Monday, July 26, 2010

Back To Boardgames - Why Christians need the Bible's authority

About a year ago, when I figured out I was probably more of a Calvinist than I ever wanted to admit, I wrote an essay on the Bible's authority. It would probably do for me to include this topic in the Basics Series. Instead of coming up with an entirely new analogy, though, I've decided to revise and repost the original.

My friend Joe has a sick sense of humor. He told me one day to read a particular post and the subsequent comments. This post dealt with a line in 2 Peter 2:7 calling Lot "righteous". Of course, you had the people who talked about justification versus sanctification. Others rejected the passage as "a misunderstanding", because how could God call Lot righteous when he offered his daughters to gang rape, then later got drunk and committed incest with them? Eventually, and Joe intended this, the conversation came to the authority of the Bible, its inerrancy, comparisons of Old to New Testament, and Universalism.

One man created a sub-argument about a supposed misquotation in Mark where the writer "quotes" Isaiah, but actually quotes both Malachi and Isaiah. I wonder if it would do any good to tell him that ancient Greek writing didn't have quotation marks or that they used indirect quotations. For example, if Joe tells me "Dinner is at six tonight. Come over with the guys and join us." I might tell my friends, "Joe wants us to be at his house for dinner at six." Even though I didn't directly quote Joe, I correctly communicated what he said.

For most of my life, people outside of the church have told me the Bible is just a book full of contradictions and inconsistencies. When I was seventeen, I wondered if these people were right. So I read the whole thing, looking for a contradiction or inconsistency. I think my Bible teacher knew what I was doing because he invited me to challenge the Bible's authority and inerrancy openly in class whenever I thought I had found proof. Believe me, I tried. But he always had answers that both cut through my cynicism and satisfied my questions. Soon enough, I began to ask him to explain hard passages because I wanted to know more of how the Bible truly was authoritative and without error. By the end of the school year, I knew without a shred of doubt that the Bible is God's book. To disbelieve or disobey the Bible meant I disbelieved or disobeyed God.

If any of you ever want to take a poke at me the way I did my Bible teacher all of Senior year, please feel free. I'm certain that, given time, I could find a sufficient answer for you. For now, I want to set a foundation for the Bible's authority with a few scriptures. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." This sums up the Old Testament writings and the words of Jesus. Whatever the prophets said in the Bible, God said through them. That's not to say they themselves were always infallible. Even if Moses thought the world was flat, he never said so in the Bible because God oversaw every word written in scripture and kept it truthful. Going back to 2 Peter, it seems the writer shared Joe's intentions. 2 Peter, 3:1-2 says, "This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles." This adds the writings of the Apostles into the category of "Authoritative". In the same chapter, Peter equates Paul's writings with scripture and calls those who distort Paul's teachings "untaught and unstable". Paul refers to Luke's and Matthew's gospels as scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18 "The laborer is worthy of his wages."

The whole controversy over Biblical authority and inerrancy reminds me of board game tantrums. You know what I'm talking about. We've all played Monopoly and accused the banker of cheating before flipping the whole board into the air. My favorite checkmate in chess was the one where I swept all the pieces to the floor with my spindly arm. I get the same feeling every time I hear arguments for or against the ultimate authority of anything.

While studying Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, I read, "It is one thing to affirm that the Bible claims to be the words of God. It is another thing to be convinced that those claims are true. Our ultimate conviction that the words of the Bible are God's words comes only when the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of our Creator speaking to us." Then he quotes 1 Corinthians 2:14, "The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (Grudem's translation)."

Essentially, what Grudem said was this, "If you don't believe the Bible, it's because God hasn't revealed it as truth to you." And think of this, if we claim that the Bible is our absolute standard of truth, then we can't appeal to another kind of standard to validate it. To do so would put the outside standard on par or greater than scripture. So what difference is there between us saying the Bible is true because it claims to be true and the claims of ultimate authority for an Atheist who supremely values science or historical accuracy? They think science is authoritative because it's scientifically proven. They think history is accurate because of the accuracy of historical documents. If you think about it long enough, you want to kick the game table, knock over the pieces, and shout, "No, I'm Sorry!"

The difference I can see comes from what I said long ago about Xerox copies. We are not ultimate beings. We're limited. Blaise Pascal had this realization and said that man was merely a point on a line. We can't comprehend the extremes of anything in nature, and yet those extremes exist beyond our comprehension. From there, he explains that a being must comprehend those extremes and only God is ultimate enough to do so.

So where else but the Bible could I find a standard of truth? I can't base my standard of truth at all on myself. My perception, my logic, my experience, it's all limited. And I can't base my standard on other men because I recognize their limitations as well. The Bible, with the Holy Spirit's instruction, convinces me of its own truth. I believe its truth to such lengths that I allow the words of the Bible to offend my reason and change the way I think.

Some people might think that I worship the Bible rather than God when I say these things. Let me assure you I do not. God reveals Himself to man through the Bible. God also says that He reveals Himself to man through nature. In fact He reveals Himself to us in all things. But God doesn't want us to worship nature or any other means of revelation. There can be no other gods before Him, not even His book. My point is that the Bible is a complete, though not exhaustive, way in which God revealed Himself.

