Archive for December, 2013

Pluralistic Ignorance, a.k.a., “Everybody’s Doing It”

Couple 1“Everybody’s doing it.”  Before this line was used by teenagers in attempts to strong-arm their parents into allowing them to engage in all manner and kind of youthful foolishness, it was the title of a 1938 movie about an alcoholic who creates picture puzzles for a national contest only to get kidnapped before he can deliver the final batch of puzzles.  From the reviews I’ve read, the movie wasn’t very good or very believable.[1]

“Everybody’s doing it.”  Long after the movie, I remember using this line on my parents – with slight modifications, of course.  If I wanted to go to a party, I’d tell my parents, “But everyone will be there!”  Or if I wanted my parents to buy me something, I’d tell them, “But everyone else has one!”

“Everybody’s doing it.”  This is more than just a teenager’s favorite line.  It’s also a dangerous state of mind.

A few years ago, two researchers from Binghamton University in New York, Chris Reiber and Justin Garcia, published a paper titled, “Hooking Up: Gender Differences, Evolution, and Pluralistic Ignorance.”[2]  In this paper, they explored the differences between the real and perceived comfort levels with different types of sexual activity among young adults.  They discovered what psychologists refer to as “pluralistic ignorance.”  They explain:

Pluralistic ignorance (PI) has been demonstrated to play a role in hook-up behavior.  PI is characterized by individuals behaving in accordance with (generally false) beliefs attributed to the group, regardless of their own beliefs … Young adults routinely believe that others are more comfortable with various sexual behaviors than they, themselves, are.  This leads them to behave as if they were more comfortable than they actually are, and engage in behaviors with which they are not actually comfortable.

After a myriad of charts and graphs illustrating this thesis, the researchers conclude, “Individuals of both genders attributed to others of the same gender higher comfort levels [with different kinds of sexual activity] than they themselves had.”  In other words, those surveyed thought that “everyone was doing it,” but, as it turns out, they’re not.  And if you think they are, you’re ignorant about what’s going on in the bedrooms of the plurality of people in our world.

Tragically, this perception of the nature and type of sexual activity among one’s peers often leads to the violation of one’s own ethical sensibilities.  Thus, far too many people wind up breaching moral boundaries for the farcical, mistaken impression that “everyone is doing it.”

In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul speaks of how “the requirements of [God’s] law are written on [people’s] hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Romans 2:4).  The apostle here contends that all people, whether or not they are Christian, have a conscience – a foundational moral compass that helps them distinguish right from wrong.  My contention is that we ought to spend more time listening to our consciences and less time worrying and wondering about what “everybody else” is doing.  As the research shows, we don’t really know what everybody else is doing and when we try to guess, we guess wrong.

So, to those who are thinking of breaching an ethical boundary so you can roll with a cultural tide, you need to know:  the cultural tide will only roll you.  Others are not doing what they say they’re doing and you don’t really know what they’re doing anyway.  So listen to your conscience, not to them.  Or, better yet, listen to God’s Word. You’ll wind up much less morally anguished and much more joyfully fulfilled.


[1] “Everybody’s Doing It,” imdb.com

[2] Chris Reiber & Justin R. Garcia “Hooking Up: Gender Differences, Evolution, and Pluralistic Ignorance,” Evolutionary Psychology 8, no. 3 (2010): 390-404.

December 30, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Truly God, Truly Man

"Adoration of the Children" by  Gerard van Honthorst, 1620.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622.

During the Christmas season, it is important to focus not only on the birth of Christ, but on the person of Christ.  That is, it is important for us to remember not only that Jesus was born, but who Jesus was born as.  For it is not the simple fact of Jesus’ birth that gives the Christmas story significance.  After all, people are born all the time.  But Jesus’ identity as it is revealed in the Christmas story makes Jesus’ birth significant even 2,000 years later.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we get a clue concerning Jesus’ identity beginning with Mathew’s opening line:  “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).  From here, Matthew goes on to give an extensive genealogy of Jesus’ family tree, going all the way back to Abraham.  The genealogy in Luke’s Gospel goes back even farther – all the way to Adam (cf. Luke 3:23-38).  These two genealogies, it should be noted, are quite different from each other, making Jesus’ family tree look quite disparate.  Indeed, over the years, scholars have debated the differences between the Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus.  Most often, scholars have conjectured that Matthew presents the royal genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, his stepfather, while Luke presents the biological genealogy of Jesus through Mary, His mother.  What is often left out of such discussions and debates, however, is that there is actually a third Christmas genealogy that all too regularly goes unnoticed.

Where is this third genealogy?  Beginning in Matthew 1:18:  “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”  The Greek word for “birth” is genesis, from which we get our English word “genealogy”  In fact, this is the same word Matthew uses in 1:1 when he introduces his “genealogy [in Greek, genesis] of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Thus, in just one chapter, Matthew presents two genealogies.

