Wow, it has been 7 weeks since I posted anything to my blog. I know this because my son is 7 weeks old today and I posted this 2 days before he was born. (Note to self: posting a “part 1” and/or a potentially controversial opinion right before a major life change may not be the best idea.) I can’t remember at this point what triggered me to write that. It had been brewing for a while in my Mac Journal, but something must have set me off to throw it on out there. I was so worried about it afterward, I refused to tweet about it until I had a chance to post the “part 2” – which is right here.
My goal in part 1 was not to tear down Scripture or in anyway diminish its importance for living a truly Christian life. But this doctrine of inerrancy we have created and the notion that the Bible is the final authority on all matters of faith simply do not serve us well, because they place faith in the wrong location and they are ideas we have brought to Scripture, not ideas that have been revealed to us by Scripture.
You may be asking at this point, is he really saying the Bible is not inerrant? So, if Scripture is not inerrant, what is it? If there are errors, how do I know where they are? How do I keep from going down a slippery slope where I toss out anything I disagree with? These are serious questions. This is what makes people nervous. The doctrine of inerrancy was created to protect us against all this looseness. We don’t like subjective, we don’t want relative. We like objective, we want fixed, we want something we can possess.
But The Word of God is not something we can possess. The choice is not between objective and subjective – it’s between one subjective and another subjective. Objectivity is a myth, it does not exist. There is no approach to Scripture that doesn’t come with its own set of presuppositions and interpretive framework. Our interpretations do not amount to apostolic testimony. The Word of God confronts us, interprets us, not the other way around. The Word of God knocks us off our horses on the Damascus Road, interrupts us in all of our religious zeal, and asks, “Why do you persecute Me?”
The doctrines of inerrancy and final authority are only useful if I want to use the Bible to confront you, tell you how to live, lay out what God has called you to do or be. But this is not how we are meant to use Scripture. It is not a tool that helps me pick the speck out of my brother’s eye. It is a mirror that shows me the beam in my own eye. Scripture carries the weight and importance it does, not because it is some magic book I can use at my discretion, but because it is the primary place where God can come and speak to me, revealing traits of His character, confronting me in my sin and/or complacency, calling me to be and do what God wants of me.
This is a radical departure from how many churches and Christians use the Bible presently. Here we put aside our own ideas and ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak to us through Scripture. Here we grow ever more mistrustful of our pet theories, the standard interpretations, the usual way of doing business. Because, face it, we can’t trust ourselves to get this right. Remember the scribes and Pharisees? They were experts of Scripture. They had it memorized, they copied it by hand, they studied it night and day, they gave their lives to it. But they were completely wrong in their interpretations.
Jesus blew their theologies, theories, interpretations, and understandings out of the water. Do we really think we are better than they were? The disciples weren’t, even after living with Jesus continually for three years. So, some 2000 years later, do we have some special ability to understand what Jesus means that they didn’t?
Actually we do, but only this: we have the same Holy Spirit that was poured out in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. But this brings us right back to be completely, utterly, always and forever dependent – wholly dependent – on God to tell us what Scripture means. Of course, this requires that we accept the idea that God still speaks to us, and that we listen. And the Spirit only reveals to us what we need to know in the moment, at that time, to carry out the work of the Kingdom that the Spirit has set before us. The Spirit does not give us pronouncements to make over the whole of the Christian church through all time. As Jesus told Peter when Peter asked about John, “What is that to you? You follow me.”
Scripture is an account of God revealing God’s self to humans, down through history, leading up to and culminating in the fullest revelation of God possible: the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus all Scripture must be read through Jesus (both forward and backward) and thankfully He sent the Holy Spirit to do just that, as Jesus tell us, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
So it’s not up to me to tell you if a woman should be allowed to preach or teach in your church (I remember what set me off in part 1 now). It’s up to the Holy Spirit. Has the Spirit called some woman in your community to teach? Has the Spirit given her a message for your community? If so, then you would be wise not to hinder the work of the Spirit. Did Paul say women should be silent in the church? Yes, he did. Did he mean that as a directive to be obeyed by churches everywhere throughout history? Does what Paul wrote trump the call of God on a woman’s life to teach? Who’s in charge here, Paul or God? Are you really going to use Scripture to work against God’s will? Wow, that’s just what the Pharisees and scribes tried to do.
