December 17, 2017

The Trouble With Too Many Compliments

biblething.jpgTurning point.

Here’s what I recall. I was a relatively new Christian, already getting my feet wet sharing my faith, leading Bible studies and so forth. I was in that phase of nearly insatiable curiosity about the Bible. In my church, that meant total dependence on what you might learn from your pastor and any books he might give you.

My pastor gave me several books by Clarence Larkin. Dispensational Truth is still on the shelf behind me. I wore out a copy of Haley’s Bible Handbook that I got from the Billy Graham Crusade.

I listened to my pastor and other preachers with complete and utmost confidence in those days. I had entered a new world and the one unshakable fact in it was the truth- the literal truth- of the Bible.

The turning point came one day when my pastor was preaching a sermon on the Bible itself. The wonder of the inspiration and perfection of scripture was a frequent theme. I paid attention because I agreed with the message, even though most of the message was well over my head.

He began to talk about the Trinity. God was one God, eternally existing as three persons. And if there were a fourth member of the Godhead, a “Quiddity” so to speak, it would be the Bible. The Bible was the incarnation of God just as Jesus was the incarnation of God. As Jesus was the God-man, this was the God-book. Its inspiration and Christ’s incarnation were identical.

As Jesus Christ was the Word in flesh, so the Bible was the Word written. It was an eternal Word, always in heaven, eternally settled before it came to earth. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.

Now you have to remember that I was only a boy of 15 or 16. I didn’t know enough about this subject to fill up a piece of paper. Many of the words and concepts in the message would be beyond me for years. But the concept of the incarnation was something that had reached me. I understood the baby in the manger, the man on the cross and the teacher of Galilee were all “God with us,” God in human form. I knew the incarnation made Jesus unique, unlike anyone or anything else.

The idea that the Bible was also an incarnation of God sounded strange. I had never heard it before. It had a certain elegance to it, but it also struck me as something well-meaning, but wrong. Wrong in that the Bible was inspired, but the Bible was not equal to Jesus Christ, God the Father or the Holy Spirit.

I said nothing about this, and I don’t recall my pastor going down that particular road again. It’s been interesting to me, however, that this memory has stayed with me over the years. It was one of two or three incidents in my early years that gave me a clue that I was not among the infallible. Some of what I was hearing might be wrong, even seriously wrong.

This was, actually, very helpful to me along the way as I grew into maturity as a preacher and teacher. I had utter confidence in everything my mentors said, but this incident (and several others) reminded me that those I respected so much could be carried away in their commitment to the Bible as “God’s Word.”

Today, I have seen many examples of this in many areas of Christianity. I’ve come to expect it. It is one of the dynamics of conservative evangelicalism that have made me the person I am. The more we feel the need to elevate and exalt something as “true” or “from God” or “God’s Will,” the more likely that we will become excessive, and often uncareful in what we say and do, and the more likely we are to wind up teaching error as a result.

Too many compliments can become an insult. Ironic, but true.

Any honest Christian can spot this quality in other religions. Fundamentalist Islam is rife with it. In the cause of the Holy Quran, the reputation of the Prophet and the “will of Allah,” excess is exceeded by excess with no reluctance. Legalism, cults, the Roman Catholic Church’s devotion to Mary….we know these examples, and we see the error.

It is the nature of religious language and religious dogma to make authoritative claims based upon revelation. It is the nature of human beings to extrapolate, connect and exaggerate. Put these two tendencies together, and there is a great need for us to be cautious in our claims for ultimate truth and ultimate authority.

In a comment thread at Jollyblogger discussing T4G’s exclusion of women and equating of complimentarianism with a true view of scripture, BHTer Joel Hunter says:

So no one is immune from undermining the practical authority of the Bible just because they profess a “high”, even inerrantist view of the Bible.

This needs to be thought about. The creation of authoritarian statements, interpretations and practices almost always come from the highest possible view of the authority of scripture. But what if our view of scriptural authority takes us in the wrong direction?

What if our attempts to endow scripture with the highest possible authority takes us too high? Too far? The fact that some reading this are already saying “You can’t go too far in asserting Biblical authority,” illustrates the problem. You can. Many do.

I read with interest that we now hear that any “extra-Biblical authority” has no place in many versions of the faith. This is an example of the kind of thinking that goes too far in a good cause. Biblical authority is unique, but it does not exile or eliminate other kinds of authority.

What I heard as a young man was Bibliolatry. It’s a word that conservatives hate to hear, but we must hear it. The Bible is ours for dozens of good, God-inspired, Christ-exalting reasons. But we can exalt the Bible in the wrong way. We can go too far.

