I remember one summer eating at Panera with an early morning men’s bible study. It was part of a brief three week internship when I lived in Richmond waiting to get married (Jacob had to live 14 years near in-laws; I just had three weeks-so that wasn’t too bad). One guy talked about how he was learning of Thomas Jefferson’s faith and then referred to him as a “Christian.”
I can’t remember the discussion that ensued other than some follow up questions to such a ridiculous claim. In case you’re not aware, Thomas Jefferson literally cut out the parts of the bible which didn’t run counter to his own deistic theology (he left the miracles, among other things-God was the divine clockmaker and played a hand’s off role) and rationalism. He was not a Christian by any respectable definition I’ve heard.
Check out this article where folks are trying to restore the Jefferson bible called the “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazereth.” The exhibit includes this book of excerpted pages, as well as the bibles from which he cut them out. Sad, but very interesting.
Well at least he was consistent and thorough with his rational “faith” commitment. Jefferson’s beliefs would be fairly easy to address because you could simply go to his personal bible and see what was or wasn’t there. That would be one easy way. Gosh that would be intimidating because he was a smart dude.
I don’t know how cutting out pieces of the bible would have been received in his time. But today that probably wouldn’t fly so much in the church or even in alternative faith communities.
Since our bibles are usually all in one piece with verses in tact, is there another way to discern whether or not we or others actually believe the content (commands, promises, doctrine, truth, overall story) on those pages? Yep, our lives, our behavior. When I look at my life, or any life for that matter, it will tell me exactly what I believe. How I spend my money, how I treat my kids, what I say driving down the street, are all affected by what I believe or don’t believe.
The amount that my life changes is the amount that I truly believe the gospel. If I’m declared righteous in God’s sight-even though righteousness in this earthly community depends upon behavior/performance and my kids’ behavior/performance-and my needs will be taken care of, and so will my real enemies, I will be generous with my money, love my kids more (but not need them), and pray for my enemies.
Is that what my life always looks like? Hmmm…..
Just because we don’t cut stuff out doesn’t mean that we’re SO different than Mr. Jefferson. Admitting that we don’t believe as much as we say we believe is really the key to changing our behaviors.