So how are to understand these two genealogies?  In Matthew’s first genealogy, we read of Jesus’ human origin.  He is the son of David and the son of Abraham.  In Matthew’s second genealogy, we read about Jesus’ divine origin. He is of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, Jesus is truly man, the son of Abraham and David; but He is also truly God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

Ultimately, Jesus’ status as truly man and truly God is what gives the Christmas story its significance.  For as a man, Jesus can identify with us men – our weakness, struggles, and trials.  But as God, Jesus can save us from our sin.

Truly man.  Truly God.  All of this wrapped in a manger.  What an incredible story!  And what a terrific reason to say, “Merry Christmas.”

December 23, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Rob Bell and Inerrancy

Rob Bell 2The other day, a friend sent me an article by pastor and provocateur Rob Bell on the subject of inerrancy.  Traditionally, the term “inerrancy” has been defined as the belief that the biblical authors, guided and inspired by God’s Spirit, “are absolutely truthful according to their intended purposes.”[1]  In other words, the biblical authors, under divine inspiration, produced writings that are “without error.”  It is important to clarify that to say the Bible is “without error” does note preclude “a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.”[2]  In other words, part of claiming biblical inerrancy is recognizing what does and does not constitute an actual “error.”

Regardless of the specifics concerning what does and does not constitute error, it is clear that “inerrancy” asserts an extraordinarily high view of the nature and reliability of Holy Writ.  Some, however, including Rob Bell, are troubled by such an assertion.

Rob Bell teases out his beef with inerrancy thusly:

My 13 year old son is currently doing an education program that requires him to listen to a certain amount of classical music every day. So on the way to school each morning instead of listening to our usual Blink 182 and rap, he listens to…Mozart. Not his first choice, but just lately he admitted that classical music has grown on him. (How does a parent not smile at that?)

A few questions, then, about Mozart:Did Mozart’s music win?
Would you say that the work of Mozart is on top?
Is Mozart the MVP?
In your estimation, has Mozart prevailed?
Do Mozart’s songs take the cake?

Odd questions, right?
They’re odd because that’s not how you think of Mozart’s music. They’re the wrong categories.

Why?
Because what you do with Mozart’s music is you listen to it and you enjoy it.

Which brings us to inerrancy: it’s not a helpful category. And if you had only ever heard about Mozart as the one who wins, those arguments would probably get in the way of you actually listening to and enjoying Mozart.[3]

So Rob Bell’s problem with inerrancy is that for him it’s not a helpful category.

Though Rob may question the usefulness of the inerrancy “category,” countless followers of Christ have, do, and will continue to find this designation extraordinarily helpful.  Yes, the word “inerrancy” is of fairly recent origin.  But what it denotes – the trustworthiness of Scripture because of divine origin of Scripture – is as old as Christianity itself.  Nichols and Brandt, in their book Ancient Word, Changing Worlds, helpfully sample some patristic evidence that indicates how the early Church saw the divine origin and inspiration of Scripture:

Clement of Rome, writing in 96, exhorted, “Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.”  Another Clement, Bishop of Alexandria, declared similarly, “I could produce then thousand Scriptures of which not ‘one tittle will pass away,’ without being fulfilled.  For the mouth of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has spoken these things.”  As for a statement about the whole Bible, Origen once observed, “For the proof of our statements, we take testimonies from that which is called the Old Testament and that which is called the New – which we believe to be divine writings.”[4]

Jumping ahead to the sixteenth century, Nichols and Brandt note that John Calvin referred to Scripture as “the sure and infallible record,” “the inerring standard,” “the pure Word of God,” “the infallible rule of His Holy Truth,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the inerring certainty,” “the certain and unerring rule,” “unerring light,” “infallible Word of God,” “has nothing belonging to man mixed with it,” “inviolable,” “infallible oracles.”[5]  Whoa.  Calvin leaves no question as to where he stands on inerrancy.

Rob does offer some reasons as to why he believes inerrancy is not a helpful category, the first of which is, “This isn’t a word the Bible uses about itself.”  But this is like saying “Trinity” is not a helpful term to describe God because it is not a term God uses to describe Himself.  Terms can be helpful even when they’re not used in the Bible if these terms describe what the Bible itself teaches.  And the Bible does indeed claim inerrancy for itself.  One need to look no farther than the Word of God’s magnum opus on the Word of God, Psalm 19:  “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).  If the word “perfect” doesn’t include being “without error,” what does it include?

