This September, there are a couple of topics that are probably going to take up a lot of space on your social media newsfeed. Blood moons and harbingers of judgment. You may find yourself wondering what to make of all the prophesies and predictions that will be twittering about on your social media streams. An understanding of hermeneutics, the basic principles of Bible interpretation, will serve you well though this month, as well as the rest of your life.
The Blood Moons
This is a subject you may have seen on your newsfeed. According to End-times preacher John Hagee, the author of “Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change,” Acts 2:19-20 contains a warning that a set of four lunar eclipses, or “Blood Moons”, occurring on or near festivals in the Jewish liturgical calendar shows that the end is nigh upon us.
“And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day” (Acts 2:19-20).
While reading posts on your newsfeed by the end-times social media mavens, ask yourself, what do other verses and books of the Bible say about this passage? Read all of Acts chapter two and pay attention to what Peter says in verse 2:16 “…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Also compare the passage to Luke 23: 44-45, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.”
Peter quotes the prophet Joel in reference to alarming signs recently seen in the skies of Jerusalem at the time Christ was hung on the cross. Darkness fell over the city, and people where frightened. He proclaimed that the signs they saw in the sky and the disciples miraculously preaching in foreign languages (tongues) was a sign that the prophesies of the Messiah were being fulfilled. Jesus Christ had come to bring salvation!
A plain reading of the text shows that if you are looking for the meaning of the bloody red moon or the darkening of the sun, look no further. Joel’s prophecy about the blood moon has been fulfilled, according to Peter. The regularly occurring lunar eclipses described as signs by John Hagee are not what the prophet or the apostle were talking about. They were talking about something very unique that happened on the day Christ was crucified. Apologist Chris Rosebrough has done a couple of good podcasts about the book here and here.
The Nine Harbingers
As September 13th draws closer, the subject of harbingers of judgment will no doubt appear in your social media stream. Writer Jonathan Cahn, author of the fictional book “The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future” implies that Isaiah 9:8-11 reveals a set of nine harbingers that have been set into motion that are leading America toward God’s judgment on the country. September 13, 2015 is an especially important date because, at that time, the Jewish Sabbatical year begins.
“The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. Therefore the Lord shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together” (Isaiah 9:8-11).
To Cahn, the fallen bricks and sycamore trees represent the ruins of the Twin Towers in New York City on 9/11. The stones and cedar trees symbolize the defiant vow of Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (and by extension America) to rebuild in spite of God’s judgment through the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
When interpreting the Bible, keep in mind the Apostle Peter’s admonition, “First of all, you should know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). In short, if only one teacher “discovered” it, that’s a major red flag!
Paul also warned Titus, “pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:14).
Listen to another good podcast that talks about the fallacy of seeking hidden mysteries in this passage, here.
To be sound in your interpretation of the scriptures, be careful to avoid reading into the text what is not there, reading the word “trees” and interpreting them as sky scrapers, for example. Guard against thinking with anachronisms, like the idea that America has a covenant with God similar to the one He initiated with Israel. America does not have a covenant relationship with God, Christians do.
If everything mentioned in the Bible can also be considered a symbol or code that only a select few “prophets” can understand, then the Bible could be used to say anything.
As Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
So is this the end? Will September 13th bring a great shaking? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, we should all remain faithful to the Lord. The Bible does teach that Americans–and everyone else who sins–are already under God’s judgment. (Romans 3:9-20)
But as for the end of days, Jesus said, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows–neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son–except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
Basic Hermeneutic Principles:
- Know the literary genre of the passage you are reading.
- Understand what the passage meant to the original readers.
- Look for the context of the passage.
- Let scripture interpret scripture. Check to see what other verses and books of the Bible say about the same thing.
- The plain meaning of the text is usually the proper interpretation.
- Do not rely on allegories, codes or otherwise hidden devices to interpret the Bible.
- Be careful to avoid reading into the text what is not there (Eisegesis Greek: ἐξήγησις).
- Guard against thinking with anachronisms when interpreting the Bible.
