Way back, I mean way way back, when I was in second grade I rode the bus to school. Every day the school bus would go past this big abandoned house. The kind of house used in scary movies - broken windows, brown faded boards. My friend would always tell me there was hidden treasure in that house. I heard it so much I believed it. We devised a plan to search the house for the treasure on a Saturday. But we needed someone to drive us to it. So I asked my mom and as you can imagine, she told me the truth - there was no hidden treasure in that house and it was dangerous to go there.
Recently I drove by that childhood town and that memory came flooding back. I've been thinking a lot lately about where we get our information. I'm reading Bonhoeffer right now and it scares me how the German people could be so deceived by the Nazis. Hindsight you know. And I just wrote a post about the liberal theology spewed from the pulpits of New York City back in the 1920's and 1930's and the effect on future generations. 60 Minutes news show recently had an episode on "fake news." I was thinking of a well-known professor of religion at a renowned university that tells his class Christianity is a lie and they believe him because he is the "scholar." And recently a woman in my women's group told me she tried to look up on the internet information on Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, found some unusual things and she asked me, "How do we know what is the truth? What do you use as sources?"
We get what we know largely from other people. They tell us something. We read something they wrote. We take a class and learn something. Most of the knowledge we have came from other people in some form. Some of our knowledge does come from experience. But for the most part it comes from other people.
We don't know we don't know something until we know it.
But how do we know what we are learning is the truth?
Often when people want you to believe something, they will give you half the facts or skew it to one side. I recently had an atheist on a forum say, "The bible is entirely unreliable. It's mostly fictional, if you study the real history and archeological evidence there's almost nothing that matches up. It's simply not true." That is an incredibly untrue statement which proves to me he hasn't looked into it. He is just spewing "the party line."
I saw the above referred-to professor say on a History Channel program that the manuscripts of the New Testament were questionable because of the missing verses. (I wrote a post mentioning this. Read You are NOT Missing Verses.) Scholars know about the missing verses in certain Bible versions. They disclose it. They aren't trying to hide it. They believe they were added in later manuscripts to clarify a point. These verses add or subtract nothing to any theological idea. But this professor being the so-called "expert" probably knows that is not an issue of contention. He was only telling part of the story on purpose and planting doubt in people's minds.
When people who appear to be knowledgeable pass on bad information, how do we discern that? How do we know we are getting true or untrue information?
So how do we look up information with regards to Christianity?
Begin with what the Bible says on a subject. I don't say this lightly. Jesus told us, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) So begin with the source of truth.
We must be careful of our sources.
A long time ago I read a Christian book about Israel. I loved the book and recommended it to others. One was a seminary student and he gave me a funny look. Another was a Christian bookstore owner. He also gave me a weird look. Then a woman who is a seminary graduate told me to look up the author. Oh my! Without getting into the specifics, this guy was not a reputable source.
There are certain people (just a few) who main-stream Christianity doesn't support (mostly because of their questionable theology.) If you hear controversy swirling around a certain person - there is a reason for it. Look into it. I have figured out who some of these people are and I just stay away from their sermons and books and broadcasts. But what can you do if you don't know who to stay away from? Ask another Christian who they would recommend. I could give you a long list of men and women that I would recommend. Go on the recommendation of others.
Discernment. I was once in a prayer study class. The book we were using had an incredible section in it on the sovereignty of God. Honestly, I've never read anything which worded it so clearly. But I started noticing a few things that were off-base in the book. The woman who wrote it started saying God does not interact in the world except through our prayers. This is not biblical. God does act through our prayers, but not only through our prayers. So while I got some wonderful understanding on prayer from the book, I also kept what she said in perspective. While probably 95-97% of what she said was spot-on, I would not recommend this book to others because of that small percentage of bad teaching.
Internet sources are tricky. Anyone can go online and write anything they want - whether it is true or not or the "whole story." Discernment comes in handy here! If you are reading along and something doesn't seem right - that is discernment. Ask yourself who is this person writing this? Try to find out information on them. Are they reputable? Are they trained?
The information you glean from a source is only as good as the source.
Recently I've had a lot of interaction on a forum with Jehovah's Witnesses. They kept commenting on the Trinity. I believe in the Trinity. They don't. They seem bent on changing me. I noticed they often referred to a certain website, one which I have been on before. It has "bible" in its name and when you search on the internet, this website pops up in the top searches. I recommended to the JWs a reputable internet source to which the woman asked if the King James people were behind it. That comment and the JWs constantly referring to this "bible" website clued me in to look into their source. Who is behind it? What I found out was nothing. The website was started and funded by two anonymous men. I tried to dig into it and I never could figure out who was behind this website. What are their credentials? What makes them the experts? I will no longer use this website. Just because an internet site or a social media site has the word "bible" in it doesn't mean it is based on sound biblical doctrine. So if you feel something isn't right, just move on to the next site.
Read several things on the subject you are researching. Look, if most authors are saying the same thing on a subject and you know some of them are reputable authors, take it as correct. Once I read 4 books on the history of Christianity. Three of those books were pretty close to each other. The one book was from Zondervan Publishers who I know are reputable. But I started noticing some misinformation in the fourth book. Numbers that were way off from the others. Events that weren't exactly in the same order or didn't happen like the other books said they did. So I researched the author. His credentials didn't come close to the authors of the 3 other books. While his book was by far the most interesting to read, I determined it was not the most accurate and I shouldn't use it as a source.
I once researched if our beloved pets will be in heaven. I started with what the Bible said. Then I moved on to various Catholic and Protestant denominations - what they said on the subject. Some said yes. Some said no. I read their reasoning. I decided what I believe which is I think so. Ha ha. How is that for a definitive answer? This one doesn't have a definite answer. I understand both sides. I'm informed. But anyone who tells you a resounding yes or no on this one is really just speculating.
This entire long post (sorry for the length) is more about where not to get information. My next post will be more practical advise on how to look up information when it comes to the Bible and Christian beliefs. I'll explain what I do when I'm researching a topic.
Begin with what the Bible says.
Feed your mind with reliable sources to the best of your ability.
Have discernment and even be a bit skeptical as you read and hear information. (This is called testing it.)
And don't underestimate praying before you begin. The Spirit will guide you. Smile.
We have a wealth of information available to us today. Sadly, some of it is mis-information. We must be careful what we put in our minds. Or as my wise mother said, "There is no treasure there and it is dangerous to go there."
Search for the treasure.
And by all means, stay away from dangerous places.
I will set no worthless thing before my eyes;
I hate the work of those who fall away;
It shall not fasten its grip on me.