And it’s not up to me to tell you if a divorced person should be allowed to teach or preach in your community. Did Jesus say divorce was wrong? Yes, he did. Did Jesus say divorced people should be banned from ever teaching or preaching? No, I don’t remember reading that. Again, whomever the Lord raises up, whomever the Father calls, whomever the Spirit empowers to say or do whatever should be allowed to say or do that. If our doctrines and theologies get in the way of the work of God, then we should probably rethink them.
One final almost final note for those of you who have a philosophical bent. I am arguing here against the lie of modernity that we can be the possessors and masters of knowledge, that we can approach Scripture objectively and somehow read it with no filters or lenses. This may lead you to think that I support the post-modern notion that modernity is wrong because multiple readings are valid, that all points of view are equal or have their own worth. To me, that is trading one lie for another lie. With the first, someone else tells me how to read Scripture and how to live, with the second, I decide how to read it and how to live. Sorry, but I don’t trust you or me to get it right.
The only “right” reading of Scripture is the one the Holy Spirit empowers as He communicates the truth of God into lives to heal, transform, confront, challenge, encourage them as the Spirit sees fit. Paul tells us that all Scripture is “God-breathed,” but we almost always fail to see that this cannot be static. Breath by its nature is not static. The Spirit blows where he will. We cannot contain, predict, bottle, or package this. We can, however, quench it, and this is precisely what the pseudo-doctrines of inerrancy and final authority do.
All authority has been given to Jesus, not our pet interpretations of the Bible. He alone is perfect and infallible. “When the perfect comes” in 1 Cor. 13 refers to Jesus, not the canon. Jesus is The Word of God, the revelation of the Father. Holy Spirit, come ever again and reveal Jesus to us, through Scripture, through the Body of Christ, through the poor, through whatever means You may use (we’ll even listen to a donkey). Set us free from our own preconceived notions, confront us, convict us, mold us into the likeness of Jesus. May we not cling to and love the darkness, may we learn to walk in Your light.
11 thoughts on “Jesus Christ Is The Word of God (part 2)”
OK… Here’s the thing… I like the sound of all that. It falls easily on the ear to say that Jesus and not the Bible is the final authority in our lives. It sounds good (it’s got a good beat and I can dance to it). And certainly, on some levels, it aligns beautifully with “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” teachings.
Here’s my problem: you asked a question that you didn’t answer. Specifically, “Is he really saying that the Bible is not innerant?” etc… My problem here is that it seems, at first and even third reading, that the power is taken from the Bible. If I am reading the Bible and feel led that I am being told that women should not preach or teach (a stance of which I am in total abhorence) then that can be true for me, just as much as you feeling led that the opposite is true can be equally valid for you. It just seems to make everything nebulous and relative.
How far dare we go? Would it be too much to say, “let’s just get rid of the Bible altogether and teach what we feel the Holy Spirit leading us to say”; or perhaps since the Bible exists not to show us the speck in our brother’s eye, but the beam in our own, can we not simply take every counseling session and boil it down to a 60 second exchange of, “what seems to be the problem?” “this is my problem” “ok, well go read your bible because I can’t offer any advice because the Bible is for each person individually.” 🙂
I know you didn’t suggest anything like those things, and you know I love and respect you. These are just some thoughts I had.
And so the battle of wits has begun!!! Wait… I’ve never been very good at wits .
Take care brother!
Thanks for the thoughtful reply (and for reading my post multiple times – don’t you have anything else to do:) ). You’re right, I dodged the question a bit, so allow me to be more direct.
