By Ricky Beckett, GUG Contributor
This article was edited to Geeks Under Grace standards, and the personal opinions of this author are not necessarily that of Geeks Under Grace.
This is part two of Ricky Beckett’s Clearly Christian series. Be sure to check out part one!
In part one of this series, we briefly covered the history of the Age of Confusion we’ve been living in ever since the Fall of Man in Genesis. Before we venture into other specific confusions, I would be remiss not to first discuss the significant role the Internet plays in this confusion. As Rev. Sutton puts it, “Just as ancient Roman roads such as the Appian Way altered how early followers of Jesus traversed the Roman Empire with the Gospel, the internet alters how modern followers of Jesus traverse the world today with the Gospel. This technology has many great affordances for the proclamation of the Gospel… Yet, this technology has also allowed confusion and misinformation about what it means to be a Christian to spread around the globe with unprecedented speed” (Sutton, 20). The goal of this second part in this series is to help you traverse the digital roads of the Internet while remaining a faithful Christian.
Name any social media platform, and you will easily find abounding confusion about Christianity: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, etc. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people are misrepresenting Christianity by spreading ancient heresies as well as new ones like using gender ideology to interpret Scripture. So, what do we do with such cesspools of heresy and deconstructionism? Well, it helps to educate yourself with a faithful hermeneutic. In the Lutheran tradition, we teach our people six basic principles of interpretation:
- Stick with the plain and obvious meaning of the text unless the context suggests otherwise. For example, is Mark 4:35-41 about Jesus calming your anxiety (an allegorization of the text) or calming a storm to display His divine power? The obvious meaning is the latter, and context does not remotely suggest the former. Can Jesus help calm your anxiety? Certainly, but that’s not what the text is about (Matthew 6:25-34 would be a much better text for that).
A second example is Isaiah 5:1-6, which seems like God is simply talking about a vineyard until you read the immediate context of verse 7 that reveals the vineyard is an extended metaphor for Israel. As we will see, all these principles are interrelated and don’t necessarily happen in any particular order.
- Scripture interprets Scripture. For example, Revelation 20:4-6, 11-15 is best interpreted by Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46. All supposed “contradictions” in Scripture can be resolved with this principle. If something seems like a contradiction, you can bet Scripture has already interpreted it for you.
- Pay attention to context. Like the first principle, which is usually concerned with the immediate context, this principle tends to be concerned with the wider context within the same book. For example, why does Paul say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)? The immediate context of Romans 7 helps this make more sense, but it makes even more sense when put into the wider context of Romans 6 where Paul writes that in Baptism, we have died to sin and live to Christ. Having been baptized into Christ, you are no longer condemned. We see principle 2 again come into play here when Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). How does Baptism save you? That is, how does Christ use Baptism as a means to save you? Not only does the immediate context of 1 Peter 3:21 help, but so does the much wider context of Scripture in Romans 6 and Galatians 3.
- Interpret Scripture in light of the rule of faith. Simply put, the rule of faith is considering what God’s people believe about God and His plan of salvation. This is also helpful when seeming contradictions, as well as doubts, arise. For example, when reading Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” this could bring one to wonder, “I thought God desired burnt offerings? Isn’t that the whole point of the Old Testament sacrificial system?”
When exercising the rule of faith—who God is and His salvific concerns—one may think of this in light of Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” By exercising the rule of faith, we thus see God did not desire the mere performance of the act (ex opere operato) in their sacrifices, but genuine faith and repentance. This is also a good example of principle 2.
- Interpret Scripture Christologically. When reading any given Scripture (especially the Old Testament), ask yourself, “What, if anything, does this text have to do with Christ?” For example, who is the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12? The New Testament tells us this is Christ. Similarly, who could possibly be the blessed man in Psalm 1? Thinking of this Christologically, Christ is the blessed man who perfectly meditated on the Torah day and night, especially when considering His praying Psalm 22 on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (cf. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Also, what might the Great Flood have to do with Christ? The Apostle Peter interprets this in 1 Peter 3:18-21.