I was glad to read Dr. Al Mohler’s recent comments on contraception. It is a good example of Biblical reasoning in its proper place alongside other kinds of reasoning, giving the proper place to the Lordship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, yet not ignoring how the contemporary world is different from the world in which the Bible was written. His conclusions were balanced and helpful. I’ll be filing the article.

Of course, not every kind of reasoning on this subject is as balanced as Dr. Mohler’s. And the reason is always a sincere desire to “do what the Bible commands.”

My “turning point” helped me to find the Bible as the Word that presents the Living Word, God’s mediator, given for us and for our salvation: Jesus Christ. I learned to listen for the difference between Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture, and to not equate God and His written word in ways that abuse both God and those who love scripture.

Comments

  1. There are days when I am reminded that you and I have some interesting points of agreement. This is one of those. Great essay, Michael. I mean that! 🙂

    By the way, was “Quiddity” your original word? I laughed out loud when I read that!

    steve 🙂

  2. Two for the price of one! Thank you very much for your post and for the link to Dr. Mohler’s. Both were excellent reads.

  3. I’m sort of torn between what you’re saying and what I have come to believe about scripture.

    In many ways I too view Scripture as God’s written word that is infallible, inerrant (in the Chicago statement kind of way) and inspired, yada yada yada.

    But I stop short at granting to scripture that which God has not given.

    Scripture is given to us by God. It was written by the Holy Spirit.

    Scripture is sufficient for us. It gives us everything we need to know about what to believe and how to live.

    Of course, I believe that whenever a person reads scripture in a way that is inconsistent with the manner in which it should be read, then the “application” is not from God. Taking verses completely out of context and using them to prop up the ideas of contemporary society robs the verses of their god granted authority.

    It is important to realise that when scripture does not mention something (the fate of infants; the person and work of demons; which toothpaste to buy) it is because God does not think it is important enough to mention. To somehow think that the Bible contains all information is to endow it with omniscience and forces the reader to play grammatical lignuistics to impose his/her ideas on it.

    I believe that the bible is literally true in the sense that it should be read according to its grammatical structure. If it was meant to be read symbolically and allegorically (eg Zechariah, Revelation) then that is the way it should be interpreted. The stories and parables that Jesus told (eg the Good Samaritan; the man who built his house on the sand) are stories and are not meant to be literally true.

    Yet at the same time I believe that when a person reads scripture, or hears a person teach from scripture, and when a man hears the gospel being proclaimed, then they are experiencing the person of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This may not be a measureable or subjective experience since the Spirit often works invisibly.

    I don’t know if anything I have written makes sense here Michael, so please come back at me on this.

  4. I like this a lot. I finally came to the conclusion that some evangelicals were worshiping the Bible. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, we see the Bible as the “jewel in the crown.” “The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is the Word of God,” my priest was fond of saying.
    Good stuff.
    Another post-evangelical

  5. BTW, a reference on “quiddity” http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2002/12/30.html
    I once used it in a poem, after one by George Herbert.

  6. joel hunter says:

    Taken as a whole, the church clearly can’t live without the Bible, but it doesn’t seem to have much idea of how to live with it.

    This quote from an esteemed but controversial bishop seems an appropriate tag to your post, iMonk.

  7. My sister said the other day that Christians really need to know their Bible and read it from cover to cover. That way they will not only know what it says—but what it doesn’t say, as well…

    Scripture is sufficent for our all our needs in that it introduces us to the One who meets all our needs.

  8. Better to have said “Scripture is sufficient for all our needs in that it reveals to us the One who meets all our needs”. After I thought about it, I thought ‘introduces’ might sound like I was suggesting that after the introduction there is no further need for it.

  9. EXCELLENT! I absolutely agree. I think perhaps in an attempt to refute “liberals”, many Christians have elevated the written word to the level of the Living Word.

  10. “I think perhaps in an attempt to refute “liberals”, many Christians have elevated the written word to the level of the Living Word.”

    Perhaps? I have actually heard people refer to the Bible as “the living word of God”. Of course, many would be quick to attribute the efficacy of Scripture to the working of the Holy Spirit, if pressed on the topic. Of course, that almost sounds like a form of sacrimentalism (God working through a material medium), which is funny because these same people would be quick to condemn sacrimentalism, too.

    Anyway, regarding how Scripture relates to the Word, I notice that an Orthodox brother/sister has posted a comment, so perhaps he/she can correct me if I’m wrong here, but, as I understand them, the Orthodox view the Gospels (at least, if not all of Scripture?) as an Icon of Christ (much like Christ is an Icon of the Father, etc.).

  11. ed lebert says:

    I’m not sure I agree. Here are the rules my brain operates by:

    1. Scripture is God’s Word. It is authored, ultimately, by God. These are the claims scripture makes for itself. These are the claims that Jesus makes about scripture.

