Jesus never described the gospel as an escape hatch, whereby we can exchange his current world for a spiritual retreat far away. Never. Rather, his gospel was: “God’s kingdom is here! It is now! Heaven has come to earth!” So when Jesus invited his first disciples to “Follow me,” he was inviting them to get […]
“God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” This slogan is one of today’s all too common bumper sticker defenses of the Bible. The phrase is sometimes amended to read, “God said it…and that settles it,” to reflect that personal belief is inconsequential in the matter. Proponents of this view caricaturize the Bible as a divinely dictated book of statutes whose truth is crystal clear to anyone who has sense enough to simply read. Of course they fail to clarify that what they call the “truth” is their view of the truth, shaped by their unique set of circumstances, experiences, and presuppositions.
I often encounter fervent, sincere, Bible-believing people who say things like, “We need more of the Bible around here.” I don’t disagree, but the sense I get is that what some people really want are for their interpretations of the Bible to be upheld, validated, and shouted at everyone else in the room. They want the preacher to hit all the hot buttons on all the hot issues – and hit these buttons with some zing – so that they can shout “Hallelujah, we are right and everybody else is wrong!” Then they can continue with business as usual, celebrating their own spiritual beauty and criticizing the ugliness of those with whom they disagree.
Thus, “believing the Bible” can create hard-hearted, judgmental, graceless religionists who patrol society with their personalized weapons of rigidity and arrogance. In such cases, both belief and the Bible have been misappropriated. Christians can become “settled” for sure, but are simultaneously nothing like their namesake, Jesus Christ.
I think there is a more principled approach to dealing with the Scriptures (even if my suggestion is shaped by my own unique set of assumptions): What if we begin to read the Bible descriptively rather than just prescriptively? That is, what if the Bible describes the human search for the Holy – and the Holy’s interaction with the human – rather than simply prescribing religious behavior?
Such a change would allow us to be set free from stagnant dogma that “settles it,” and instead put us on a journey of faithful exploration. We could then read the Scriptures, not to confirm our righteousness and others’ wrongness, but looking for clues to how we can better know God. After all, that’s what I believe the Bible is all about: God spoke through the lives, experiences, and writing of those who went before us, so we could know him. And he is best known in the person of Jesus. Everything before Jesus is prelude, everything we read about him is gospel, and everything we read after him is reflection.
So we can see that the goal of the Scriptures is not to give us ideas about religion; not to help us form sharper or better doctrinal statements; or to build theological armaments against those who believe differently than we do, or to answer all of our questions. It is to bring us face to face with Christ, and to become like him.
Consequently, we must be cautious not to fall more in love with the statues of the Scriptures than the actual Subject of the Scripture. We must guard against being more committed to our presuppositions about God than the Person who came to show us who God is and who we can become. We cannot be more smitten with the Bible than we are with Jesus, as strange as that may sound, for that is nothing less than a subtle form of idolatry.
Our faith isn’t built on the Bible. It is built on a Person. There is only one foundation for Christian faith (the Bible says as much!), and that foundation is Jesus Christ. Upon him our faith rests, upon him the church is built, and he is what the Bible is about. I’m not advocating setting the Bible aside, but to actually embrace it, and see to whom it points. This may be an unsettling way to approach the Scriptures, but being “settled” isn’t the point; knowing and becoming like Jesus is.