Monday, November 21, 2005

The Things We Think Are Biblical

I have thought a lot about the dismal statistics concerning our basic biblical illiteracy. It doesn’t take long to run into some pretty depressing numbers, and most depressing is the reality that the numbers inside the church are not all that different than the numbers outside the church.

Recently, though, one specific stat caught my eye in a new way. Barna’s research has revealed that 82% of the population believes that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible, and that in the church we have been able to correct that false notion by one percent. As another one of Barna’s studies puts it:

The most widely-known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves"…

This not only speaks to our basic lack of knowledge, but to what we think is biblically sanctioned. We Americans have been inoculated with an individualistic and entrepreneurial attitude to the point where we have equated a secular, pagan value with our Christian values. God not only is not in the business of helping those who help themselves, He is actually in the business of reminding us how utterly incapable of taking care of ourselves we really are.

The proper counter-move to this false idea is twofold: an understanding of original sin and the extent of total depravity, and an understanding of the absolute freedom there is to be found in trust in God.

Psalm 1 says:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Jeremiah 17 echoes this truth and explains why we cannot trust in human hearts (including my own!):

Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD....
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

Our trust in our abilities is too great. Our strengths and potentialities far underdetermine the trust we put in ourselves. That is a recipe for disaster.


Mike said...

You are so right - we do need more Bible study among Christians.

My own favorite verses: Mark 12:28-31.

Steve said...

Great post Phil! Sadly many in my churches believe this.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Phil. Good post.

It brings to mind two different rabbit-trails of thought.

First line of thought:
It seems that some proper biblical paraphrases of this Benjamin Franklin proverb should be:
"God helps those who admit they cannot help themselves."
"God allows those who think they can help themselves to the full benefit of that help--which amounts to a whole lot of nothin' in light of Eternity."
"We, as God's People need to love those who cannot help themselves."

Second line of thought:
Since this proverb is from Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, isn't it interesting that our supposed "Christian America" has allowed this extremely American proverb to be raised to biblical status? The syncretism of American ideals (like individualism, consumerism, materialism, and imperial military power) with Christianity runs deep.

Phil Steiger said...

Thanks all for you kind words. I agree that we confuse our kingdoms way too often. And I have learned that those are sometimes some pretty sensitive toes to step on...

Anonymous said...

Another proverb that is widely thought to be in the Bible: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." Explains a lot about our aversion to dirt and germs.