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10 myths about the Bible


The Bible is, together with prayer, the way to learn about God and connect with Him. But its role is sometimes misunderstood. Here’s a short list of things I’ve heard about the Bible which quite frankly upset me – some because I think they don’t do justice to the Bible; others because I think they stop people from accessing it.


1. The Bible is just a reference book. One that we might look at if we want to decide whether getting a tattoo is wrong, or to find out about the life of Christ. If that’s the only way in which the Bible were to be read – simply as an authority – then a rulebook might have served better. Talking of which: isn’t that the Old Covenant approach? The Bible is the living word of God. It inspires us, it teaches us, it moves us and, essentially, transforms us.

2. There’s only one way to read the Bible. Of course not! There’s many ways to read the Bible. I’m not talking here about literal vs figurative interpretation; nor about how to take the cultural context into account. These debates are important, yes – but better left to others; and taking sides in this debate, to me, feels like turning the Bible into just a reference book. What I’m talking about is ways to let the Bible transform you. And for that, there’s plenty of ways. Tease out the general meaning of a passage – its direction, its structure, its rhythm; when it’s a story, identify with different persons in turn (yes, including Jesus) and feel what they’re feeling; etc. etc.

3. The Bible is boring. If you really think that, you haven’t read the whole Bible. Seriously, there’s bits of 2 Chronicles which are far more gripping, even from a storytelling perspective alone, than Game of Thrones’s most gripping. And these bits aren’t an exception – most of the Bible is just as gripping.

4. The Bible is exciting throughout; this myth can be followed with: “and if you don’t agree, you’re missing the point of whatever you don’t find exciting.” I personally don’t find the whole Bible exciting. Sometimes, it’s a drag because it’s boring. Sometimes it’s a drag because it’s depressing. Seriously, though, if you manage to get the first ten chapters of 1 Chronicles to look as exciting as John 15, then (a) you really have a heart for genealogies and (b) please share that excitement with us in the comments. Yes, most, if not all the Bible, points to Christ and is exciting for that reason. But just like any other book, there are bits that are a drag to read.

5. Bible verses can be used as ammunition to shut down an argument. This myth is also known as “Cos the Bible says so”, a phrase which has become one of my pet hates. If the Bible is the living word, then let’s treat it as such. Imagine you have an argument about the theory of relativity, and somehow you have Einstein or Eddington at your disposal. Do you simply get them to come and stand behind you, or do you let them speak? The Bible, as the living word, opens up conversations – it does NOT shut them down.

6. Reading the Bible is an easy habit to take on. This is not true. Like I said before, it can be a drag. And if on top of that, you live in an environment that only considers the reference book aspects of the Bible, you lack the motivation to do so – after all, not many people just take up a textbook regularly. Being reminded that it is a book that transforms us is far, far better a motivation to read it! But there are ways to help: I personally find reading plans extremely helpful; but I also find that once I have the dynamic going, it’s a pleasure. And yes, sometimes I lose that dynamic and it’s a drag again to get back into it. I’ll admit – I’m currently about a week behind on my plan and it’s not the easiest to get back into the daily reading habit.

7. If you don’t have a reading plan, you’ll burn in hell. Also known as “read your Bible every day or perish”. Folks, don’t read the Bible out of a sense of ought-ness, that’ll get you nowhere. Get started out of a sense of ought-ness, maybe – because otherwise you might never start. But don’t let that be your sole motivation:

8. Only the KJV is valid for reproof, teaching etc. Yes, some people do believe that. I remember reading on a forum a while back someone claiming that Hallelujah was an English word that had been stolen by the Hebraic language. So, to clarify: the KJV is not the original text. It’s not even the earliest English-language version! Yes, I’m being flippant here; but have you ever looked down on others for the translation they use? Why would “KJV+NIV+ESV+NRSV” be the only valid set of translations?