- Law & Gospel. A lot goes into this, and it is a uniquely Lutheran framework. This is especially important for preaching and pastoral care (we’ll briefly discuss the latter at the end). Essentially, when you’re reading any given text, consider if it is Law or Gospel. To explain it succinctly, the text is Law if it is revealing sin (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) or telling you to do something (e.g., the Ten Commandments; Matthew 5-7; Ephesians 2:10). The text is Gospel if it is telling you what Christ has done for you (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Hopefully, this simple hermeneutic is helpful as you traverse the world wide web. If you’d like to learn more about them, I recommend the short book Reading the Bible with Understanding by Lane A. Burgland, which covers each of these principles. The Rev. Dr. James W. Voelz—prominent Lutheran exegetical scholar—is also working on a book with the working title Principles of Interpretation for Everyone, which is intended for a lay audience, so keep your eye out for that as well.
Technology + Culture
To be sure, the Internet certainly has many positives. Geeks Under Grace is one of those positives—an online source where Christians like you learn how to engage with pop culture while remaining faithful Christians. The Internet has also made life relatively easier, such as digital banking, online learning (especially during the COVID pandemic), and real-time maps that give you directions. It has made connectivity with others much easier, allowing us to easily maintain our relationships with friends and family across the entire world. Yet the Internet’s many negatives cannot be dismissed: human trafficking, pornography, cyberbullying, the dark web, terrorist propaganda, and other things. This technology has drastically changed our world in three ways:
- Hive Mind. A hive mind manifests itself as, “Groupthink, collective intelligence, and mob mentality… The digital hive mind finds its target—someone holding to an unpopular view, doing something perceived by others as wrong, or make a simple mistake—and begins to swarm with public condemnation… No time or incentive to think for yourself or consider the individual person being shamed—there is only enough time to swarm, destroy, and move on to the next target” (Sutton, 24). People who engage in hive mind are thus incapable of critical thinking.
For example, you may or may not remember when Chris Pratt made an Instagram post about how blessed he is to have “a gorgeous healthy daughter” with his new wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger. A lot of fans immediately began publicly shaming Pratt for supposedly intending this as a jab against his ex-wife, Anna Faris, and their son who has special needs. Was he truly passive-aggressively making a cheap shot against his ex-wife and the son they had together, or was he simply expressing the utter joy of having a beautiful, healthy child with his new wife as any good father would do? The latter is much more obvious than the former, especially because no one but he and God know his heart.
Rather than putting the best construction on things, explaining everything in the kindest way, and defending his honor and reputation, the sweaty trolls immediately gunned for his honor and reputation and slandered him for things that cannot be proven, thus violating the 8th Commandment (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”).
- Fake News. All of us are probably most familiar with this, especially within the last six years, but it has been around long before the 2016 election. Nonetheless, it has been heightened in our digital age. “The cost of entry to become a content creator is little more than a computer and an internet connection. It is also very easy to conceal identity, falsify credentials, or concoct outright falsehoods online” (Sutton, 25). From manipulated photos, doctored videos, and outright lies from the clever twisting of facts, fake news is often spread about Christianity.
One example is the statement that Christian Nationalism is on the rise. Statistics do not support this claim. When one group of people vote according to their metaphysical presuppositions, it’s called democracy; when Christians do the same, suddenly it’s “Christian Nationalism.” This claim is more akin to Christophobia.
- Participatory Culture. “Participatory culture encourages us to create and share our own viewpoints and perspectives online, rather than simply consume information and ideas. This means that everyone online has a voice” (Sutton, 25). While participatory culture has been a positive force for justice and the freedom of speech, it also has some faults that cannot go ignored. As Sutton continues, “The call to comment, opine, and rant online has utterly eroded our ability to think deeply and reflect for a sustained period of time. Seldom do people read an entire article online before commenting or sharing” (Sutton, 26).
Just like with a hive mind, critical thinking is also sorely lacking here. Everyone has the freedom to voice their opinion, which is an important freedom to have, but unfortunately, many mistake that for meaning their opinions are free from criticism. Thus, when a lie is spread about Christianity and a Christian attempts to clarify that lie with the truth, the common reaction is to go on a rant against the Christian without allowing any room for them to respond before clicking the block button. Everyone can participate – unless you’re guilty of wrongthink.
