Very recently I read an opinion piece in a well-known newspaper in which the writer scored rhetorical points by casting aspersions on old-fashioned, biblical thinking. Now this had nothing really to do with the point of the article. But apparently it’s always good technique to present one’s perspective in contrast to the narrow-minded, constraints of bygone Christian oppression. It makes the skeptic seem cool. I felt like I was back in grade 5, the class geek scorned by the cool kids.
What was particularly interesting to me was the fact that Christianity really—really—had nothing to do with the writer’s point. It was only a writer’s trick to pressure readers into picking sides: do you want to be numbered with the cool kids, or do you really want to take the risk of holding a different point of view and be ostracized with the fundamentalist Christians? There is no middle ground; no gray area here.
Sadly it is no longer uncommon to run into portrayals of Christianity that depend on cheap and superficial caricatures. One can’t be a thoughtful Christian. Or a respectable Christian. Never mind the thoughtful and respectable paragons of history—Isaac Newton, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther King—to name a few. The whole point of being a cool skeptic is to control the conversation by controlling the definitions. Christians are insensitive, inbred, indoctrinated, and inarticulate. In case you didn’t know.
And yet, optimist that I am, I think there are still lots of good people who think for themselves and are able to filter this kind of nonsense from the daily diet of social media and talking heads. I am hopeful that the respectable and thoughtful agnostics, atheists, unconvinced, and skeptics I count as friends are not anomalies. I hope there are many unbelievers in the West who aren’t inclined to lynch the straw man. Because this has all happened before. And it never turns out well for the cool kids. Shallow, condescending skepticism is not new. The cool kids were making fun of the Bible centuries before Jesus Christ was born.
Around 600 years before Christ (we used to call that “B.C.” although now the cool kids tell us to call the time after Christ the “Common Era”—however uncommon His advent was), the prophet Jeremiah lamented,
“…behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it” (Jer 6:10 ESV).
This is remarkable. Because thoughtful, respectable, believers, both before Christ and after Christ, have treasured the Scriptures available to them precisely because they found pleasure—happiness—in meditating on and living according to God’s Word. I know I do. The depths of Scripture give up far more weighty gold than wishing wells ever could. I have heard unbelieving friends confess that after reading some of the Bible, or listening to a sermon, they just “don’t get it.” But that’s like the person with ambitions of being a gold miner abandoning the effort after only digging a couple of feet. Men and women have throughout history been motivated and strengthened to accomplish great things fuelled by the hope and happiness discovered in God’s Word. It is improbable that the names of Newton, Wilberforce, Lincoln, Lewis or King would be recognizable to us today if they had not found both treasure and pleasure in the Bible. And can you imagine how much poorer we would all be today without them?
A few verses later, Jeremiah penned this timeless invitation to his readers not to stand with the skeptics who think they are cool, but to seek and discover in God’s Word the treasures they didn’t even know they were missing. Unfortunately, that didn’t end well back then either.
“Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jer 6:16 ESV)