Brandon Smith – The Real Reason We Don’t Read Our Bibles

Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading. Eighty-eight percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles?

Root Issue

When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough.

We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We often think it’s all about us, and that opening Scripture is only useful when we think we need it. We don’t understand how amazing the Bible really is.

To read the rest of Brandon Smith’s article, click here.

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Brandon Smith – I Took a Week Off from Social Media (and Survived)

I joined Facebook in 2005, Twitter in 2009, and Instagram in 2013. I enjoy each of these social media platforms for different reasons, but one theme has stuck out to me recently: I’m least like Christ when I’m on social media. I’m more selfish, defensive, narcissistic, and proud when I’m reading or interacting with others online. Social media doesn’t make me sin in those ways, but it does provide plenty of provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14).

At the turn of the year, I made a promise to myself—I would spend less time on social media, and I would stop engaging in or starting long debates. I wrote about it first in September last year, and then tweeted a thread about it again in January of this year. Here’s the third installment, I suppose.

Ever see those 20-tweet back-and-forths or the 80-comment Facebook posts? Yeah, that was me. I’ve kept the above promises to myself by-and-large this year, but I’ve still struggled to find the balance of using social media sparingly and most importantly, wisely.

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Brandon Smith – Was Jesus Afraid of His Old Testament?

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It’s become trendy in some evangelical circles to claim that we need to rescue Jesus and the NT from the megalomaniac, genocidal God of the OT. That OT God can’t really be what God is like because, well, Jesus isn’t like that. (And he’s God, after all.) Evangelicals, then, need to get Jesus right before they worry about getting the Bible right. And “to understand Jesus” means, at least in part, to understand that “love your enemies” is at odds with “show them no mercy.”

Christian scholars and lay-bloggers alike are picking up this dry, stale bread in hopes of selling it to the public as a buttered loaf straight from the oven. But people know stale bread when they taste it. And they should rightly spit it out.

There is no life in an OT divorced from the NT. This oft-cited quote from Paul to Timothy is not merely a Sunday school lesson in Bible-rule-following–it’s a proclamation about the authority of the OT:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3:16 (HCSB)

This can also be rendered that Scripture is “God-breathed.” Paul isn’t saying, “Scripture is a good road map for life, so don’t worry about the weird stuff.” Paul is saying, “Scripture (in this case, the OT) is God’s breath–his Word–and therefore life-giving.”

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Brandon Smith – Did New Testament Writers Understand the Trinity?

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Early Christian Confession

Augustine explained the Trinity like this:

[T]he Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit intimate a divine unity of one and the same substance in an indivisible equality; and therefore that they are not three Gods, but one God: although the Father hath begotten the Son, and so He who is the Father is not the Son; and the Son is begotten by the Father, and so He who is the Son is not the Father; and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but only the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, Himself also co-equal with the Father and the Son, and pertaining to the unity of the Trinity. … [A]lthough the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as they are indivisible, so work indivisibly. This is also my faith, since it is the Catholic faith.

Augustine’s confession here mirrors what the early Church was already confessing, both through the canon and in the creeds. Within the NT text and as early as the first half of the second century, Christians have assigned praise to the persons of the Trinity, not merely to a generic “God.” While infantile in its expression, Christians began moving toward an incipient Trinitarian understanding of the one God of Israel at an early stage. For example, benedictions, doxologies, and venerations are self-consciously attributed to all or some of the divine persons in a score of NT texts (Acts 7:59; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 16:22; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 5:20; Phil. 2:5-11; 2 Pet. 3:1; et al.). The Gospel tradition itself helps lay a solid foundation for understanding the roles and functions of the divine persons that is described in the above-referenced NT literature, with Jesus’s own words and actions showing a self-identification with God (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:28; John 5:16-23, 8:58; et al.). The Trinity is, then, a hermeneutical and devotional effect of reading Scripture in its canonical form and catholic location.

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Brandon Smith – Good Living Is Rooted in Good Theology

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We’ve all met (or been) that know-it-all who likes to get into debates about theology for the sake of debating. The know-it-all usually isn’t concerned about helping someone know God better, and his hunger for debate isn’t an act of worship. It’s a boxing match, but with words instead of gloves.

But theology isn’t merely a debate topic. Theology should not only help us understand more about who God is, but also help us answer the question, “How should we live?” It’s ultimately wrapped up in our head, heart, and hands. It’s for all of life.