- Become familiar with the Bible’s use of literary devices. Read, “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee
We are at a watershed moment where social media is, less and less, an open forum for public discourse. Instead, it is becoming a curated propaganda tool used by social network owners. The unfortunate result of this could be that the speech of Christians online is undermined, perhaps even stifled.
Back in 2010, social media activists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya used networks like Facebook and Twitter to bypass the controls of government censorship to organize resistance to their countries’ leadership. The result led to the so-called Arab Spring.
Now that the power of social media has been demonstrated to evoke grand societal change, social media networks themselves are becoming actively engaged in manipulating content posted on the social web using something called “algorithms.” But this time, social media is being used not for trying to topple terrible dictators; instead they are being used to overcome the influence of the Christian worldview on society. I pray this will not result in the Winter of Christian online free speech.
What is an algorithm?
The Social media experts at Hootsuite explain, “Algorithms are everywhere in computer science and are crucial to the software that runs the world. In social media, the most important algorithms are those that determine which content we see. For example, your Facebook news feed doesn’t show every status update and every photo from every one of your friends. Instead, it displays an algorithmically curated set of content that Facebook thinks is most worth seeing.”
Algorithms have always been part of social networking. What’s changing about these computer formulas is they are being written not only to get the kind of content you want to see onto your news feed, they also are being used now to send you the kind of news feed content the owners of the social networks want you to see because they want to change your deeply-held beliefs.
Last year, about this time, a research report came out about Facebook using their network to study people’s emotions by tweaking the types of stories users see in their news feed using algorithms. Forbes magazine writes, “Facebook manipulated the news feeds of 689,003 people to see if the emotion they picked up through the content on their news feeds impacted the emotion they then displayed on the platform through their own posts. During the week-long test, some Facebook users logged in and found less positive emotional content on their news feed than usual, and others saw less negative emotional content. Facebook then tracked what those users posted after they viewed the manipulated news feeds.”
This demonstrates how Facebook has learned how to adjust their algorithms to show the types of content they want people to see in their news feed in order to get a desired response from network users. Conversely, the newsfeed algorithms also can be adjusted to suppress the types of content that is not desired to be seen by targeted users on the network.
Facebook actively campaigned against traditional marriage.
With the algorithm test completed, this year, on the day of the Supreme Court decision about marriage, Facebook did what seems to be another experiment. Except, this experiment moved from beyond observation toward overt manipulation. According to the Atlantic, “Facebook provided a simple way to turn profile photos rainbow-colored. More than 1 million people changed their profile in the first few hours, according to the Facebook spokesperson William Nevius, and the number continues to grow.”
By giving users a tool to change their profile picture to one filtered with a rainbow and not giving the other side a similar tool, Facebook officially used their power over their network to influence people’s opinions. It is likely (though not proven because Facebook keeps the particulars about their algorithms secret) that the social network also adjusted their news feed to make sure users saw the profile pictures and messages they wanted people to see.
What’s the problem?
Social media providers own their networks. Of course, they can do what they want with them. Nobody is forced to use Facebook. But Christian users who want to voice their alternate point of views on the network may not be aware that they are not speaking out in an unfiltered marketplace of ideas. They are communicating in an algorithmically-controlled social network owned and run by people who disagree with their deeply-held Christian values and have an agenda to change them.
Christian beware: the social web is not “the agora marketplace on Mars Hill” we originally thought it would be. Social media is increasing becoming a tool used to undermine Christian speech.
What can Christians do?
- Continue to communicate. We can’t stop just because the game is increasingly rigged.
- Use direct messages, texting, and face-to-face communications. Don’t rely only on social media.
- Prayerfully communicate to people you want to influence on the social issues of the day.
- Choose your online words wisely. Follow Christ’s admonition to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matt. 10:16
- Be social media algorithm savvy. Don’t be deceived by the predominance of propaganda found in your news feed.
Killing Jesus, a film based on the book written by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, premiered on March 29, Palm Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on National Geographic Channel. It was seen by 3.7 million viewers.
There are praiseworthy qualities of the movie. The dramatic film recreated the first century period in detail with realistic costumes and sets. The political intrigue surrounding Jesus’ death is explored in an interesting way. In a day when so many find it difficult to show Christian love to Middle Eastern people, it was touching to see Lebanese born Haaz Sleiman play Jesus saying, “We will love our enemies!”
