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The Bible as King

kinnon —  June 7, 2012 — 38 Comments

Some might be surprised.

Others will say, “I knew it all along.” “He’s not to be trusted.” “He’s slid so far down the slippery slope he’s a nanometer from Hell’s Gates.”

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What am I talking about?

The Bible.

Sorry.

The Holy Bible.

I don’t believe it’s inerrant.

Inspired?

Yes.

Automatic handwriting under the control of the Holy Spirit?

Ummmm… I don’t think so.

Scot McKnight notes:

…many Christians grow up with a view of Scripture that it is inerrant, and that means for them – and I speak here of the populist impression – that it is not only true but that is more or less magically true – true beyond its time, true when everything else says something else. Connected to this view of inerrancy is a view of Bible reading that takes a sound Christian idea called the perspicuity of Scripture, that the Bible’s message is clear to any able-minded Bible reader, and ratchets it up one notch so that the Bible reader thinks whatever I see in the Bible is what the Bible is saying. This is my way of saying that one’s interpretations of Scripture become as infallible as the Bible itself, and since everything interlocks, giving in one inch is the first step in apostasy.

A blog I regularly read, wrote recently about the need to “Preach the Word.” The writer is of the inerrant camp Dr. McKnight speaks of above. This isn’t “The Word made flesh” of John 1. This isn’t “knowing nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” of the Apostle Paul. This is a systematic approach to the text of Scripture — often being preached line by line.

In 1 Samuel 8 (to which I often refer), God tells Samuel that the people aren’t rejecting Samuel in their desire for a king, they are rejecting God. Is it possibly that the same affections that animated the desire for a king in the people of Israel also animate the approach of many of us to the Bible?

The Bible is the King we worship. We can read it, discuss it, follow the parts we like in it (and ignore those we don’t), call others with different understandings of particular texts, “Heretics!” and be rather self-assured in our understanding. Much easier than being in relationship with the Creator of the Universe, who, though good, is not safe. (To paraphrase Mrs. Beaver’s response to a question about Aslan.)

Christian orthodoxy is trinitarian. We worship the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. But often, as many others have suggested, it appears that we worship the Father, Son and Holy Scriptures.

When Jesus speaks of the Paraclete, the comforter, the one who comes along side in John 16, he says, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” [emphasis added]

IBrants Bibliolatry smalln practice it appears that many believe “all the truth” is a reference to the Bible. And it took four centuries to guide the church into that “truth.” But now that we have “the truth”, the perfect has come and the majority of the Holy Spirit’s work is done. (I’m being facetious.)

I’m reminded of this old cartoon from the irrepressible Brant Hansen. It speaks for itself.

Christian Smith, in his thought provoking book, The Bible Made Impossible says this,

…on important matters the Bible apparently is not clear, consistent, and univocal enough to enable the best-intentioned, most highly skilled, believing readers to come to agreement as to what it teaches. **That is an empirical, historical, undeniable, and ever-present reality. It is, in fact, the single reality that has most shaped the organizational and cultural life of the Christian church, which now, particularly in the United States, exists in a state of massive fragmentation. ** The fact that Christians have worked for centuries and sometimes millennia to try to sort through these differences has not mattered. The fact that the Bible itself implores Christian believers to come to unity with one another and be of the same mind as one another, in view of their one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (John 17:23; Rom. 15:5; Eph. 4:2–5, 13; Phil. 2:2; Col. 3:12–15), has not mattered. The differences have not been overcome. And we have little reason to believe that they will be overcome anytime soon—whether or not we have an inerrant, harmonious, and perspicuous Bible. Appealing to the same scriptural texts, Christians remain deeply divided on most issues, often with intense fervor and sometimes hostility toward one another. [emphasis added] — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 662–72 (Kindle Edition)

Dave Fitch, says this in his important book, The End of Evangelicalism,

“The inerrant Bible” in essence allows us to interpret the Bible to mean anything we want it to because after all we believe it to be “inerrant.” To exaggerate, we can say just about anything based on the Bible and then declare our allegiance to the Bible’s inerrancy. No one then can dare question our orthodoxy! In this way, “the inerrant Bible” functions once again as an empty-signifier. As a result, “the inerrant Bible” (and its variants) holds together a wide variety of institutions and churches that have very little in common in terms of their practice except of course the desire to self-identify as evangelical. — David E. Fitch, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology, Loc. 1818–22 (Kindle Edition)

And even though “we” want to identify ourselves as evangelical, Evangelical Christianity has become a battle ground of proof texts. No matter what the particular battle is.