Theology matters because what we think affects how we love and how we act. Nothing is more important than what we say about God, because what we say shows what we believe, and what we believe changes how we act. This includes everything: thinking, feeling, and doing. Christian theology is to inform our lives because, as we say with the apostle Paul,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

We are gospel-made people. We are the crucified ones. Theology is anchored in Christ and therefore has the gospel at its heart. In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied that it’s twofold — love God and love others. This is a theological statement, because Scripture is clear about who God is and how he works through us to redeem others.

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Brandon Smith – Karl Barth, Christ, and the OT

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Karl Barth’s theology and exegesis is often debated. I love him in places, I disagree with him in places. I agree with others’ exegesis of his exegesis, I disagree with others’ views on him. But one thing we should all appreciate is his ability to synthesize theology and exegesis in such a way that even when there is disagreement with him, the counterargument had better eat its Wheaties before coming to the table.

Paul McGlasson rightly lamented that Karl Barth’s exegesis in his magnum opus, Church Dogmatics (CD), has not only been misunderstood and/or maligned, but also straight up neglected by scholars. In his opinion, this is a result of Barth’s theological-exegetical method, a blend of biblical theology and systematic theology that scholars in neither field wish to tackle. He concludes:

“The result is that, for scholars of theology, the work is too ‘biblical,’ while for scholars of the Bible the work is too ‘theological.’ The resulting fate of Barth’s biblical exegesis is in a way not really surprising. At least part of Barth’s reason for doing extended biblical exegesis in the context of Christian theology was to wage a direct assault on the bifurcation of scholarly work into two such separated disciplines. Theology, for Barth, should again be biblical in a technical, disciplined sense, and likewise should study of the Bible be disciplined by confessional theological concerns. The immediate result of this assault on the bifurcation of theological disciplines was that at least this part of Barth’s work simply attracted no scholarly attention.”

Indeed, Barth was a rigorous exegete both in his commentaries, his other writings, and in CD. However, this did not come without keen theological insights and overtones. He was a rare hybrid whose method was not entirely hermeneutical nor entirely theological. He was a confessional theologian, with a heavy focus on Christ as he exegeted Scripture. If Christ was and is the point of God’s revelation, then he can be seen everywhere in the canon.

In the end, then, Christ becomes the overwhelmingly central point of both theology and exegesis, making the two inseparable for Barth.

Revelation and the Word of God

For Barth, Scripture is “one long celebration of the fact that God speaks, and that as God speaks he opens himself up to us, giving us a share in his life through Christ and the Spirit.” He put it this way: “God gives himself entirely to man in his revelation, but not in such a way as to make himself man’s prisoner. He remains free in his working, in giving himself.” This divine speech is the lead component for understanding Barth’s views on revelation. For him, knowing God is, in short, unattainable. The unattainable is only attainable by God’s self-revelation, a freely chosen action in no way dependent upon man.

God’s Word can only be attributed to God himself as a witness to himself, not in historical formulations or provable assertions concerned with precise correspondence. For if man could simply “prove” the truth of God’s revelation by some scientific method, there would be no need for faith. Faith accepts the claims of Scripture that seem unbelievable to the arrogant human mind.

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Brandon Smith – Reflect Christ, Deflect Satan

brandon-bw Paul’s story is well documented. He was a killer of Christians and an adamant opponent of their faith (Acts 8:1-3). Later, as a man saved by God’s grace, he constantly urged believers to turn away from their old lives and to press into their new natures in Christ, just as he did. He didn’t harp on rules and regulations, but rather exhorted them to look to Christ for their reason for living. And as a hate-monger transformed into a humble servant, Paul knew the benefit of receiving and offering Christ’s compassion.

Few passages in the New Testament describe the character of Christ as a weapon against Satan’s work as clearly as Ephesians 4:25-32. In this passage, Paul makes a very clear assertion to believers: Christians are freed through the sacrifice of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, to reflect him and deflect Satan.

SPEAK TRUTH (V. 25)

Paul states, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” In short, he is telling his audience to be honest with one another. He does not issue this warning against lying in order to be seen as righteous to outsiders or to prevent themselves from consequences later on; rather, Paul says that Christians should speak the truth because they are one body.