    2. To believe Scripture is to believe God.

    I’m confused where we diverge. Do you not believe the bible is from God? Or do you not believe it carries his authority?

  12. Ed…where have I said something that hints I am rejecting either the authority or divine origin of scripture?

    I’ve simply said we can say too much. Like saying Scripture is the same as the second person of the Trinity.

  13. coder – I was actually qualifying my comment about “in an attempt to refute liberals” with the word “perhaps”. But I think we understand eachother anyway 😉

  14. ed lebert says:

    That’s why I’m confused, Michael. I’m not a very good reader 🙂 Is that the only thing your coming aginst? Claiming the Bible has a part of the Trinity? You also seem to be coming against the amount of authority that some people give the Bible.

    I am definitely of the persuasion that you can’t give too much authority to the Bible in the things that it speaks about. But its backwards to worship the Bible – because the bible is nothing more than God’s word to us. It’s also backwards to reject its authority over our lives – because by definition it carries God’s authority. What type of authority do you see excessively given to the Bible which you do not think should be given to it (except Trinity membership, obviously)? I’m trying to examine myself to see if I have erred.

    2)

  15. inhiscourts – Ahh…parsing error on my part. I was seeing the “perhaps” as qualifying the elevation rather than the liberals. My bad.

    Yes, I think we understand each other. 😉 Now if only I could figure out a way to explain this to people at church without getting labelled as a heretic.

  16. hehe…yeah, we’re trying to figure out that one too

  17. >What type of authority do you see excessively given to the Bible which you do not think should be given to it?

    The point of the Bible is Jesus Christ and the Gospel itself. I do not see the point of “inspiration” beyond communicating the Final Word of God spoken in Jesus.

    Example: I do not accept the Bible as an authoritative book on science. Young Earth Creationism is not something I have to believe like I believe the Trinity.

  18. PoultryFancier says:

    So much really good stuff – thanks for being vox pop on the bigger issues at hand.
    Couple of questions – a few comments – for the sake of the Word-John1.
    These commeents above cause me to reply –
    Do you have trouble with young earth?
    Do you have trouble with those things about nature to which the scripture speaks?
    If so, that’s a shame for somebody as smart about these things as you to go out on that limb. Please come down from there.Job38:4.
    If you believe the Trinity, why not hold a more respectable view of inerrancy?
    Skepticism about science & creation in the scriptures may have been a little more tenable 25 years ago, but less now if supporting bodies of human scientific agreement would help.
    If we are not able to apprehend the notion of the Trinity(and who can?), how could it be that what we think about the creation with our skewed prespectives of “time” would matter? I’m afraid adopting this view makes the problem worse with the case of the unbeliever. You state it well in God-Shaped Void – how the irony is the preaching must happen & if it doesn’t happen, nothing else matters. I agree it’s how it’s done that requires the work.
    But ALL of it’s nonsense to the unregenerate. (esp.that young earth stuff)- & I’m not sure what you seem to be saying – if you think the point of the Bible is not about much else other than Jesus & the Gospel –
    And yet, it must be germane & accurate on all things to which it speaks (whether we understand or not) or else it’s inaccurate & therefore irrelevant & all the pondering is in vain & we further hobble our potential to engage the world.
    All scripture supports the message of Jesus & the Gospel. That’s a given. But the other “point” of scripture is also 2Tim3:16, more also in Heb 4:12. Maybe there are others.

  19. ed lebert says:

    I also agree that the point of the Bible is Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27). But I guess I don’t understand the rest of your answer: “I do not see the point of ‘inspiration’ beyond communicating the Final Word of God spoken in Jesus.”
    If you don’t mind me asking, what if the Bible explicitly said, “The earth was created exactly and literally 1,234 years before Moses.”? Would you think it doesn’t have enough authority for us to believe it? To me, the issue of young earth/old earth hinges on what Scripture actually says and means, rather than ignoring whatever the Bible says and taking Geology’s word for it. I think, if it’s God’s word, it carries authority over anything it teaches.

  20. It may help you to know that I don’t accept “inerrancy” as a valid term to apply to the Bible’s statements about science. My question about a Biblical statement on creation is how it relates to Jesus and the Gospel. In general, I see Biblical writers as prescientific, so when they say “stars will fall from the sky,” I interpret that as an unscientific statement.

    I don’t think my views on scientific inerrancy are really that important. If I were in a church and the preacher wanted to waste my time saying Genesis was a science book, I’d leave and go get a cup of coffee somewhere.

  21. ed lebert says:

    So, in other words you would not believe the bible even if it made such an explicit and unambiguous statement about the age of the earth? I’m not trying to badger you, I’m just trying to fully understand your view of the authority of Scripture.