“I’ll see your 1 Tim. 2:12 — Paul not suffering a woman to teach, with Paul lauding the apostle Junia in Romans 16:7, greeting his co-labourers, Priscilla & Aquila in Romans 16:3–4 and 2 Timothy 4:19 and writing of their house church leadership in 1 Cor. 16:19. Winning!”

On this particular battle, Smith writes,

The Bible seems to say many things that can be reasonably read and theologized in various ways. In studying the various sides of this heated debate, one gets the distinct feeling that it is actually the divergent prebiblical interests of the many interpreters—both traditionalist and feminist—that drive their scriptural readings, as much as the texts themselves. That too presents problems for biblicism. But the more pertinent point here is this: apparently smart, well-intentioned scripture scholars in fact do read the same set of texts and come away making arguably compelling cases for opposing if not incompatible beliefs on a matter of significance for Christian personal and church practice. — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 780–85 (Kindle Edition)

But for those Biblicists in the inerrant camp — as Scot McKnight suggests — their understanding of the text is the one that is correct. If Pauls says ‘women can’t teach’ then it’s obvious, WOMEN CAN’T TEACH. Some are so exacting in their understanding of the inerrant, perspicuous scriptures that they proudly proclaim that they won’t even let women read scripture in a church service — as it’s almost like teaching. (Which reminds me of the old joke about Baptists and dancing, but I won’t go there right now.) The logical extension of this is that since hymns and some worship tunes also teach, the soprano parts should be song by castrati, n’est-ce pas?

One of the prompts for this post was something that Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher pointed to earlier in the week; the resignation letter of Jason Stellman, pastor of a Seattle PCA church. One of the stumbling blocks for Stellman that he felt forced his resignation was his changed position on the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Stellman writes:

I have begun to doubt whether the Bible alone can be said to be our only infallible authority for faith and practice, and despite my efforts (and those of others) to dispel these doubts, they have only become more pronounced. In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18–19; Acts 15:6–29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.

Some suggest that Stellman is about to swim the Tiber. I find that as problematic as others find his rejection of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fida — but his rejection of the Reformed position on Scripture resonates with me.

Christian Smith (who has swum the Tiber) notes the vast numbers of Christians who have their faith ship-wrecked when their Sola Scriptura world view is shattered by reasoned inquisitors. He writes,

To argue that our only lifeline to God is the Bible is way off base. It also fails to recognize the many ways we know about and simply know Jesus Christ. It fails to explain how the Christian church for its first three hundred and fifty years—when it did not possess the defined biblical canon as we now know it—managed to know Christ. “The Christian faith,” Craig Allert rightly observes, “did not grow in response to a book but as a response to God’s interaction with the community of faith.”[53] — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 2457–61 (Kindle Edition)

And then later,

Scripture is not worshiped. It is not in scripture that we place our hope. It is not on scripture that we stake our lives. All of that is reserved for Jesus Christ alone. … Scripture is sometimes confusing, ambiguous, and incomplete—we have to admit and deal with that fact. Biblicism insists that the Bible as the word of God is clear, accessible, understandable, coherent, and complete as the revelation of God’s will and ways for humanity. But this is simply not true. Scripture can be very confusing. It can be indefinite. The Bible can lack information and answers that we want it to have. To say such things seems, from a biblicist perspective, to insult God, scripture’s divine author. But that is, again, because biblicism starts off with wrong presuppositions about how the Bible ought to work. — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 2546–47 & Loc. 2661–66 (Kindle Edition)

The Bible is not our King… King Jesus is our King. (And may I highly recommend you read Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.)

Our understanding of Scripture must come first from our relationship with the Risen and Living Christ. To view the Bible as “all the truth” too often denies the reality of Jesus being very much alive and actively working through His Holy Spirit.

As Eugene Peterson intreprets John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” He is alive and in our midst – something the Scriptures witness to.