I grew up loving the Peanuts cartoon by Charles M. Schulz. Still do. A number of friends posted this installment on Facebook, and it got me to thinking…

So many things are said and done in the name of Christianity that have nothing to do with the Bible or being a Christian. I find it interesting that many people argue for their lifestyle choices and political ideology, both liberal and conservative, based on their values as a Christian; but, when asked, have no idea where in the Bible those values or beliefs might come from.

I don’t want to argue politics, but I would like to suggest that people ought to at least read the entire book that they claim directs their values. Just reading a verse or chapter out of context does not lead to sound theology; it leads to confusion, argument, and division. How can anyone claim to be a Christian (which, by the way, means attempting to live a Christ-like life, not that one is perfect—Jesus is the only perfect human) without reading the four gospels which are essentially biographies of the life of Jesus.

The gospels are slightly different, not because the Bible is inaccurate or contradictory, but because they were written by four different men, with different purposes and to different audiences. Think about what you did last Saturday night. Now imagine you were going to tell your three year-old, your spouse, and your grandmother how the evening went. You would tell them all the truth, but you would probably tell it differently to each person. Did you lie or contradict yourself? Probably not, but you told the story appropriate to the interests, background, and relationship you have with each person.

Matthew was written by Jesus’ disciple who was previously known as Levi the tax collector. He wrote to the Jews to prove that Jesus is the Messiah they had been waiting for. He organized his biography of Jesus’ life not chronologically, but by grouping sermons, miracles, parables, and interactions with people.

Mark was written by John Mark, not a disciple, but a missionary who had accompanied Paul. He wrote his version of Jesus’ life to Christians in Rome, who didn’t have a Jewish background, to present the person, work, and teachings of Jesus.

Luke was written by Luke, also not a disciple, but a doctor, a Greek, and Gentile Christian. Luke also wrote the book of Acts, and is the only known Gentile author included in the New Testament. He wrote about Jesus’ life to his friend, Theophilus, and to Gentiles everywhere in order to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.

John was written by John the disciple/apostle, not John the Baptist. He wrote his gospel to new Christians and non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, and that all who believe in him will have eternal life.

We shouldn’t be surprised that there are so many differences between the four gospels, but rather we should be amazed that each man, writing separately, included so many of the same details from Jesus’ life and three-year ministry.

I would like to challenge you, if you call yourself a Christian, please sit down and actually read all four gospels. They are quite short—a slow reader could easily accomplish this task in a month by reading a book a week. Depending on the version of the Bible you choose, it is written on average at an eighth grade level (the King James Version is considered twelfth grade because it was written at the same time as Shakespeare—if you struggled with Shakespeare, pick a modern version). Reading it for yourself is so much better than hearing people talk about it, and it is often different than what you thought.

In pursuit of sound theology,