However, O’Reilly and Dugard set out to tell the story of the events that led to the killing of Jesus from a naturalistic viewpoint without the supernatural.
“Martin Dugard and I are both Roman Catholics who were educated in religious schools. But we are also historical investigators and are interested primarily in telling the truth about important people, not converting anyone to a spiritual cause,” O’Reilly explains.
In Killing Jesus the Lord amazes his followers with his healing ability, where no healing is done. The followers of Jesus seem ready to interpret even the slightest unusual event that occurs around Jesus as miraculous. To the viewer, the “miracles” seem mundane.
Ironically for a film premiering on Easter, the film does not include the resurrection of Jesus. The naturalistic bias of the filmmakers removes one of the prime evidences for the resurrection, the Roman guards at the tomb.
In a final scene between Pontius Pilate and his wife Claudia, the couple has a conversation about the tomb:
Pilot: “He [the Jewish high priest] wants the tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.”
Claudia: “He, of all people, worries the Nazarene will return from the dead?”
Pilot: “He claims concern that followers of Jesus will take the body and make it appear that he has risen.”
Claudia: “Which do you believe?”
Pilot: “I believe that guarding that tomb is a waste of Roman soldiers efforts.”
Killing Jesus has a fatal flaw because under the guise of historical research it is really a naturalistic spin on the Gospel. The film implies that Jesus was not who He claimed to be and that the deeds of Jesus, as put down by the Gospel authors, may not have happened. Even worse, it implies that the resurrection didn’t happen but may have been a hoax.
Paul spoke of the fatal flaw of omitting the resurrection from the Gospel by appealing to the historical record. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).
A Gospel message without the resurrection is fatally flawed.
There have been a lot of tweets, posts, articles, blog posts and discussions online and at the annual meeting asking this question: What has happened to the Southern Baptist Convention?
The fact is the SBC is not growing at the same pace it used to grow. Our baptisms are down from years before, the convention is on a decline. There must be a reason, there must be someone to blame! Everyone wonders what happened and asks what can we do about it, but are we asking the right questions?
How did we really get so big as a convention?
We are big mostly because we reached the Baby Boomer generation. The Southern Baptist Convention came of age in a time of unprecedented population growth in the USA. The 76,000,000 Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964 drove up the numbers of the SBC membership. This generation single-handedly increased the size of the denomination’s share of the USA total church attendance. Baby Boomers are by far the largest segment of the SBC (approximately 60% of SBC pastors are Boomers).
The history of the SBC parallels the life stages of the Boomer generation. As children they began to be enrolled in SBC church cradle rolls during the “Million More in ’54” campaign. The sheer size of the Boomer generation forced the SBC to adapt to their church ministries with innovations like age-graded Sunday School, church busing, Vacation Bible School, and full-time children’s ministries.
As Boomers became youth, the SBC experienced explosive growth in church-based youth ministry, youth camps, youth musicals, etc. SBC ministries like Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) summer missions, IMB Journeymen programs were at their height of popularity at the same time SBC Boomers were in college.
Many of the current SBC leaders became believers during the Jesus Movement in the 1970‘s and revivals of the 1980’s. When Boomers became parents they flocked together in our mega churches, and even changed the music used in worship services to suit their tastes.
Boomers are older now, and the SBC market has shifted. SBC has grown over the years because we reached mostly white Baby Boomer young families. That group has aged, and the children of Boomers are going to other churches. They are not leaving church; they were not raised to be brand loyal to the SBC.
How can we involve the next generations more effectively in SBC leadership?
A much smaller Generation X (born 1965-1979) and a larger, more ethnically-diverse Millennial generation (born 1980-1996) are taking the lead in the church at large. There happens to be fewer of them involved in the SBC leadership. How can we change that? How can we connect cooperatively with existing churches that reach other generations?
There used to be only a few options for church membership: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. Now there is a proliferation of new churches and increased competition for members from other conservative start-up churches. Visit any of these newer churches, and you will find many people there who grew up in the SBC. Most of these churches are theologically compatible with the SBC. How can we meaningfully affiliate with these churches?
