Monday, October 26, 2015

Pitting Jesus Against The Bible

I have commented before on the new, hip position a lot of religious folks are assuming that boils down to "I follow Jesus, not the Bible.". It is supposed to sound wise and nuanced, more so than those icky fundamentalists who are always quoting the Bible. It also gives you plenty of room to reinterpret, diminish or outright ignore what the Bible says on discomforting topics. Underlying the position is an assumption that some parts of the Bible are more authoritative than others. I run into that exact position all the time but what I also find is that those same people are very reluctant to actually specify in public which parts of the Bible are OK to ignore. It is easier to excuse your own behavior in private without going public with anything other than a vague generalization.

What many people seem to mean when they talk about following Jesus, not the Bible, is not that they take the commands and example of Jesus to heart but that they have created a notion of who Jesus is and what He was like based on some scripture, some tradition and some of what they have heard from others and then using that as a template to decide what they ought or ought not do. They make "Jesus" from those disparate sources and then that becomes their god. They would of course deny this, at least I would hope they would, but that is what seems to have happened nevertheless. It is a subtle distinction but it allows people to follow their image of Jesus rather than the specific commands of Scripture. "Jesus is love, not the mean god of the Old Testament". "Jesus hung around with sinners so we should to and of course never tell them they are sinners".  And so on.

The specific commands of Jesus are important to understand as they are recorded rather than turning  them into piecemeal general principles. During His earthly ministry, Jesus was not just incarnation but He was also revelation. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it elegantly and majestically this way:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Where once God directed men to speak on His behalf, in Christ God Himself came to man directly and revealed the fullness of divine revelation to mankind. We receive this revelation of the living Word by way of the written Word. Certainly someone can tell you about Jesus without the Bible but that is a dangerous pathway that has often gone astray. We ought to be encouraging Christians, and especially new Christians, to get deeply into the Bible so they are equipped to distinguish truth from error. God deemed it proper to record His revelations in written form and many of our brothers and sisters have paid with their lives to distribute and even possess that revelation. We should honor that.

Here is the real foundation I am talking about. You cannot "follow Jesus" without knowing what He taught and the only authoritative way to know what Jesus taught on various issues is to read it or have it read to you from the Bible. Let me say that again:
Every single thing we know authoritatively about Jesus is found in the Bible.
No one who subscribes to an inerrant and sufficient Scripture worships the Bible with the possible exception of some of the most extreme King James Only kooks. Don't tell me "Jesus is like this" or "Jesus isn't like that" without backing it up from the Bible because I am pretty much only interested in how Jesus revealed Himself via recorded revelation, not your opinion. I will never in my lifetime exhaust my need to study the Bible and I hope I never get to the place where I find the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures to be inadequate for my yearning. You can't have Jesus without the Bible. You just can't and no matter how much religious mumbo-jumbo you toss around that fact remains. 

Trying to pit Jesus against the Bible is like pitting your heart against your brain. You can't have one without the other. It is incredibly arrogant to assume that here in 2015 we have it figured out and know more than the rest of the church combined for the previous 2000 years. It is arrogant but not unexpected. Each succeeding generation in the West assumes that it knows better than those that came before them, a mindset replicated with children and parents when children are amazed to find that the same parent who seemed so out of touch when the kid was 18 have suddenly gotten pretty wise when that same kid turns 22.

The greatest gift God gave the church was of course His Son Jesus. The second greatest was the Holy Spirit. Coming in third is the Bible, a comprehensive and all sufficient treasure trove that reveals to people who live thousands of years after the fact what Jesus as well as His apostles taught and did. We minimize the importance of the Bible at our own risk. If you want to know Jesus. especially here in the West, it is as simple as opening the Book. 


Goblin said...

Hi Arthur
Thanks for this excellent article. I have spent the last few weeks trying to debate with someone who takes the very line that you are dealing with here. They rage against 'fundamentalist evangelicals', 'blinded by an outdated interpretation and narrative' and 'worshipping the Bible rather than Jesus'. They accuse us of being 'idolaters', 'being 'unloving', 'close minded', 'judgemental', 'ill-informed', 'authoritarian', 'controlling, and so on. But, as you have identified so well, they have created their own comfortable version of Jesus, usually based on the desire to include their particular stance on various moral and ethical issues, and them rage against anything that tries to suggest they read of the true Jesus in the pages of Scripture.
A very helpful article - thank you.


dle said...

I think there are two variants of this that need to be addressed:

1. Old Covenant vs. New — A lot of this talk comes from those seeking to correct Christians who mistakenly try to apply the Old Covenant within the New Covenant. Those folks have a legit claim. A lot of churches are stuck on this critically important distinction, one that needs more discussion within the broader ranks of Western Christendom.

2. Jesus vs. Paul — Some of this talk is coming from Christians who are trying to box Paul into a corner by relagting his writings to correcting certain churches and under conditions that they feel don't apply to all churches. In this, what Jesus said to the larger Body outranks what Paul said to specific churches plagued by problems specific to those churches. Obviously, there are huge problems with handcuffing Paul in that way, but it does not mean that we can't read Paul more closely and ask how the specific church problem applies when expanded to all of Christendom. What it doesn't permit is to make what Paul wrote any less Scripture than what Jesus said.

I think we must take this into account when arguing this issue of "following Jesus over the Bible."