    It seems to me the bible makes “scientific” statements all the time, even about Jesus. Walking on water, the transfiguration, all the miracles, the virgin birth, walking through walls. These are all things that make very specific “scientific” observations, but I’m guessing you don’t throw these out because “the bible is prescientific and therefore scientifically unreliable”.

  22. A straightforward statement of time made in a prescientific culture is interpreted wrongly if it is interpreted PRIMARILY scientific.

    Stop assuming that science must give its nod before the Bible is true. The Bible is true because Christ is the Truth.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/articles/B/bible.html

    There is no deader dead end for me than what Ken Hamm does to the Bible.

    The point of creation is Jesus
    The point of the fall is Jesus
    The point of the flood is Jesus
    The point of the Abraham story is Jesus

    This is the only level of truth that matters. The truth is a person, not a scientific proposition.

    If I don’t believe the sun stood still I don’t believe the Bible? That’s not what Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-18 are all about.

  23. ed lebert says:

    I’m just trying to get a handle on how you practically read a verse like Joshua 10:13 “And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.” I mean, the author is actually appealing to another source to further convince the reader that it actually took place. This verse is part of the Old Testament – something that was clearly thought of by Jesus and the New Testament authors as being written ultimately by God.

    So when you read this verse, do you think to yourself, “Whether this happened or not doesn’t matter, because it’s all about Jesus”? Because the human author sure seems to think it matters that you believe it happened. And the reason he gives for why its important (verse 14) is because the point is that God fought for Israel. The point is Jesus, unquestionably! But according to Joshua, this point hangs on whether or not God actually did stop the sun. Because if it never happened – God didn’t fight for Israel.

    I understand you have people like me badger you all the time on this blog, so I will stop here and I will let you have the last word. I also want to let you know that my heart has said “amen” to everything I’ve read from your blog – I’ve just had difficulty understanding your vision of Scripture’s authority in this article alone. But I know already that I have a lot to learn from you.

  24. I don’t understand where the confusion lies here.

    God is God
    The Bible is not
    Jesus is the Word
    the Bible is not Jesus
    There is no 4th person of the Trinity called Bible

    The Bible, contrary to how some seem to think(the Together for the Gospel guys for 1) is not our sole authority – God is.

    How could it be more clear?

    I think some here are getting wrapped up in externals.

    People without Bibles can still have relationship with God. People without Bibles can still have Truth revealed. This would not be so if the Bible was on the same level as Spirit.

  25. kahollowayjr says:

    This reminds me of a sermon I heard in my late teens where the point was made that the Bible is not exempt from being a subject of idolatry. The point stuck with me. In difference to some other blogger comments, the Holy Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, which is different that “written by the Holy Spirit.” It is imperative that we reserve lordship for Christ and glorification and worship for the Father.

  26. Splendid stuff, iMonk — brilliant! And you’re a Mac user too — methinks this thing can only get better: thank you.

    Love the piece on inerrancy too. I was banned from being Chairman of the Christian Union at my first college because I refused to sign up to a doctrinal statement that made daft claims about infallibility.

    More power to you, brother! Have linked to this from the BapChat forum:
    http://middx.net/bapchat/board/viewtopic.php?t=301

  27. apologist7 says:

    “There is no deader dead end for me than what Ken Hamm does to the Bible.”

    Rather a sweeping statement – like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I read of your teaching of Genesis, and have done exactly the same – that is starting with the pre-incarnate Jesus, etc. However, as one whose faith for a long time was inhibited by the “truth” of science, I was released from that bondage by information such as can be found on the AIG website. My experience has been that Christians who do not have a taste for science are more likely to accept the opinion of “popular” science authorities, whereas those whom God has gifted differently (who enjoy science) tend to accept the Young Earth(YE) view.

    I had an revealing web dialog with a professor from a Christian college. Here is an exerpt:

    I am in the math/compsci department. That department and
    the science department are predominantly young earthers with a couple not sure about things.
    As you get to faculty who know nothing about science, you find all sorts of strange beliefs
    as people don’t seem to have broken free from the evolutionary propaganda of their
    schooling.

    Yes, Jesus is the creator and central to scripture, but the theme of scripture seems to be Adam’s relationship with him (we are all part of Adam). Allowing popular scientific thought to cloud that relationship by asserting it’s superior grasp of a type of truth over scripture is kin to the serpent’s “Did God really say…”. God, the ultimate knower of all science did say it, and he never even hinted at “billions of years”. They are unnecessary for his relationship with us, and demean his reputation with us. You don’t have to be YE to be saved, but giving science jurisdiction over a certain type of truth is like keeping a household idol – it lessens Jesus’ power in your relationship to him.