Cornelius Van Til said that in order for us to truly know God, He would have to reveal Himself truly to us. If the Bible were not the absolute, authoritative, perfect standard of truth, then my understanding of God would be incomplete. No one could truly know God. If the Bible contained any falsehood, the pluralist claim of all religions worshiping the same god might have some merit. God would be subjective to our perception. So if you claim to be a Christian, you absolutely must recognize the authority of the Bible.

Have you thrown the game table yet? I know I've seen and thrown enough board game tantrums to wonder if I should even bother playing in the first place. But it wouldn't do any good if I surrendered by saying, "It's a Christian thing, you wouldn't understand," or, "Just take a leap of faith," or, "We don't ask those questions." The Bible I claim to believe makes it clear I should still work to understand my faith and reason with people. But 1 Corinthians 2:14, as well as other verses, tell me I don't need to convince anyone. I can leave that up to the Holy Spirit and find comfort in knowing He'll do a much better job.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Comfort Of A Narrow Path - Why Christians need the Bible

Last month, I wrote about the need for people to understand the basics of Christianity. Since every post regarding this topic will have its foundation in the Bible, I wanted to first write about the Bible itself.

In Romans 10:2, the apostle Paul teaches about people having genuine zeal for God, but zeal "not based on correct understanding". Verse 3 says, "for, since they are unaware of God's way of making people righteous and instead seek to set up their own (way of making people righteous), they have not submitted themselves to God's way of making people righteous." They didn't correctly understand God's message of salvation so they created their own. Elsewhere in the Bible, you can read about this man-made version of salvation. It based itself on the merit of good deeds (Matthew 23:2-4, Galatians 2:16), ethnicity (Luke 3:8, 1 Timothy 1:3-4), and painful surgery (Galatians 5:6-12).

Paul goes on to use several Old Testament references explaining Jesus as the only source of salvation, ending with a quote from the prophet Joel in verse 13, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered." Starting in the next verse, Paul gives us a strong argument for the need of the Bible in understanding the truth of God and the salvation He offers. "But how can they call on someone if they haven't trusted Him? And how can they trust in someone if they haven't heard about Him? And how can they hear about someone if no one is proclaiming Him? And how can people proclaim Him unless God sends them? - as the scriptures put it, 'How beautiful are the feet of those announcing good news about good things!'"

God told specific men to proclaim the truth of His words, to write them down. These writings are the Bible. The Bible truthfully and sufficiently tells us about who God is, what Jesus has done, and how we can know Him with the help of the Holy Spirit. If a person reads the Bible and comes to believe its words are true, he can put his trust in Jesus and receive salvation. Romans 10:17 sums it up this way, "So trust comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through a word proclaimed about the Messiah."

This is a very controversial and emotional topic for people. I think it's probable every person who reads the Bible has or will come across a passage offending their reason or emotion. The idea of scripture as the unchanging standard of truth can cause panic. People like flexibility. But when people resist the teachings of the Bible and come up with a different explanation of God or how He wants us to live, they almost always deviate toward some form of humanism, nihilism, pluralism, or universalism. These appeal to human reason or emotion and make them the final authority. For example, the Bible says that Jesus is the only way to find forgiveness for sin and spend eternity with God in Heaven. Jesus said in John 8:24, "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He (the Son of God, the Messiah), you will die in your sins." But then, some might say, what about people who will never have a chance to hear about Jesus? Does that mean they'll go to Hell, even if they never had a chance for salvation? According to the Bible, even they have no excuse for their sin and face an eternity in Hell (Romans 1:20).

Most objections to scripture tend to occur because of this sort of specificity, not because of vague generalities. Time and culture don't determine its truth. Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Jesus knew some would struggle with this when He taught in Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." One of my favorite interpretations of this passage comes from Dennis and Rita Bennett's book, The Holy Spirit and You. Bennett compares the narrow way to the flight path of an airplane traveling from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The plane must follow a specific route to make its destination, otherwise it will end up somewhere way off course near Fiji. If the pilot follows the correct directions given him, he can fly without fear of losing his way.

Talking to people in Nashville, one of the country's most heavily-churched cities, I'm amazed at all the pilots thinking they can travel north to go west. If they're really nerdy, they might argue, "It's like Star Wars when Luke flies his X-wing into the Death Star trench. I'm just letting the Force guide my hand. It works so much better than the navigation device." Or, if they're less nerdy, they might say, "I'm more spiritual than religious."

Okay, I get it. The stiff and hypocritical church pissed me off enough to say the same thing a few times when I was younger. I talk to people all the time about how they need to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit for guidance while they pray. Until recently, I didn't stop to think about how many people assume I'm talking about guidance apart from the Bible. Let me make this clear: the Holy Spirit always agrees with the Bible. Yes, you might hear something regarding a personal situation or an edifying word for the church meeting you attend. That doesn't mean the prophetic word can defy or contradict scripture. Paul says just as much in 1 Corinthians 14:36-38. "Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or is endowed with the Spirit, let him acknowledge that what I am writing you is a command of the Lord. But if someone doesn't recognize this, then let him remain unrecognized."

In the next post, I'll discuss more on the Bible's authority and inerrancy. For now, I want you to think about man's need for the Bible. I hope with this post you will begin to think of it more than a positive moral influence. I want you to see it as a detailed guide, vital to your life and relationship with God. Without it, every decision made will come from man's own fallen reason or fickle emotion. Man needs an authoritative, objective truth and I believe God revealed it in the Bible.