9. Protestants know the Bible off by heart. We don’t. We know some verses, but definitely not all of them.

10. Catholics don’t read their Bible. Seriously, I’ve heard that a few times, and it annoys me to no end; so let’s make it clear: Catholics read their Bible just as much as Protestants do. And kudos to them for that – after all, they do have more to read ;-)

10 ways the Bible is like Sellotape


For the benefit of my American readers (I love you, really. No, really.), what we call Sellotape, you call scotch tape (seriously, what sort of impression does it leave, naming office supplies after whisky?). Now that’s out of the way, here comes, in what is now a tradition for this blog, a list of more or less tenuous links between sellotape and the Bible.


Photo: woodleywonderworks (cropped), reused under CC license

1. Sellotape holds everything together. Just like it, the Bible helps bring a sense of unity, of direction,  and of purpose to lives: the Bible, in leading to God, helps holding everything together too.

2. Sellotape is clear, transparent, see-through. The Bible itself is transparent in two ways: through the Bible, we see Jesus. The written Word leads to the living Word. Secondly, it is a mirror to your own life. It is relevant, and we can see real things through it: it is not some arcane treatise that can be boxed in and where the thoughts triggered in it are sterile.

3. There’s many kinds of adhesive tape: duct tape, gaffer tape, etc. None is intrinsically better than the other, but some are better suited to different purposes. You won’t use masking tape to seal a box; you won’t use gaffer tape to put up a poster. Various versions are also suited to different purposes: you won’t use an interlinear Bible for your everyday readings; and you won’t use The Message to try and work out whether it was tourist high season in Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’ birth.

4. There’s some surfaces, it just won’t stick on. Some people who won’t receive the message of the Bible; and that shouldn’t be a discouragement to us; but also, some times in our lives, some mindsets where what we read just doesn’t stick. Identifying those moments is helpful.

5. Have you ever tried wrapping a present without using Sellotape? You can. A piece of string can do the trick if you’re gifted (and if you’re trying to wrap a book). I tried using candlewax once, when I was out of sellotape (it did not work. I think you need a special kind of wax for that. I ended up using electrical tape ‘cos I had some spare. It was ugly but it did the trick). So it is possible to live a good enough life without the Bible; indeed, some people do. But it is a lot easier to do with the Bible as both a moral guide and a motivator.

6. Sellotape leaves a mark, even when it is removed. Unless you buy some special sellotape, and even then, you gotta be careful when you peel it off. In the same way, after reading the Bible, you are (or should be!) a changed person. Regardless of whether you then reject what you have read or not, there will be something changed in you.

7. If there weren’t something to fix (or, in the case of sellotape, technically, to affix), we wouldn’t need it. The Bible points to Jesus; to God who came for sinners, people who are broken. The Bible itself brings healing, because it directs the heart to something better, and

8. Originally, it came in rolls. Now there’s some fancy dispensers which don’t use rolls; just like the Bible went from (sc)rolls to printed books to phone apps.

9. Unless you use it a lot, it’s hard to find where to start. Seriously, finding the end of sellotape and then getting hold of it in such a way that it can be used is a pain. That’s why dispensers are useful: they keep on feeding you, and cutting the sellotape into bits of usable, appropriate length. Dispensers come in many shapes – and there’s many things that can help you start picking up your Bible: sermons and preachers, but also Bible plans and commentaries (for instance, you could do the Uncover series with a friend)

10. When you’ve gone through your roll of sellotape, it doesn’t mean you’re done using sellotape forever. You can always pick up a new roll. And if you’re out, you can always ask your friend. And if you’ve finished reading the Bible (kudos to you), that doesn’t mean you can’t read it ever again. On the contrary, you will find you keep on using it. And if you don’t have a Bible, borrow one from a friend.

Add your own!