The word for “members” in the Greek, mele, literally means “a bodily organ or limb,” giving the metaphor that Christians are plainly, not just figuratively, connected as flesh and bone members of a body. It is indispensable for believers to understand that, in a sense, they should treat each other how they themselves want to be treated. If a believer lies to a brother, he is simply sinning against every other Christian and, essentially, himself. Paul carries this thought from verse 24 in which he tells believers to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Although Christians will always struggle with Satan’s temptation to speak falsely until the moment of death, they become new creations in Christ with the ability to walk in a manner that reflects the likeness of God himself.

CONTROL ANGER (VV. 26-27)

The passage continues, expanding on the statements made in previous verses, saying, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” These two verses combine to explain that such characteristics belong to the devil and not to God. Anger in and of itself is not a sin when exercised appropriately. Even Christ, who did not sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), was angry (without sinning) as he rebuked the “money-changers” in the temple (Matt. 21:12-13). When Christians act in such a way that they are representing Satan’s lies and not Christ’s model, they are in danger of, or already participating in, sin. Francis Foulkes clarifies, “The Christian must be sure that his anger is that of righteous indignation, and not just an expression of personal provocation or wounded pride. It must have no sinful motives, nor be allowed to lead to sin in any way.”

Christians are a new creation with a new attitude and a new power to overcome the traps of Satan. Given the opportunity to hold a grudge, the Christian must turn away from their anger and forgive immediately. If “the sun goes down” on a person’s anger, it will continually eat them alive, just as Satan has planned. Satan is a powerful trickster, looking for and providing any avenue for a person to give into temptation and give him a place to work. The gospel affords the opportunity to escape such traps.

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Brandon Smith – Our Incredible Freedom to Make Jesus Famous

brandon-bw In the months leading up to my daughter’s birth, I contemplated what it would be like to raise a child. I thought, if I can barely remember to put deodorant on in the mornings, how could I possibly steward another life? More importantly, how will I lead her to cherish Jesus? What if she one day rejects the gospel?

I felt the enormous weight of Deuteronomy 6 where God commands his people to teach his statutes “diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). Raising an eternal soul was, and still is, terrifying.

The Bible tells us that the home is the most immediate context for discipleship. I am called to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength and to teach this diligently to my little girl. My wife and I have the unique mission of raising our daughter in a gospel-saturated home, reminding her about what God has done when we sit, when we walk, when we lie down, and when we rise. This is a beautiful calling, and totally beyond me.

When thinking of raising my daughter, I’m reminded that Jesus’s call for us to make disciples of all nations can also feel like a daunting task (Matt. 28:18–20). We wonder, how could I tell another sinner about Jesus when I myself am a sinner? What if I don’t say the right things? What if my own imperfections and foibles deter them from believing the gospel’s power?This calling, too, can be terrifying.

BEWARE THE OBSESSION

I love being a dad. I thank God for my little girl every day. But as with any great blessing from God, the blessing of a child can make us want to squeeze too tight and never let go.
I have already been tempted to shirk the “prefab parenting models” in an attempt to raise my daughter the “right” way. There’s both an internal pressure within my own heart and an external pressure from the world to have a child who turns out perfect. I want her to love Jesus and to desire the supremacy of God above all things, but these pressures, and my inordinate concerns, often command me to focus on her conduct more than her heart. I hear others complain about unruly, bratty kids and I think, “That won’t be my girl!” This can be consuming.

When we invest ourselves in the lives of others, this tension is no different. We experience the extreme joy of God’s call to show them the ways of Jesus. Discipleship is wonderful. We feel responsible for their souls, and we long to see their lives radically transformed by the gospel. One of the greatest phenomena in God’s creation is watching the caterpillar become a butterfly, and this type of spectacle is beautiful to witness in the heart of an unbeliever.

The dangers lie in basing your own worth on the actions of those in whom you invest. It is tempting to allow our self-esteem to rise and fall based on another’s failures and successes. If the person you’re discipling fails morally, it is easy to blame yourself. If they show impressive growth theologically, it’s easy to congratulate yourself on the extraordinary ability to relay the deep things of God. This, too, can be consuming.

Certainly, there are many ways we can go wrong in discipling others. The sin that corrupts our hearts can lead us to dark places. Yet when we look to the cross, the hope we find in Jesus can take away all the anxieties and dangers of placing the results of discipleship on our own shoulders.

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