In my opinion, the SBC needs to talk about these questions as much as they need to search their hearts about the other questions that are being asked in the convention.
For this next article in the Generations series, I am going to do something very shocking. I’m dividing the Baby Boomers into two groups. This might not sit well with some of them because that makes the Boomers an average-sized generation instead of the second largest one. Boomers like things to be big!
There is method in my madness. There are 363,905 Baby Boomers living in Oklahoma. The first group is what some term “Early Boomers” (born: 1946-1954. Age: 59-67). My next article will be about the second group of “Late Boomers,” which many believe should be considered separately as “Generation Jones” (born 1955-1964. Age: 49-58).
Baby Boomers were born (1946-1954) in a time of unprecedented prosperity in the United States. Because of this, they usually have an optimistic attitude and tend to take material things for granted. Rather than aspiring to the American Dream, Boomers have been born into it. When they were 25, the first Starbucks opened at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington and the Intel 4004 was the first microprocessor. Their impact on culture and technology are the hallmarks of the Boomer generation.
Boomers have shaped the world with technology innovations in just about every area of learning, especially in physical science, sociology, psychology and technology. They invented the personal computer, the internet, satellite networks, etc. Most of America’s technical engineers are Baby Boomers.
As the first generation that was raised on TV, they grew up watching Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, but by 1971, when the oldest Boomer turned 25, everything was changed. Sweeping social and cultural change came to the United States and continued throughout their lifetimes. Boomer values changed society in the United States with regard to women, race, sexual mores, the rearing of children, the economy–even clothing! If you are wearing jeans at work as you read this, thank a Boomer. Their informal approach to life changed the business world from formal suits and ties to “business casual.”
Baby Boomers have a strong need to define what they do in terms of morality and right and wrong. They are the force behind movements from the Hippies and Free Love to the Jesus People and contemporary Christian music. Their tastes in music, movies, and design have shaped the present American context. They are the most educated generation in American history. They value and respect education. Baby Boomers are insatiable learners who are constantly on a quest of personal development.
Life in the SBC:
The argument could be made that the Boomers are the makers of the Southern Baptist Convention. As children they were enrolled in SBC churches during the “Million More in ‘54” campaign. The sheer size of their numbers forced the SBC to adapt to them with developments such as age-graded Sunday School, church busing, Vacation Bible School, and full-time children’s ministers. As youth, the SBC experienced explosive growth in church-based youth ministry, youth camps, youth musicals, etc. SBC campus ministries like BCM were at their height at the time the SBC Boomers were in college. Many Boomers became believers during the “Jesus Movement” of the 1970‘s. As they entered the ministry, Boomers reshaped the landscape of the SBC, creating new expressions of church with contemporary music, mega-churches, and Para-church organizations. Boomers will continue to shape the future of the SBC as they face retirement age. Between now and 2015, the people entering retirement age is projected to increase 54%. Boomers do not expect old age to slow them down or keep them from contributing to society. Look for the Baby Boomers to continue their active involvement in the SBC.
Boomer have shared experiences growing up that shaped their lives, many have a similar outlook on life.
Baby Boomer Outlook
Youthfulness. Boomers don’t want to be kids forever, but they do want to stay young by intensely questioning established ways and bringing the youthful sentiment of looking at things with fresh eyes.
Personal spiritual development. They tend to pursue their growth using programs, many of which have videos, books and seminars.
Achievement. Boomers are driven and hard working and tend to think a person needs to pay his or her dues to get to the top. Position is the result of creative action, hard work, and dedication.
Give a little face time. The generation that gave us “Woodstock” loves conferences and large gatherings. These are places where Boomers thrive because they like to mingle with others and form relationships.
Consensus building. They value egalitarian leadership. They prefer to work on problems in teams and task force groups. Give them a place to meet regularly and a team of competent people and they feel they can change the world.
Spend the money. Boomers are focused on the present more than the future. For this reason, they tend to spend more than save. They want to spend in ways that have measurable impact in the present.