October 18, 2017

iMonk Classic: Ten Questions About the Bible + one rant

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From February 2007

• • •

1. State briefly what you believe about the Bible.

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is set down in Scripture, or may be deduced from Scripture. In scripture, God revealed what he wanted us to know about himself, ourselves and his Son. The Bible is inspired, true and the final authority for the Christian. Most importantly, the Bible is God’s revelation of his Son, Jesus Christ, and his Gospel.

2. How is the Bible inspired?

God inspired all things that in any way affected the production of the writings that make up the Bible in order to say what he desired to say in language. That inspiration contains supernatural events, but the production of the writing itself is natural in process, and it is unique, God-breathed and God caused. Human beings wrote Scripture, but the ultimate message of the Bible is because of the authorship of the Holy Spirit. The focus of the inspiration of the Bible is Jesus Christ and the gospel. Discerning inspiration is a matter of discerning the relationship of Jesus Christ to what was written.

3. So is the book of Judges inspired, or only the Gospels?

The inspiration of the book of Judges is the same as the inspiration of the Gospels, but they occupy different places in the trajectory toward the Bible’s message. Judges shows our need for a savior and previews human pictures of that savior. The Gospels tell us of that savior explicitly. If a person considers the book of Judges apart from Jesus, however, it has no importance as Christian scripture.

4. How is the Bible authoritative?

It conveys the person, work, words, accomplishment, story and meaning of the person of Jesus Christ to the church in the way God chose to express that story. There is no other source of authority in the church. The relationship of the Bible and the church is a relation where one does not exist without the other, but the Church submits to the authority of God mediated through Jesus Christ in holy scripture.

5. Is the Bible a human book?

The Bible was written by human beings. It did not drop out of heaven i.e. Joseph Smith. It is not written in a magical, miraculous way i.e. the Koran. The production of the Bible was a human process. The supervision of the Holy Spirit in NO WAY took away that human element at any point. But the inspiration of the Holy Spirit insures that what was written is not MERELY human, but is what God himself desired to say.

Some seem to feel that this statement negates Biblical prophecy and explicit passages where God spoke or appeared, etc. I am not saying there is no divine element in the Bible or divine action in history (how silly.) I am saying the production of the Bible was a human process. Whatever happened in the mind or experience of the author, the actual WRITING of the scripture was a human process, even when the author was told exactly what to write.

6. Are there aspects of the Bible that are not divine?

None of the Bible is purely divine in the sense that, for example, an angel took up the pen and wrote. It is a collection of human writings that exist because God the Holy Spirit supervised their creation. In portions of Holy Scripture, the “human” element is unmistakable, but this has nothing to do with the inspiration of the Bible. That the author of Psalm 137 wished for babies brains to be bashed in does not negate the ultimate purpose of that Psalm to introduce us to Jesus and the Gospel.

7. Why do you call the Bible a conversation?

Because I read it.

Read Deuteronomy’s strict covenantal conditionalism; read Proverb’s oberservational wisdom, then read the entire book of Job. Tell me there isn’t a conversation going on between Job and his friends over God’s justice.

There is a Biblical conversation about matters ranging from the wisdom of having a King, to the nature of the afterlife, to the justice of God, to the nature of the Messiah, to the relationship of faith and works.

That this conversation exists doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t teach a doctrinal or confessional truth on these things. It does mean we need to discern the various threads of the conversation that exist in the Bible, and not misrepresent the simplicity of an issue.

8. What do you believe about canonization?

The church did it, by listening to what writings said and discerning what writings were the revelation of God regarding his Son Jesus and his Gospel. While Christians believe canonization was a work of providence, they do not believe it is a work of the inspiration of the Spirit like the creation of scripture. The church, in various ways, discerned the nature of scripture over time and set aside those writings it believes are inspired. It is their relation to Jesus Christ, and not some magical process, that discerns the nature of the canonical books.

9. Do you reject the inspiration of some books?

No. What I do is make an attempt to focus on the Christ-related aspect of any portion of scripture, and that means I do not place as much importance or influence on some passages as other Christians. I am less interested in books apart from Christ than other Christians. For example, Proverbs as a course on parenting doesn’t interest me. Proverbs as related to Jesus does. Genesis as creation science doesn’t interest me. Genesis about Jesus and the Gospel does.

10. Anything else you want to say?

Yes. WCF 1 says that scripture says what God wants it to say. Barth says that the Holy Spirit takes the Bible and makes it the Word of God to you. I know there is some distance between Barth and the WCF, but I also think it is worth considering that the Holy Spirit is active in many ways with scripture, both in its production and in its proclamation/illumination. Making the “inspiration” of the Bible a matter of affirming one or two of the “right words” and ignoring what the Spirit does in all of scripture to make Christ real to those who hear the Word is foolish. And I am not a heretic for saying so.

11. is your theology “inconsistent?”

Probably. First, if someone thinks their “consistency” captures God in a theological zoo, then have a nice day. Yahweh isn’t in captivity in anyone’s theological game preserve. Second, I am in the emerging corner when it comes to theology as a “package.” I am tired of being told that believing the Bible = accepting modernistic inerrancy = Five point Calvinism = Limited atonement = like all the same theologians = read all the same books = despise and ridicule all the same people = the whole culture war = whatever is next. I completely reject that mentality. Give me inconsistency, post-evangelicalism and the crew that sails all the seas.

• • •

UPDATE: If “inerrancy,” a term that doesn’t appear in any major confession or creed, equals “being a Christian” to you, then let me encourage you to stop worrying about the effect of this blog. I’m happy to have you here, but if a non-Biblical word is the essence of defining my relationship to God through Jesus and the center of your ability to accept me, then don’t wait around for me to change my mind. Move on.

