say they’d like to forget, we see it as a year to remember how God used the Bible App to help so many people who are searching for answers.”
Bible searches spiked corresponding to major events, with “fear” becoming the app’s top search term in the first few months of the year, “justice” in the spring, and “healing” trending throughout the year.
The Bible Gateway site reported similar search trends. Pandemic-related verses about God taking away sickness got around 90 times more queries than average when US COVID-19 lockdowns began in March.
The site also saw queries related to racism, justice, and oppression spike to 100 times the average in the week following George Floyd’s death, and verses related to government authority up at least 50 times the average on Election Day.
While John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11 topped the Bible Gateway rankings for the top verses—as they have in most years—2 Chronicles 7:14 jumped up ...
To lead well in 2020 and beyond will require a new level of listening and learning.
"This is not what I signed up for," a pastor recently said to me—and I get it. Most of us signed up for the kind of ministry where we preach and teach the Bible, share the gospel, people respond by grace through faith—and then we shepherd our people. We would do the things that pastors do and have done for centuries.
Then 2020 came along and wrecked our plans.
Ross Douthat wrote an article in the New York Times describing how suddenly it seems we're in 2030 (“Waking Up in 2030,” July 27, 2020). The suspended time of the pandemic put history on fast forward. The challenges we face are complex.
Recently I talked with a pastor who holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge—a highly educated, pastor-scholar. We talked about things that we both enjoy, like different approaches to theology and culture.
Our conversation soon turned to issues like transgenderism, race and politics. And I said to him, “Neither of us prepared in school for many of the conversations we are having now.”
And we’ve only just begun.
Time for Engagement Not Isolation
None of us can ignore the issues at work here, and the people involved.
For example, systemic racism is real and needs our response. I joined faith leaders at a march in the area of Chicago called Bronzeville, a predominantly African American neighborhood. I marched up front, next to James Meeks, the pastor of Salem Baptist Church and a trustee of Moody Bible Institute, and Charlie Dates, a well-known pastor and leader. I marched with them and spoke up about racial injustice and brokenness because it matters.
The next day, we had another event closer to home. One of the marchers held a sign saying “Black Trans Women” and shouted concerns about ...
After drastic cuts over the past four years, they need to rally partners and volunteers to be ready for a jump in refugee admittance.
After President-elect Joe Biden reiterated his pledge to raise the refugee ceiling to 125,000, resettlement agencies are making plans to restore their efforts to “welcome the stranger.”
Under the Trump administration, the refugee ceiling dropped by 80 percent, down to a record low of 15,000, and agencies drastically scaled back operations as they lost out on the funding that accompanies new refugees.
Biden’s remarks come as exciting news to Christians working in refugee resettlement, though the prospect of an influx of refugees to the US poses a challenge to the system after four years of decline.
“We’re encouraged by President-elect Biden’s ambitious commitment to refugee resettlement,” said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, one of nine nongovernmental organizations resettling refugees in the US. “I appreciate the message this commitment sends to the world—that the US is ready to lead once again—and we at World Relief will be working with our church partners to prepare to welcome as many as we can in 2021 and, hopefully, continue to grow that effort in the years that follow.”
After years of growth, the evangelical agency shut down eight of its local offices and laid off over a third of its staff during the Trump administration. Overall, a third of the nation’s resettlement agencies have either stopped resettling refugees or have closed their doors completely over the past four years.
“To be sure, returning to such a high level of resettlement after several years of historic lows will be very challenging, particularly because the national infrastructure for resettlement has been dramatically reduced,” Arbeiter says.
Tourism to the biblical city celebrated as Jesus’ birthplace remains halted with West Bank under lockdown.
The coronavirus has cast a pall over Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, all but shutting down the biblical town revered as Jesus’ birthplace at the height of the normally cheery holiday season.
Missing are the thousands of international pilgrims who normally descend upon the town. Restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops are closed. The renowned Christmas tree lighting service will be limited to a small group of authorized people, as will church services on Christmas Eve.
“Bethlehem is dead,” said Maryana al-Arja, owner of the 120-room Angel Hotel on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
The hotel was the site of the West Bank’s first coronavirus outbreak—when a group of Greek tourists came down with the virus last March.
She kept her 25 workers on staff for several months but ultimately couldn’t continue to pay them. Al-Arja, who herself was infected with the virus, said she has been forced to close the hotel and lay off the entire staff because there is no sign of the pandemic ending or tourists visiting anytime soon.
“We had 351 tourist groups booked in our hotel this year, each one 150 people,” she said. “But they all canceled.”
Elyas al-Arja, the head of the city’s hotel association, said Bethlehem received some 3 million tourists in 2019. With Israel, the main entry point for international visitors to the region, banning tourists because of the coronavirus crisis, and the West Bank’s border crossing with Jordan closed to foreigners, that number is close to zero this year, he said.
“Sixty percent of the city relies on tourism, and their income disappeared when the tourists disappeared,” said al-Arja, a cousin of the Angel Hotel owner.