For a number of weeks I’ve had this series of blogs percolating in my head. I am thinking about two subjects: the Bible and the Church. I have been reading a series of books and blogs recently, from both sides of the aisle, that have inspired my writing this week. I have no intention of needlessly criticizing an individual or their perspective. But I do intend to engage these issues critically, and to express my thoughts. This will include a critique of a few voices from the Christian world that I believe is necessary from within my context as the pastor of a local church.
I need to start by confessing what I believe about the Bible. I believe the Bible is God’s word, that it is authoritative, clear, sufficient, inspired by God, infallible, and inerrant. In early 2011, when I started writing this blog, I decided (after some dialogue with some friends) to call it “2thesource.” The “source” of 2thesource is ultimately Jesus, the word made flesh. Hebrews 5 talks about Jesus as “the source of salvation.” Jesus is the point. My goal in writing these blogs is to lead the reader to Jesus.
What does this have to do with the Bible?
Well, how do we learn who Jesus is? How do we know if what people say about him or on behalf of him is really true? God gave us the Bible for just that purpose. Jesus is the source of salvation, and the Bible is the source through which we learn truth about Jesus. We don’t worship the Bible, we worship Jesus. Jesus is God. The Bible is not God. But God inspired the Bible as a means of revealing himself to us. He opens the Bible to us as we study it, to guide us into truth. He tells us not only to study the Bible, but to preach and teach the Bible, and to submit to the Bible in these contexts on a regular basis.
The first issue of business here is to differentiate between the beliefs I have described thus far and a stream from within the Christian world that runs not simply parallel, but I would argue, counter to this direction. The easiest (and likely most popular) example of this other stream is found in the teachings of Rob Bell. I can still remember reading Velvet Elvis for the first time, back in 2006. Early in the book Bell talks about how we arrive at and hold on to truth. He uses a metaphor of “springs” and “bricks.” In his metaphor, we can approach specific doctrines of our faith as if they are springs or we can think about them as bricks. Springs flex as you jump on a trampoline, and even when they flex, you can still jump (he likes this approach). Meaning, you can jump and jump and learn about God, even if you begin to learn and question and “flex” some of the historic doctrines. Conversely, bricks don’t flex. If one brick is taken out of a brick wall, the whole wall can crumble. Bell sees the brick wall as a structure built by centuries of doctrinal development, and he questions whether or not truth actually works this way.
He then goes on to say (in reference to the orthodox doctrine, or “brick,” of the Virgin Birth):
What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus has a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?
I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. . .
But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?
I remember first reading this page, re-reading it, and then highlighting it with a pink highlighter (the pink lines are now somewhat faded 8 years later). I remember questioning what this was that I was encountering. I was fresh out of seminary, working as a youth pastor, and Velvet Elvis was the book, alongside Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, that every one of my friends was reading and raving about. I remember that it seemed super un-cool in youth and college ministry circles to question Bell’s assertions, and that it somehow made more socially-acceptable sense to question biblical doctrines or historically orthodox faith.
It sounded kind of weird to me. Something just seemed a little off. Upon critically thinking through what I was encountering in Velvet Elvis, I began to realize that this was simply classic theological liberalism. I had no idea at the time that 6 years later Bell would attempt to pull the brick on which was written “The doctrine of Hell” out of the wall in his book Love Wins.
My goal here is not to drum up any controversy about Bell or anyone else from the theologically liberal side of the aisle (if I were, I’m at least 3 years late). My goal is to engage the issues that we’ll cover these next few weeks (on the Bible and the Church) with eyes wide open. There are numerous blogs, books, and video clips swirling through the Christian world that possess an underlying and nuanced theological liberalism that is massively critical of the “institutional/traditional” church and evasively suspicious about the Bible or anyone who seeks to make truth claims from it or about it. As Christians we need to be informed and engaged in this dialogue.
Here we go…