I think “is the Bible inerrant?” is the wrong question to ask; there is no good answer, because the question already presupposes a misunderstanding of what Scripture is and how it is to operate in our lives. It is not a magic book with superpowers. It is the book where God speaks most clearly to us, but anyone who takes listening to God seriously knows that we don’t always hear well or inerrantly. So, whether the text is inerrant or not doesn’t help me get it right, because I am never reading the text, I am always reading my interpretation of the text, and hopefully receiving what the Spirit has for me at that time.
And, yes, this is relative in a way that makes us uncomfortable. As I said in the post, we want things we can own, possess, and control. But God and God’s Word are never under our control. We need to let go of the idea of control. It has led to sin since Adam and Eve tried it.
Relative also means different people will come to different conclusions based on Scripture. You mentioned women in ministry, which was the issue that initially set me off. But there has been at least one instance where women were supposed to “keep quiet” in the churches – Corinth. Paul must have had his reasons for telling them this. But the response we should be making to that passage is not to ban women from speaking – it is to ask the Lord to show us those times when we should keep silent in the church. The Lord could tell all the men to hush, or all the adults, or all the wealthy people. We single out women because we fail to see the principle at work here.
I hope this makes sense. Help me be more clear if it’s not.
I found myself grinning like a madman while reading both Parts 1 and 2 – great, honest questions and an earnest, loving challenge to search out answers without lapsing immediately into easily ‘defendable’ positions. The responses (gracious and loving as they have been, even when not standing in complete agreeance with you) have encouraged me, as well – no need for ‘defense’ against Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are simply seeking to understand one another as best they’re able. Keep processing ‘out loud’, Brother – it’s a pleasure to read your thoughts.
I have to say that I’m so glad that this is well written. It’s always really hard to get one’s ideas across when one can’t use proper grammar or verbs.
This made me think about a lot, and some I’d like to share later this evening. Thank you for putting out there something honest, and respectfully holding your opinion.
I love both of these articles. They are so thoughtful and insightful, not anything like what I usually hear from devoted Christians. As a non-Christian, I’ve come to see Christians as falling into two groups: The Christians and then the Biblists. The Biblists seem more interested in scripture than in Jesus. My question for them is: Is it Jesus you really love, or is it just the Rules? As an outsider, I have to say that the Bible cannot be the word of God. The reasons are obvious: It is an assemblage of disparate documents, written by and assembled by human beings. Yes, it should be taken as a guide to one’s faith, and yes, it is the best source of information about Jesus. But given its scattered origins, it is just not reasonable to believe that there is anything inerrant about it. If the Bible is inerrant, then it is not possible to grow beyond it — and life without growth isn’t life. It may be a cliche to say this, but God gave us minds and expects us to use them. I like the idea of the Holy Spirit, although I don’t believe in sin. I see the Christian concept of sin as a metaphor for humanity’s natural state of imperfection.
Thanks for the comments. I think the idea of inerrancy is paralyzing when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to appreciate the richness that the Bible does have to offer.
The Christian idea of sin really goes back to the Hebrew idea of fallenness. You mention the natural imperfection of humanity, which sounds like a very similar view of where we are as a race, except that the Jewish/Christian take would say that it is not a natural state at all, but one we degraded to. If our race was created good, but fell, that explains why we know something is not right about our race (how else would we know?) and it makes more sense if you start from the idea of a perfect Creator. A Creator that makes imperfect creatures makes less sense (at least to some).
I know this is a different view, one that most religions don’t have any parallel for, and one that many people find hard to accept. But we know things aren’t the way they should be, and we know that we humans are the cause of that a lot of the time, so fallenness/sin does offer a possible explanation for that.
Anyway, thanks for the dialogue, I really appreciate it.