9 ways fireworks are like religion


New Year –  an occasion for celebration, and wishes of good health and happiness, but also for fireworks! Seeing the beautiful displays around the world and in town, and talking about them, got me finding parallels with religion. Here are nine:


Photo: David Dixon, reused under CC license

  1. There’s the beautiful fireworks, and then there’s the firecrackers: all noise but no show. The former are put out for the enjoyment of all around; and, yes, some level of noise is necessary  – sometimes even welcome, as it draws the eye to whatever display is on.
    But then, the latter are only there for the enjoyment of those who use them. They are selfish, puffed up – and the noise they make is rather annoying to those around. Worse, they are a distraction from the real thing.
    Just so with religion and religiousness. Some liturgy is helpful: it reins in the spirit (without restricting it) and directs to, for instance, beautiful prayers and allows the mind to focus on what is important. But when liturgy is done for its own sake, or when the focus shifts from God to puffing oneself up and making as much noise as possible; loudness becomes a distraction and serves or amuses only the person who is speaking.
  2. It is very easy for fireworks to turn into a challenge as to who is putting on the best display. Even with sanctioned liturgy, even with stuff that we know works, it is possible to focus too much on aligning your rocket perfectly, or having the perfect 16-part harmony for your choir music, or play your worship song in 15:16 (cos 15:16 is cool), or with 15 key changes. Or you could have sermons which are longer than the church next door. Or better signage. A better website.
    Measuring yourself against others can be helpful, but if your motivation in doing things well is rooted in doing it better than your neighbour, then there is a problem.
  3. If you don’t point your firework towards heaven, then you’re doing it wrong.
    Religion should point towards God, not towards ourselves. But, equally, it should come from us.
  4. If you don’t have your gaze fixed on heaven, then you’re doing it wrong.
    This is for the audience first. Imagine a fireworks where the audience is looking at the ground, rather than at the sky where they explode? Imagine a church where the congregation is looking at the preacher rather than at God?
    But it is important for the preacher too! Yes, the down-to-earth stuff is important too, and you should make sure that the service is well-prepared from that perspective too, but if you don’t have your eyes set on God throughout the service, then you just cannot deliver!
  5. Vanity. Tis all but vanity. The fireworks only last for so long. The church service only lasts for so long. Placing our trust in that is pointless, we need to look beyond the fireworks, to look beyond the service and to find something else to sustain us.
  6. What’s left over the next morning is not very pleasant to look at. Seriously, the streets littered with soggy cardboard cartridges that were used for the fireworks aren’t the most beautiful thing to see.
    Just so with religion. If all you look at is the mechanical means used for worship, if all you look at is the dead order of  service, well, they feel rigid and useless – rubbish, actually. Worship is meant to be lived, and shared – not to be looked at the next day.
  7. Organised fireworks look better! There’s a lot of effect that can be created from making different fireworks set off at different times, and the wisdom from pyrotechnics is not to be frowned upon to organise firework displays.
    Just so with religion, it is a congregational experience, and organisation of religion is a support, rather than a hindrance. Structure can be good.
  8. That doesn’t mean fireworks outside of the big, organised displays, are bad, or to be frowned upon.
    The two can work hand in hand. Just so with religion: it does not need to be grand, or “high” church, or even organised.
  9. There will always be someone to point out how much money is spent on fireworks, going up (literally) in smoke.
    But fireworks are still enjoyed by many. It’s one of the very few forms of entertainment free at the point of use; and are put on for the enjoyment of all, regardless of socio-economic status. And while some may think that money may be put to better use to sustain the physical needs of others, that’s not to say that the physical needs are the only needs to be considered.
    Churches are also open to all. Religion is there to serve the poor and needy, not to be served. And, hopefully, in their action, they serve their physical needs; but also their spiritual needs.

Are you behaving like a firework or like a firecracker?

Note: with this post, we’re coming back to the normal schedule of weekly updates on Sundays!

