how not to read

One more thing which I have to share with you today is this. In yesterday’s Scotsman there was a small notice with a Bible verse and a comment by a minister. The verse was, “He shall gain life who is justified by faith,” which is apparently Romans 1:17, and the comment was: “We need to know something of the linguistic, social and religious background of our text if we are to understand it correctly.” (That’s the comment quoted in its entirety.)

I had to laugh it was so tragic … as if to say, Here’s a bible verse for your edification, but unless you’ve got three areas of speciality you’ve really no chance of understanding it, sorry.

This sums up pretty much exactly the attitude which a reader shouldn’t take when reading the bible. Or most other books for that matter, but you understand why I focus on the bible. You don’t have to be a sociologist, a theologian, or even a linguist, before you can read a chapter and understand what it means. “He shall gain life who is justified by faith” (aka “the just shall live by faith”) isn’t really that hard to fathom. All the equipment you need in order to approach the Bible is a heart and a mind and a conscience; or, in short, to be a human being.

When you know “something of the background of a text” it obviously helps to add to your understanding, but the bible is for normal people, not experts. It is perspicuous, clear, with its meaning on the surface as well as deep down – and ministers who suggest otherwise, and imply that understanding it is best left to experts and learned scholars in a variety of disciplines, are doing a disservice both to the book itself and also to people who might be tempted by these suggestions not to bother reading it under the illusion that it’ll just be too hard for them. Average folks on the street, as well as academics, although they won’t ever understand it fully, are certainly able to understand it correctly, just by reading it.

receiving the gospel offer

Here’s a quote from John Flavel’s book, The Method of Grace, which I was dipping into over the holiday (it’s available here) . Here he’s explaining how the Saviour is received in the same way as he is offered in the gospel (it’s not the complete section – I’ve abbreviated it here).

1. The gospel offers Christ to us sincerely and really, and so the true believer receives and accepts him. …

2. Christ is offered to us in the gospel entirely and undividedly, as clothed with all his offices, priestly, prophetical, and regal, as Christ Jesus the Lord, Acts 16:31; and so the true believer receives him. …

3. Christ is offered to us in the gospel exclusively, as the only Saviour of sinners, with whose blood and intercession nothing is to be mixed; but the soul of a sinner is singly to rely and depend on him, and no other. Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11. And so faith receives him … Psalm 71:16.

4. The gospel offers Christ freely to sinners as the gift of God, John 4:10; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17; and so faith receives him. …

5. The gospel offers Christ orderly to sinners, first his person, then his privileges. … Romans 8:32. In the same order must our faith receive him. …

6. Christ is advisedly offered in the gospel to sinners, as the result of God’s eternal counsel, a project of grace upon which his heart and thoughts have been much set. Zechariah 6:13 … And so the believer receives him, most deliberately weighing the matter in his most deep and serious thoughts; for this is a time of much solicitude and thoughtfulness. …

There’s a short biography of him here, which quotes one member of his congregation as saying that a person must have had “a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both,” if they could sit unaffected under his ministry. The book is worth a read anyway.

given the choice

I’ve just finished reading Families Without Fatherhood by Norman Dennis and George Erdos (third edition 2000). Their interest is the family, and they review a large and comprehensive body of evidence which suggests that if children are born to married parents who are committed to each other and to bringing up their children, on average, these children do better in life than children who aren’t part of that situation. That’s “doing better” as in: lower mortality rates, less likelihood of child abuse or neglect, better health, higher educational achievement, you name it.

Based on this evidence, in the afterword, Peter Saunders makes the comment that any child, given the choice, would opt to be born to married parents, rather than be part of any other kind of living arrangement (single parents, step families, cohabitation, two mums or two dads, etc).

The book also queries why there is such clear public opinion that it doesn’t matter what kind of living arrangements you’re in – ie, why it is that people in general believe that there are no adverse consequences of choosing to raise children within or outwith the context of marriage (either for the adults or for the children), even when the evidence points so overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. The book’s conclusion is that this is not a case of people turning a blind eye to unwelcome information, as if they were just ignoring what they don’t want to hear. Rather, this information is not actually being made available – the general public is not aware that the evidence exists, and are therefore not in a position to live out their lifestyles on the basis of an informed choice.

Families Without Fatherhood is actually the first thing I’ve come across which argues in favour of traditional marriage on the basis of evidence. Maybe it’s my lack of reading widely, but I’m more inclined to agree that the evidence is simply not available to the average wo/man on the street – if you’d asked my opinion I’d have told you traditional marriage was best, but I’d have made that choice on ideological grounds, because I’d have believed that the data on the benefits of marriage were still ambivalent (ie we still don’t know what effect the dismantling of the institution of marriage is having – the too soon to say argument). But since this blog has such a vast readership, I’ll share this evidence with you here – do my bit to publicise the existence of clear and consistent findings that, on average, children raised in the context of the traditional lifelong committed two-parent family are better off than those raised in other contexts.