My religious views fall into the “New Age” category, although I dislike that term. There are answers to what you said, though I would have to write pages to fully explain it. Essentially, good and evil, perfection and imperfection, do not exist in the way that we perceive them. They appear to be so real because of the “root assumptions” (or natural laws or “default rules”) of this plane of existence, and also because of the materialistic place that man has evolved to. For example, the victim of a murder will have chosen at a deep level to be murdered, but will survive the murder to live many times again, so no real harm has been done. The greatest harm is done to the murderer, who has made a poor choice and must unlearn that behavior (possibly by being murdered himself in a future life). I know that these notions are far afield from anything that you believe, but my point is that there are explanations for what appears to be sin. Essentially, everything is perfect as it exists, though it may appear imperfect and sinful. That state of perfection is possible because nothing in the universe is ever lost or destroyed — at least, not after you step outside the root assumptions of any given plane of existence. A side note: The psychic Jane Roberts, who channeled the Seth Material, said that Jesus’ teachings about reincarnation were expunged from the gospels because they were too controversial. Jane Roberts didn’t just talk about Jesus, she described God, God’s origins, and the Creation.
Let me add that since mistakes are a necessary part of spiritual growth, the mistakes we make are part of the perfection. And since learning to live intelligently is part of our spiritual growth, perfection extends to the mistakes we make in daily living, not just in our spiritual life. Thus, evil (which to me is good which has gone awry) is part of the perfection. You see, there is no sin.
I don’t agree that the Bible is a list of do’s and don’ts. I think we can turn it into that with wrong interpretation, but that is our fault, not the text’s. If you read the Sermon on the Mount closely, you can see that a lot of what Jesus is doing there is correcting the misinterpretation the Jewish religious leaders had placed on the Law. In doing this Jesus is not departing from the old, right interpretation for some new, right interpretation. He was saying that the old interpretation got it wrong, his way is not a new way, it was the only way all along. This agrees both with what Isaiah says of the people’s lack of obedience to the Law (despite their ceremonial participation), and what Paul explains (in Galatians) about even Abraham being saved by faith. The way Jesus taught is the only proper way to read Scripture.
So I am not saying the Bible is unimportant or to be marginalized. Quite the contrary. I am saying that it is so important, so critical to the life of the church, the body of Christ, that we can only trust Jesus to interpret it correctly for us. Any interpretation that does not begin and end with Jesus is bound to go wrong. You can only understand the word of God through the person named The Word of God.
Pentecostalism seeks the Holy Spirit’s guidance but tosses out orthodox interpretation of the written word in favor of dubious fads. Catholicism has its Magisterium and its dubious traditions. Traditional Protestantism theoretically seeks sola scriptura, but adds a truck load of Pharisaic do’s and don’ts to rival the man-made rules of Catholicism. We must start somewhere, and all our traditions and fads are probably 80% wrong in what they teach. If we start with Jesus and what he taught and try not to venture too far from that we find remarkable unity and agreement.
Interesting posts. A Facebook friend of mine linked to this article.
I have toyed with these ideas myself, though I have not yet come to any conclusions, and I’m afraid just talking about such ideas would earn me some persecution from my present church friends. 😉 Not only that, but I am aware of damage that can be done to people’s faith simply by suggesting that the Bible is not infallible. People keep vigilant guard over their paradigmatic fortress and, rightly so, because should a seed of doubt get inside the walls, the whole thing might be destroyed from the inside out. But I think for anyone to truly find wisdom and truth and go beyond the norm, their paradigms must be challenged by destructive doubts. In the process, they may realize that some parts of their paradigmatic fortress were built on a faulty foundation and should be rebuilt differently.
I’ve come to the point in my walk with God, where I believe that even if the Bible were not 100% factually inerrant, my faith would not be shaken because I’ve realized that if we simply take everything in the Spirit in which it was written, we find the truth and the life there.
Perhaps the doctrine of infallibility is correct, or perhaps it is not, but rather is useful as a parent to a child. What I mean is that it behooves a child in his early years not to question a parent, but rather simply obey. But once that child matures, he must learn to distinguish right from wrong on his own, and in doing so he may find that although his parents did the best they could, they were still human. Perhaps many people would not become children of God were it not for the doctrine of infallibility, but then perhaps that doctrine keeps them children and hinders their spiritual maturation beyond a certain point.
Anwyays, keep up the good writing!
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