Rob finally plays his hand as to why he is uncomfortable with inerrancy:  “The power of the Bible comes not from avoiding what it is but embracing what it is. Books written by actual, finite, limited, flawed people.”  Rob Bell takes issue with inerrancy because he takes issue with the doctrine of divine inspiration.  He takes issue with what Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, John Calvin, and, for that matter, the Bible itself claim about the Bible.  Rather than being a book a written by God using men (cf. 1 Peter 1:21), the Bible for Rob is a book written by men who recount their experiences with God, which, by the way, could be mistaken and wrongheaded.[6]  How do we know if their experiences with God are mistaken and wrongheaded?  Rob answers:  “Central to maturity is discernment, the growing acknowledgement that reality is not as clean and neat and simple as we’d like.”  In other words, it’s up to us to figure out what in the Bible is wrong and what in the Bible is right.  But if our world’s genocides, sexual promiscuity, oppression, economic injustice, and refusal to stand for truth because we’re not even sure of what truth is serve as any indication of our powers of discernment, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, we “have some splainin’ to do.”

Perhaps we’re not as discerning as we think we are.  Perhaps, rather than tooting the horns of our own discernment faculties, we should ask the question of the Psalmist:  “But who can discern their own errors” (Psalm 19:12)?  Our blind spots are bigger and darker than most of us recognize.

I will grant that inerrancy has sometimes all too gleefully been used as a bully club against supposed – and, in some instances, presupposed – heretics.  But I will not give up the word or the doctrine.  For when inerrancy is properly understood, it is not meant as a club, but as a promise.  It is a promise that we can trust this book – even more than we can trust ourselves.  For this book is God’s book.  And I, for one, delight in that promise because I delight in the Lord.


[1] James Voelz, What Does This Mean? Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Post-Modern World, 2nd ed. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1995), 239.

[2]Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” Article XIII (October 1978).

[3] Rob Bell, “What is the Bible? Part 21: In Air, In Sea,” robbellcom.tumblr.com (12.10.2013)

[4] Stephen Nichols and Eric Brandt, Ancient Word, Changing Worlds (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 2009), 78.

[5] Ancient Word, Changing Worlds, 78-79.

[6] Bell writes of the biblical authors in another post, “They had experiences. They told stories.  They did their best to share those stories and put language to those experiences” (“What is the Bible? Part 17: Assumptions and AA Meetings”).

December 16, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Righteousness from God

"Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth" by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490 Credit: Wikipedia

“Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth” by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490
Credit: Wikipedia

Because the gospel is the crux of our Christian faith, we can never ponder it, speak of it, or write about it too much.  This is why I was delighted to stumble across this passage from Ezekiel while reading devotionally a few days ago:

The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness. If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. (Ezekiel 33:12-13)

What a beautiful explanation of the gospel and what kind of righteousness saves.  Ezekiel is clear:  you cannot be saved by your own righteousness!  Indeed, even if you act righteously, just one evil act erases all memory of your righteousness.  As James writes: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  To receive salvation, you need another kind of righteousness that is not your own.  You need a righteousness that comes from God.  The apostle Paul brings clarity to what kind of righteousness this is:  “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

Besides reminding us that our own righteousness does not and cannot save us, Ezekiel’s words also remind us that the gospel is not confined to the New Testament.  In both Testaments, the message of the gospel is consistent:  it is God’s righteousness, not our own, that saves us.  As God promises through the prophet Isaiah, “I am bringing My righteousness near, it is not far away; and My salvation will not be delayed.”

December 9, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Godly Vision, Not Personal Agenda

Window 1It is axiomatic that vision is integral to leadership.  No less than Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the field of leadership studies, defined leadership as “the capacity to translate vision into reality.”[1]  If a leader does not have a vision, he will lead aimlessly.  If he cannot articulate a vision, his organization will wander aimlessly.  Leadership requires vision.

But that’s not all leadership requires.  Leadership also requires mission.  After all, mission is what gives purpose to an organization’s very existence.  Vision, then, is when the leader of an organization understands his organization’s strengths, gifts, and capacities, and capitalizes on these in ways that fulfill an organization’s mission.  Thus, the mission of an organization and the vision of its leader must work in synergy with each other.

When it comes to the organization – or, better yet, the body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28) – that is the Church, her mission is clear.  After all, her mission was crafted and communicated by Christ Himself:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).   The mission of the Church is to make disciples by baptizing in God’s name and teaching God’s Word, all the while exuding a lively confidence that Christ is continually with us, empowering us as we carry out His mission.  How precisely this mission is accomplished from congregation to congregation is a function of the vision of a congregation’s leaders – specifically, its pastor.

Sadly, in my years of ministry, I have seen far too many pastors who, rather than casting visions that capitalize on their congregations’ strengths, gifts, and capacities, push agendas based on their own likes and dislikes, preferences and antipathies.  They may say they’re casting vision to congregations that have none.  But what they’re really doing is asserting agendas that bully congregations at their weakest points.

To the leaders in Christ’s Church, I offer this plea:  don’t confuse your agenda – no matter how noble it may seem – with Godly vision for your congregation.  One, by God’s grace, can breathe life and excitement into a congregation.  The other can frustrate and deflate God’s people.  And Christ’s mission is far too important to settle for that.  Christ’s mission deserves true vision.


[1] Kevin Kruse, “100 Best Quotes On Leadership,” Forbes Magazine (10.16.2012).

December 2, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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