I began part 1 of this series yesterday with this assertion about the Bible:
I believe the Bible is God’s word, that it is authoritative, clear, sufficient, inspired by God, infallible, and inerrant.
We have to start here, not simply by way of declaration, but with explanation. It’s not uncommon for people to toss out these exact words, only to belie this claim with how they handle the Bible. Can we really affirm that we believe the Bible is God’s authoritative word and then not submit to it as our ultimate authority? I don’t know how many times I’ve dialogued with people who would agree with everything in bold print above, but who flex that self-proclaimed definition of the Bible to fit specific circumstances.
“Well, if God really is (fill in specific trait clearly taught in the Bible), then I just can’t accept that.”
“Well if God would (fill in specific action of God from the Bible), then I don’t want to believe in that God.”
The Bible leads us to a number of truths about God that don’t always set well in our tummies. The Bible informs us about ourselves in a number of ways that don’t look great in the mirror (original sin comes to mind). But are we going to shape our beliefs by the Bible, or shape the truth about God by our beliefs? You can do either. Just don’t claim to believe the Bible’s authority and then deny it a couple of sentences later.
I believe differently about the Bible than Rob Bell. As I described in the previous post, Bell is probably the prince of the popular theological liberalism that is influencing Christian culture right now. As you read his stuff, you get a lot of amazing information. He is phenomenally creative, and reveals a sharp intellect and studied analysis of theological and historical issues. However, I believe differently from him on a number of key issues theologically, and the divergence begins with our views on the Bible. In part 1 of his “What is the Bible” series of articles (a series I think he still contributes to weekly), Bell begins by emphasizing the humanity of the Bible:
When people charge in with great insistence that this is God’s word all the while neglecting the very real humanity of these books, they can inadvertently rob these writings of their sacred power.
All because of starting in the wrong place.
You start with the human. You ask those questions, you enter there, you direct your energies to understanding why these people wrote these books.
The goal of his post is to emphasize the humanity of the Bible, in order truly capture its sacred power. I completely agree with Bell that the Bible is a human book, written down by human beings with specific agendas in specific times and places, contexts and circumstances. But I disagree that this is the starting point. I think the Bible is first a divine book. If you come to the Bible as first human (then divine), I think you’re going to arrive at a wholly different place than if you approach it as first divine (then human). In either case, you are holding to the Bible as a human and divine book. The starting point is the key.
Why start with the divine? I think when we read things like 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is “God-breathed,” we see evidence that God initiated the writing of the Bible with a specific plan and purpose, and that he utilized human authors to get the job done.
We see clear evidence of this in 2 Peter 1:19-21
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Men spoke from God. No prophetic writing (Scripture) was simply a matter of someone’s own interpretation. So God spoke, and men wrote it down. God didn’t breath into it after the fact. He breathed by his Spirit, and Paul, Samuel, Moses, Peter, et al. wrote it down.
I agree with Bell on this assertion about the Bible: it’s all about where you start. But I believe we should start with God, not with humanity. It is His book first, not ours.