Comments

  1. Great post.

    The Bible is fully a product of man…and of God. It is ordinary (ink, paper, leather)…and it is Divine…in it’s power to convict of sin and create faith in Christ Jesus.

    What else is of earthly substance (ordinary) and yet contains the power to create faith and accomplish the will of the Living God? How about the words of the preacher? Or the bread and wine of Holy Communion? Or the water of Baptism?

    And…our Dear Lord Jesus…who was fully man…and yet fully God.

    Textual inerrantists can paint themselves into corners and tie themselves into knots and use the Bible as a how-to book (biblicism does that)…but it is a needless excercise. God uses the finite for His infinite purposes. That’s just the way it is with God.

    .

  2. One more Mike says:

    “…if someone thinks their “consistency” captures God in a theological zoo, then have a nice day. Yahweh isn’t in captivity in anyone’s theological game preserve.”

    “…While the Bible is supposedly inerrant, none of those who interpret it are inerrant interpreters. That’s a problem. If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.”

    And there, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, are two examples of why we miss Michael Spenser so much. He framed the anxieties of the refugees from the evangelical circus (zoo, game preserve) in words everyone could understand, damn the consequences. The man could write.

    • The logic of mathematics has been proven to be complete or consistent, but not both (Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem). Often wonder if it applies to Theology as well.

  3. The place where I have found the Bible to be most inspired is in my own personal prayer. When praying with scripture, I find God’s nourishment, insight, wisdom, healing support, guiding hand for ME….personally, intimately, lovingly and without condition. We miss so much when we forget that God’s love and truth continue to be revealed in the world and that scripture is one vehicle…especially when we allow it to speak to us in person.

    Lauri Lumby
    Authentic Freedom Ministries
    http://yourspiritualtruth.com

  4. “There is no other source of authority in the church.”

    Lord, keep me safe till the storm passes by….

  5. To be fair, I don’t think about the Bible much anymore and haven’t done any serious reading of it in quite a while, so that probably disqualifies me from giving an authoritative or scholarly opinion.

    My experience has been that where someone lands on the accuracy or authority of any given section seems more about proving a point than anything else:

    – Don’t like what is says on a subject? – Use the context or allegory argument
    – Don’t think it says enough on a subject? – Rely on church tradition and history to complete the picture
    – Like what it says about a subject? – Proclaim the literal translation, rinse and repeat

    Honestly, I miss my old childlike beliefs in what the scriptures were. It was much simpler and more comforting.

    • Your analysis of how Christians handle the Scripture across the broad spectrum is disturbingly uncomfortable because it is so true. It seems we all have a “safe” place to go when we want to prove our points.

      I am curious, what were your childhood beliefs about the Bible?

      • Oh you know, silly things like a guy named Noah loaded a big wooden ship with animals before a global flood that wiped out all of humanity not on that boat or that a man named Adam had a wife named Eve.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    believing the Bible = accepting modernistic inerrancy = Five point Calvinism = Limited atonement = like all the same theologians = read all the same books = despise and ridicule all the same people = the whole culture war = Ees Party Line, Comrade. doubleplusgoodthink INGSOC.

    • or dismiss and deride the naive simpletons that believe in the possibility of the miraculous in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and the corrective rebuke of their more enlightened Christian brothers and sisters.

      Cheers HUG

  7. The Previous Dan says:

    Good article. The point at which I finally gave up on the idea of inerrancy was when I realized that according to it I had never read the Scriptures. If you buy the idea of inerrancy then you have only read the Scriptures if you have read a perfect copy of the originals in the original languages. Since I can’t do that, I’ve never read the Scriptures. To solve this problem some have tried to argue that the Textus Receptus is a perfect copy of the NT and the KJV is a perfect translation. There are so many problems with that that it isn’t worth debating.

    But when I open my imperfectly copied and imperfectly translated version of the Scriptures, God powerfully speaks to me and draws me to Himself. So then, it isn’t dependant on inerrancy.

  8. You either believe or not. Jesus came and died for all of us sinners. We are saved by grace. The rest is/are details. Lord help my unbelief!

  9. It amazes me how many of my evangelical friends (my real friends) would deny that the Bible is a “human” book. They would lean more toward the inspiration as being a near total event, like a vision or like God took over the writer’s hand, although the “voice” (literary term) is the person’s writing style. One of the reasons for this is the idea that inerrancy falls if they do not fully embrace it.
    Of course, many of these same non-Creedal folks could not adequately describe the Trinity and, when asked, lean toward Oneness (God put on a human skin like clothes and came down as Jesus) – which has all sorts of bad theological implications.

  10. Too bad we have to make excuses or apologize as Christians for not being ridiculously fundamentalist.
    It is as if we need a manual to break it to both ourselves and others we know that still think the world is a few thousand years old. I think its because just believing or more accurately accepting everything in the bible, even if we have to do major rationalizing is just too darn easy. Until one day we awake from the trance and realize we don’t know everything, and neither does the guy or gal we were listening to.
    What if…… we get to heaven, and we hear laughing, and we overhear as we draw near the merriment, one man say as he can barely hold back the laughter, ” they really took that story about all the animals in the ark seriously AFTER they grew up…(more laughter)” “that was just supposed to be for the kids” ……
    I don’t think we have to apologize for not being ridiculously fundamentalist. We might miss growing up.

    • I read that too, Marvin. There may have been a moment or two when Michael would have used that word (tentatively) to describe himself. But ultimately, he didn’t like it.

  11. Interesting comment in Item 11: ” I am in the emerging corner when it comes to theology as a “package.” ” So internetmonk is part of the ermerging church movement? I had my suspicions. (this was supposed to start a new string, not be a reply to thurston – how do I delete? (BTW – I checked i am human on the erroneously placed posting))

  12. Michael just simply read too much Capon….

    ;o)

    Tom