Is the Bible Trustworthy? (pt. 3)

Now that I’ve paved the way for an exhaustive answer (see here) let’s talk a little about books. Recently, I read about a successful business man who didn’t read books so much as he read libraries. Now, that’s a description! Libraries of books is the way – not to expertise & mastery – but to a sufficient understanding. (Isn’t it interesting that the Bible is a library? It’s not a book, it’s 66 books. There’s no 1 book that captures God! Only a library will do.) And, so, as we answer the all-important question of “Is the Bible Trustworthy?” let’s take a look at a mini library:

Do you need to read all this before trusting the Bible? Of course not. The Bible is written so the youngest child can truly believe what it says, and yet, it’s so profound and wonderful that the greatest minds become lost in marveling at its mysteries. Indeed, the Bible is written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:31). But here’s a question for you. Since the Bible speaks about eternal heaven and eternal hell (that is, endless-forever-and-ever bliss or torment), is there any scenario in which it would be wise to ignore a pile of books in order to simply go on in unbelief? And don’t “Pascal’s wager” me! Why wouldn’t you make an all-out study of what the Bible says and offers? It is the most-published & best-selling book of all time, and Jesus Christ is, by all accounts, the most influential person of all time. Those facts alone should mean you devote some time and energy into adequately answering the question, “Should I Trust the Bible?”

So, here’s a break down of the above picture (a picture that may not say a thousand words, but certainly contains at least that many!)

If you need to start with “only one book,” then start with

Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. Begin by doing your homework. This book’s authors are brilliant men – look them up. They truck with the academic elite of Princeton & Oxford. But, that’s not why this book is where you should start. Both Zacharias and Vitale know how to communicate. Their brilliance doesn’t get in the way of them writing an accessible book to our 2017 secular day and age.

If you’re the sort who realizes you’ll need at least three books to get into a subject, then start with Jesus Among Secular Gods and add these two:

Making Sense of God  by Timothy Keller is one of a kind. You’re simply not going to find a more thorough, timely, sensitive, thoughtful, and organized approach to belief in the face of the difficulties of 21st century skepticism. This is a tour de force that will not only answer many of your questions – but will also lead you to the many other questions you should be asking. In addition, every Tim Keller book serves as a tremendous index to all sorts of great literature. His books are always worth twice their cover value: first for Keller’s thoughts – second for all the thoughts of everyone else he footnotes & summarizes. Also, check out this Google Talk by Keller on the book.

Pensees by Blaise Pascal. About time for a curve-ball, isn’t it? Listen, if you get through the first two books and are still ready for more, it’s time to start swimming into the long, deep history of Christianity. Pascal lived and died in the 1600’s. He was 39 when he died. And his writing is still fresh and thought-provoking. You need to start grappling with all he grappled with over his short faith-filled but faith-testing life.

And, if you’re the powerhouse who doesn’t so much read books as you do libraries, then start with the above three, and add these seven:

God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. Don’t judge the man for having 2 last names. It’s a great quick read that serves as a road-map to the entire Bible. Please don’t make the mistake of reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation thinking that it will be easy to understand. It’s grand, it’s full, it’s got all sorts of genres & histories. It is a unified story – but use this book to help you see that unified story.

You Are What You Love by James K A Smith is an introduction to the idea that all of life is religious – whether you think so or not. Read this to peal the blinders off your eyes and see yourself as the religious practitioner that you are.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. About time we get some female authorship in here! This book is one that will clue you into our times. Pearcey channels Francis Schaeffer and Chuck Colson in this exceptional understanding of our day and age.

How (Not) To Be Secular by James K A Smith is another book that enables you to accurately see the day & age in which we live. Get your bearings, understand the challenges you’re up against, and see the ever-necessary place for trust in the Bible. Oh, and don’t get scared by the old guy on the cover. Charles Taylor is certainly someone you should read. But start with this summary for now.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller is a New York Times best-selling case for Jesus Christ. Keller says Making Sense of God (see above) is a prequel to The Reason for God. Both are excellent. Read them both and welcome to the rest of your life, which will involve referring back to these books over and over again.