9 myths about baptism


Baptism is still considered by most denominations to be a very important moment; yet there is relatively little teaching about it in churches and much confusion about it still abounds. Here are 9 myths about baptism


Photo by ucb, reused under CC license

1. You have to be ready to be baptised.

Why is it a myth? Because we couldn’t get ourselves ready. We couldn’t make ourselves acceptable in the sight of God. The idea that you’d have to be a shining example of good behaviour before being allowed to get baptised, is just wrong.

So, you might tell me, “ah, but you have to know what you’re getting yourself into before you can make the decision”. A bit like knowing whom you’re marrying. And whilst there is some truth in that, the argument can be pushed to the extreme: why not complete a doctorate in theology before making the decision?
Within the Anglican church, a simple set of six questions is asked to candidates for adult baptism. They’re simple enough and they are most definitely sufficient. I would even argue they ask too much, in too theologically loaded phrasing, and that the word “candidate” in that setting is incredibly misused (as if you could fail at baptism!)

We love,  because God loved us first. That love is not conditional upon our actions, our theological knowledge, or any such thing. The same goes for baptism: as soon as we are able to recognise that love and where it comes from, we are as ready for baptism as we’re going to be.

2. Once you’re baptised, you stop sinning.

If only! Baptism is no magic wand. It is not something that turns you instantly from a sinner into a saint. It marks symbolically the start of the sanctification process, the death to the old self and the birth to the new self. But being baptised does not make us perfect. Church remains a hospital for sinners rather than a museum of saints.
Crucially, though, thinking that sin stops after baptism reinforces the (wrong) idea that you have to be ready for baptism: ready to give up sin, and strong enough to do so. But all that is asked is a willingness to do so – to turn to Christ and to realise that we have something better to hold on to.

3. Baptism is, first and foremost, an opportunity for evangelism.

I have heard that one before, and more than once. Some churches encourage this by getting the baptised-to-be to give a testimony of how they came to Christ at the baptismal service. It is true that baptism is a public affirmation of a private change.Yet imagine the same sentence with “baptism” replaced by “marriage”. Or “Christmas”. It would sound weird to treat either of these occasions as primarily opportunities for evangelism. It is true that they are moments when unchurched people may attend a service; and as such they do constitute opportunities for evangelism. But that’s not what they are about.
Just so with baptism. Leaving the God-directed part of baptism, the commitment to God out of it, makes baptism a hollow shell.

4. Baptism is a private affair.

Faith can be seen as a private affair in secular countries. On top of that, baptism is something very intimate, and personal: it can be seen as either the start or a significant stage at least in a very personal journey. Therefore, some could argue, baptism should remain between me and God, and whosoever is baptising me.
If baptism were private, though, it would be a private affirmation of a private change: in other terms, it would simply be a validation of what has already happened. A bit like receiving your degree certificate through the post. Is that validation necessary, though? Considering baptism as something private is both giving the event too much importance, and the process of sanctification too little.

5. If it’s not full immersion, it doesn’t count.

A lot of modern, evangelical churches insist on baptism being full immersion. I find that quite ironic, given the same churches’ reticence to follow set liturgy, but are so deadly intent on doing other things the “proper way”. Yes, βαπτίζω, whence we get the word baptism, does mean “immerse”. And yes, symbolically, full immersion implies the entire person, body and mind; and therefore reflects the fullness of the commitment made to Christ in baptism. And refusing full immersion for the sake of keeping your sinning hand from this commitment denotes a lack of willingness to submit to Christ altogether!
But while full immersion should not be shunned, it should not necessarily be insisted on: the apostles gave specific guidance on baptism, which recognises baptism by affusion as a proper way to proceed, and suggests other parts to baptism which aren’t really adhered to; and – most importantly, what is it supposed to count for?

6. If it’s not said with the proper words or by the right person, it doesn’t count.

This is the opposite end of the low/high-church spectrum. There is an authorised liturgy for baptisms in the Church of England – but this is more for the sake of unity than on theological grounds (I hope!). After all, in all that, the same as above applies: what is it supposed to count for?