As we discussed in part one, confusions about Christianity abound, even more so with the rise of the Internet. Common confusions today consist of, “Being a Christian is about being a good person, rejecting the physical world, following old-fashioned traditions, judging others,” (Sutton, 26), as well as being hypocritical and abandoning reason for the delusion of a “magical sky daddy.” We will cover each of these confusions throughout the series, but I have a few comments on hypocrisy in the Church before we conclude.
Have Christians been hypocritical? Absolutely. Yet here’s the rub for people who reject Christianity simply because we can be hypocritical: “confusion and sin go together like cat memes and the internet; you cannot have one without the other. Followers of Jesus have never claimed to be sinless people. The Church is not composed of blameless believers who always say, think, and do the right things” (Sutton, 27). Everybody is a sinner, which means everybody is a hypocrite.
Yet Christians are forgiven hypocrites. We acknowledge our hypocrisy before God and He forgives us for our hypocrisy, and we try to do better for the sake of our neighbor. We never do this perfectly, because we can’t. Christians have always acknowledged this, and we have always recognized our need for forgiveness for our perpetual hypocrisy. Even if they say so, people don’t leave the Church because it’s made up of hypocrites (because of course it is!), but because of unbelief. What do unbelievers like to do? Mock the people of God (Psalm 1:1), so of course, they mock us for being hypocrites, albeit forgiven hypocrites.
So, let’s practice Law and Gospel. If a troll online accuses you of being a hypocrite, rather than typing an offended response at rapid speed, maybe step back and think on it a little bit. Seriously ask yourself, “Am I being a hypocrite?” Reflect on your actions and on Scripture. If you find you have been a hypocrite, repent, and even ask them to forgive you (if they don’t, it’s not your problem). Then trust in Christ (the Gospel) for the forgiveness of your sins.
If you find you have not been hypocritical and this is an unfair accusation against you, simply ignore what they said, and rest assured you are forgiven in Christ. The thing with bullies is nine times out of 10, they’re lying about you. If you know what they’re saying about you is a lie, then you have nothing to worry about! Don’t even respond to them; don’t feed the trolls, for they have an insatiable appetite. Move on about your day in the grace and mercy of your Lord, Jesus Christ.
About the Author
Rev. Garrick Sinclair Beckett, also known as Pastor Ricky, is Associate Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and is also campus pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Chapel located on the Central Michigan University campus. He is a graduate of Concordia Seminary (M.Div.) and received his bachelor’s degree from Concordia University-Ann Arbor in Christian Thought and Theological Languages. He served three years in the Army prior to seminary and is married to his wife, Emilia, who emigrated from Finland. What makes Pastor Ricky a “geek” is his affinity for video games, literature, and anime.
This article was edited to Geeks Under Grace standards, and the personal opinions of this author are not necessarily that of Geeks Under Grace.
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Sutton, A. Trevor. Clearly Christian: Following Jesus in This Age of Confusion. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.
Rules for hermeneutics in real language:
1. Be as shallow as possible when reading. Scripture does not interact with the reader or have any beauty, but works simply and directly like a textbook.
2. Rationalize away the problems this causes by using the duct tape of conjecture and selective application.
3. Harness the context for tradition. Do not allow the above points to stray from modern doctrinal mindsets.
4. Remember that actions of trust and love are secondary to intellectual affirmation. Of the three, Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these is Faither because we are saved by faith alone, not love.
5. Read backwards. Interperet the Old Testament according to your interpretation of Jesus according to the attitudes of 19th Century Englishmen whose commentaries you accept uncritically if they are part of your denomination. Do not allow any sort of Jewish mindset alter Jesus’ Neo-classical renaissance mindset like Luther’s
6. Embrace the dualism of the biune God the angry father and Jesus the shield-son. There is no nuance in Paul, in the Vulgate, therefore there is no nuance in Jesus either.