A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry who exposes you to the philosophies of the ages, and places Christianity alongside them. It’s a great concise summary, and can never be blamed of “a Christian bias” since Luc Ferry isn’t a Christian.

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. Write a summary of what the entire Bible teaches, organize it well, inform it with thousands of years of church history, then stylize it beautifully and publish it by a premium publisher – and you’ll have this book. One of the most beautiful things about the Bible is that, despite the thousands of years it covers and it’s vast array of human authors, the whole thing still forms a unity. So, you can summarize it, because each part corresponds with another, and there is no contradiction within its teaching. Learn the system of theology in the story of the Bible. Read this (or some other) reputable systematic theology!

“Wait a second,” you say. “I feel cheated! Isn’t there a Ghandi book in that picture? And books on the Canon of Scripture? And just wait a second….is that Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss? That’s not a Christian book! Not even close! What’s going on here?”

I’m glad you asked. Libraries are meant to grow and good answers often be enhanced. In this picture you see that I not only follow up on some personal special interests (the Canon of Scripture, mankind’s capacity & tendency to self-deception, etc.) but that one of those ongoing personal interests is to know what’s out there. What beliefs are currently circulating? What’s the atmosphere we’re in like? What does “the world” think? While reading a book like Tools of Titans may, at points, feel like an unchristian thing to do, I don’t believe it is. In fact, it’s obedience to Jesus Christ that leads me into such reading. I call it “Luke 16:8 reading” because in that verse Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” And St. Paul in Acts 17:28 says “as even some of your own Poets have said.” Not that Tim Ferriss is a poet, necessarily, but that book and the others in that stack are some of the best books I’ve come across to see what the spirit of the age actually is.

Happy reading!

Is the Bible trustworthy? (pt. 2)

Great questions deserve great answers.

This is especially important in our day and age. Often, we ask a question that can be answered quickly. “Are you hungry?” “Did you like the movie?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But not all questions are created equal. A question like “Is the Bible Trustworthy?” is almost a trick question. If you answer it simply, you’ve not answered it at all. As I’ve pointed out here, this question can’t be asked without a host of other questions leading up to it, surrounding it, and following after it.

Regardless of what you think of Him, Jesus Christ was an absolute master at asking and answering questions. One author I’ve read points out that – with Jesus – it wasn’t so much Questions & Answers as it was Questions & Questions. Right on!

One question I love is the one asked of Jesus after His resurrection. These two people are walking along – and Jesus joins them – though they don’t recognize Him. Jesus asks them why they are so sad. One of them says to Jesus, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18). In its context, there couldn’t be a more ironic, even humorous, question. As it happens, Jesus is the ONLY one who knows exactly what’s going on. Everyone else is still grappling with the death of Jesus, only to be overwhelmingly mystified by the 3-day-later empty tomb.

Here’s Jesus’ response:  “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” Luke 24:25-27.

Besides noticing that Jesus answers with a question – check out how comprehensive his answer actually is. Jesus recognizes the magnitude of their question – and answers with a massive answer because great questions deserve great answers. When it says “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” it means that Jesus walked them through the entire Old Testament. That’s not 1 book….it’s 39 books, hundreds and hundreds of pages that summarize thousands of years of history. Now that’s a great answer!

And look at how the account ends. The disciples Jesus was speaking to didn’t snipe and complain about how “they only like short and simplistic answers” or about how “Jesus’ answers are so complex and hard to understand.” They realized they were asking a great question – and that they received a great answer. They are saying what people sometimes say after a truly wonderful conversation. “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?‘ (Luke 24:32).

So, as we continue to work towards answering “Is the Bible trustworthy?” let’s avoid the foolish idea of thinking that only short, simplistic, easy, bumper-sticker, tweet-worthy answers deserve our attention. Let’s remember that great questions deserve great answers.

Why Should I Trust the Bible?