7. Baptism is not really important, so it doesn’t matter whether you get baptised or not.

This is a tough one. If baptism is not what you get saved by, why the hell should you get baptised? After all, it’s not like you’re going to stop sinning afterwards…
While you’re at it, why should you take communion? Or worship?

And it is true – some denominations do not practise baptism. But then the question comes up: why did Jesus get baptised? What was the point, other than showing us the way, and marking his acceptance by his Father?

Baptism is a mark of submission, it is a step forward, an important stage in a journey – and a public commitment to which we can be held to account. That, in itself, makes baptism important – without even needing to use scripture as back-up.

8. Baptism is so important that if you don’t get baptised, you’ll rot in hell. Therefore, babies should be baptised.

Again at the opposite end of the spectrum, some denominations hold that baptism is necessary for salvation; and therefore baptise babies just to make sure they will make their way to heaven. Yet grace, not baptism, is what saves us. And that grace is through faith, not through baptism. (And, in any case, those who are saved were predestined… what? :-P )

9. Infant baptism is an abomination/plainly repugnant to the Bible

While infant baptism seems to suggest that salvation is obtained through reception of sacraments, it is not necessarily the theology behind the practice. Baptism denotes more than a one-way process where an individual declares their informed decision to follow Christ. It also marks a welcome into the Christian church; and there is no reason to withhold that welcome from children. How Jesus deals with children goes a long way to show that.

What are your thoughts? How do you see baptism?

Frost and the Holy Spirit


Today, there was frost everywhere for the second time this year. Frost is beautiful, even if the temperature is not necessarily that pleasant. But it got me thinking about the way we receive the Holy Spirit in our lives.

1. Frosted things are still the same things. The frosted leaf keeps its shape. Below the layer of frost, it remains the same leaf. When we are called to something, when we receive gifts, or inspiration, from the Holy Spirit, it does not make us completely different people. Rather, it is using our situation and our strengths and weaknesses. To find where your calling lies, identify your strengths and passions in your secular, everyday life.

2. The edges of frosted objects become more visible. In the same way, the Spirit highlights our uniqueness by pointing our out own gifts, our own specialness to others. Without the Spirit, we are indistinguishable  a mass of brown leaves where no one really knows where one ends and where the other starts. But that highlighting is the same for everyone: it is the same, one Spirit – and just the one Fruit of the Spirit that takes on many shapes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

3. Smooth surfaces don’t tend to get frosted quite as much. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit in our lives as a comforter, nor as a guide. If we were saints, there would be no conviction of our sins. Not that we should sin to receive more of the Holy Spirit. But we should recognise that God can use our impurities, our imperfections, our own roughness; and that the same goes for our neighbour. Rather than pretending we are perfect, we are led to look at those areas in our lives which fall short, which are turned into something beautiful by the Spirit.

4. All are subjected to the frost. There is no way for things which are outside in damp weather and in sub-zero temperatures to avoid the thin layer of frozen water depositing on them. There is no way to reject the gifts of the Spirit, or its convictions. But there is a way to avoid them: stay inside, do not expose yourself to the world, to pain or to joy, do not interact with anyone. We can close our hearts to the Spirit, but then we close ourselves to a whole range of stuff too.

5. Frost is a response: snow can fall anywhere, because it is formed around dust motes. But frost is made up of ice crystals which are formed on the frosted surface. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we respond to it – and it is that response that we feel. The presence of God is everywhere, it is only our response that we feel in those special times when we talk about the presence of God.

6. Frost makes things shine when it thaws. The Spirit of God is good, and beautiful; but it is also meant to be released, not just taken in. To put it differently, if we were just receiving the Spirit, breathing it in, as it were, without breathing out, we’d become puffed up and, quite frankly, detestable to others. The fruit of the Spirit is something that is shared, and it is in sharing it that we become shining lights and bless others.