The following is the monologue from a radio show I hosted on February 25, 2017.

Thank you for joining us today. I’m Pastor Jon Shishko. On today’s show, we’ll discuss the all-important question, “Should We Trust the Bible?” Or, to ask the question the way a New Yorker would, “Why Should I trust the Bible?”

Before diving into an answer, let’s consider a thought experiment. Imagine you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded gun – a gun ready to fire. How long would it take to stop thinking about it? Of course, initially, that loaded gun is all you would think about. But, after a while, do you think your mind would drift? The loaded gun is there – but time passes. And it seems you don’t have to stare directly at it. How long before you start thinking about something else? An hour? A day? A week? Is it possible that the shock of staring death in the face would wear off? Could you become so pre-occupied with other things that you completely stopped thinking about your own immanent death?

Now, to take the experiment one step further – wouldn’t it be foolish to ignore that loaded gun for weeks and years on end – if there was a way to be saved from it? We all face immanent death. We don’t know when or how it will happen, but we’ve been to funerals and we know ours is coming. And with this morbid but realistic frame of mind — with, as it were, one eye on the loaded gun, let’s use the other eye to look at our question today: “Should we trust the Bible?”

As I think about the Bible, I see three massive reasons to trust the Bible as the Word of God. First, The Bible Knows Me. Second, the Bible is More than a Self-Help Book. And Third, the Bible is History.

The Bible Knows Me.  As I read the Bible, I’m constantly impressed with how it knows me, it knows my most private thoughts, and it knows my greatest needs. It understands the way I think, the errors I’m prone to, the mistakes I make, the things I shouldn’t do but do anyway and the things I don’t do but should. It summarizes me and everyone else when it says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23 ESV). It explains my situation and everyone else’s. It explains why we all face immanent death. For, “The wages of sin is death,” and “all have sinned.” But, the Bible doesn’t stop with this reality check. That’s only its starting point. “The wages of sin is death” is only half of the verse. The whole verse proclaims, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Rom 6:23). You see, the Bible knows me, my thoughts, and my greatest need: salvation from my sin & my immanent death.

And, the Bible is More than a Self-Help Book. I’m always fascinated by Self-Help books. Whether it’s Dale Carnegies Classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People or Tim Ferriss’ brand new New York Times Best Selling Tools of Titans – Self-Help Books are, well, helpful. But what fascinates me most about them is their inability to extend beyond this life. They are “Tips, Tricks, Tools, and Tactics” to make money, build relationships, have fun, learn new things – but they never teach how to dodge the bullet currently lodged down the barrel of the loaded gun which is pointing at you and me. In the Bible, St. Peter cuts right to the chase when he says to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (Joh 6:68 ESV). Peter is saying, “Jesus, You Offer More Than ALL The Self-Help Books Combined!” You Offer life forever! And Jesus demonstrated just that by raising Lazarus from the dead. Remember what Jesus said? He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die, (John 11:25-26). Tools and tricks for life are helpful. But they can’t save you from death. Jesus promises that those that believe in Him will live forever – even if they die.

Many, at this point, start thinking – “it’s all just too good to be true.” Isn’t the Bible just a bunch of myths, folklore and fairy tales?” But here is more good news. The story of Jesus doesn’t begin with “Once upon a Time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” In fact, the Bible, more than any other religious book, is rooted in History. For instance The Gospel of Luke is written by a historian who began by saying he was compiling “a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,  just as those who …were eyewitnesses,” (Luke 1:1-4 ESV). He’s saying, “This story about Jesus – as fantastic as it is – as wonderful as it is – even as unbelievable as it may at points seem – it’s history. It’s true. I got the facts the same way all history is gathered and written – from multiple eye witnesses. The Gospel of Luke is Eye-Witness News!

And now, God invites you into this History. If you’re his, you belong to his story, History. You’re saved from sin and death itself. If you know Jesus Christ – then you know the way the truth and the life – the resurrection and the life – if you know Him, you will live, forever, even if you die. That’s what the Bible says. Do you believe it? Do you trust the Bible? Or are you ignoring the loaded gun?

Listen to the entire show! Follow me on twitter at @jon_shishko. Message me there if you want the recording of this show.

How can I help someone with suicidal thoughts?

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. – Proverbs 3:27

 

How can we help someone with something so private as their own thoughts?  Recently a brother from Reformation shared with me some information on a service I think we should all know about – which is NYC Well (you can see more of here: https://nycwell.cityofnewyork.us). I did not know about this, and am glad I know about it now. It’s like a 911 for anyone who is really struggling with suicidal thoughts. The reason we should all know about this is because, often, people struggling with suicidal thoughts will #1) not tell anyone directly but #2) indirectly, speak to you about “a friend” that they have. You want to have information like this in your arsenal so that you can share with them an anonymous way they can make a preemptive emergency call (or text, or chat) before the real emergency takes place.

 

Also, know you should always feel free to talk with me (jon@queensreformation.org) about how to love on someone who’s struggling through depression. You’ll never have to volunteer private information. But, these winter months are hard on many of us, and part of us loving others as we want to be loved is by thinking through how to love on others during times when they most need to be loved.

Is the Bible trustworthy? (pt. 1)

This question is deceptively simple. It’s certainly a question we should ask and be able to answer. If the Bible isn’t trustworthy, neither I nor anyone else could offer God’s answers to your questions! And yet, we must not rush into answering this question. Or, to say that another way, we must ask this question along with a host of other questions. “Is the Bible trustworthy?” must occur right alongside “How is the bible trustworthy?” “What questions does the Bible answer?” “Is the Bible silent on anything?” “Why do we have the Bible?” and “why should we care if the Bible is trustworthy or not? – who needs the Bible anyway?”

John 6:67-69 begins to answer the question, “Is the Bible trustworthy?” So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter says to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life…” Notice all that Peter does not say. He does not say, “Jesus, you’ve taught us every law of science and physics!” He doesn’t say, “Jesus, you’ve made known to us the answer to every last question we’ve ever had. You’ve exhausted our boundless curiosity. You’ve cleared all our objections, and now we’re ready to believe.” No. Peter says, in so many words, Jesus, you alone offer eternal life, and we believe you’re the Holy One of God – which means, among other things, you can’t be lying.

That gives us a place to start when it comes to the Bible. It’s not an encyclopedia. It’s not a science book. It’s not a database or a search engine. It’s God’s revelation of Himself in which He answers the greatest questions. Not the questions we might have, but the questions we should have. The Bible is a book about the Savior and the sinners He came to save. It’s a book that teaches the forever-dying how to attain life forever, how sinners can attain righteousness, how enemies of God can become God’s friends. And God doesn’t get sidetracked. In the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, God tells the story about Himself. The story is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who is God Himself & God with Us (Emmanuel, Matthew 1:23), the One who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Perhaps these words from some of the poets of our own day can help. In Coldplay’s masterful song “The Scientist,” Christopher Martin sings,

Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart 

God in the Bible doesn’t get sidetracked by questions of science & progress. From Genesis to Revelation, God focuses in on the louder questions, the questions of the heart. And when we go to the Bible to get answers to the questions of the heart, we find solid answers because the Bible is trustworthy.

Why blog in 2017?

Hi, I’m Jon Shishko and I pastor Reformation Presbyterian Church in Queens, NYC. Blogging isn’t anything I’ve ever wanted to do. But, something very valuable happens to me all the time, so valuable, I need a system to start tracking these occurrences. The valuable thing that happens all the time is….people ask me questions. Often, those questions are questions many of us are already asking – or should be asking. I’ll never mention names – and sometimes I’ll rephrase the question a bit – but this is a place where I’ll be asking your questions. I’ll pose your question and then I’ll offer answers from God’s Word. I’ll do that by stating your question as the post title, then referring to God’s Word, and finally by discussing how God’s Word answers or begins to answer the question you ask.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find…” – Matthew 7:7.