Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Jesus and the Sufficiency of Scripture

I love the Bible. I read it all the time, but I wish I read it more. I make a strong effort to apply it to my life. I know Greek and a little Hebrew. I believe that it is inerrant in its original form (autographs), and that what we have today is a fully trustworthy and reliable representation of those original documents. I also believe that these documents, though written by human hands, were inspired (almost literally "breathed into") by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). I believe that they provide an accurate historical account of the miraculous intervention of God into the world of Men, as well as instruction for Godly living.

Simply put, the Christian doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture says that the Bible provides all that we need for the Christian life. It gives us the story of Jesus-- his life, death and resurrection. It tells us how to live our lives as believers, even tackling some specific and difficult issues. Many go a step further and claim that Scripture is all that is really needed to bring a person to Christ (No fancy presentation, exposition, application, interpretation, etc.). Not to put too fine a point on it, the Sufficiency of Scripture (Sola Scriptura, as the Reformers called it) means that Scripture alone is the authority in matters of doctrine and faith (as opposed to the church or a Man, say, the Pope, for instance).

The point that I am going to make here is that we have forgotten one of the other Solas of the Reformation: Solus Christus.

To be precise, Solus Christus (Christ Alone) claims that we are saved by Christ alone, and there is no other mediator between Man and God. And, although I'm sure it was never anyone's intent, this has become the only place for Jesus in the Church. He is our Savior and Mediator, but He has no place in our regular lives.

Why is that?

I think that the problem is that the Bible has taken the place of Jesus in our lives. As a minister, I am constantly encouraging my students to get into the Bible every day. I do it myself (most of the time). How often do I say, "Spend time with *Jesus* every day"? Not very often.

In The Present Future, Reggie McNeal says, "The church is print reliant. The Bible has become for the modern church the supreme manifestation of the Word of God (not Christ) because it is "objective" truth (a modern distinction). It became the fourth member of the Trinity." [the parenthetical comments are McNeal's] It took me a few days to unpack this statement. One of the overall points of the book is that we have gotten so good at "doing church" that we no longer need Jesus to show up. I think that he is saying that we don't need Jesus in our lives anymore because we have a book (that is the "Word of God") to replace that relationship. Do you think Jesus would rather have us turn to a Book -even if it is His Book- instead of coming to Him personally? Is Jesus allowed to speak outside of the printed page?

I already know what you're thinking. It's the same thing that I struggle with all of the time: "If we abandon the Bible, how can we know if what we are "thinking" or "feeling" is really from Jesus?" I share this concern. I'll be the first one to tell you that the human heart is easily led astray by the myriad of distractions and influences around it. However, hear this: I'm not suggesting we abandon the Bible. I just think that we need to keep it in its place.

The Bible has hijacked the place of Jesus in our lives because it is easier to just skip the Jesus step and go straight to the Book. This, I think, is why McNeal said, "It has become the fourth member of the Trinity." We are print reliant and not Jesus reliant. We think that the Word of God is a Book and not a Person. If you asked the Apostle John to describe the Word of God what would he say? "A collection of 66 Books"? No way. He would say, "The Word was God and the Word was with God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (See John 1:1-14)" John would describe a person: Jesus, the Christ.

Going back to the original definition of the Sufficiency of Scripture, the Bible is an authority. It is a guide. It is a standard. I wholeheartedly believe that anything we think Jesus is saying to us will align (and therefore, not conflict) with what the Bible already says (because the Bible is from Jesus anyway, right?). The Bible truly has been given to us for this purpose. This is the traditional, orthodox belief on the Bible.

I'm saying that what we should first go to Jesus and listen to His instruction in any given situation, and *then* consult the Bible to authenticate the instruction we think we've heard. In fact, you probably hear this in Sunday School all the time, but have never thought long and hard about what it means. This means that we have to spend time with Jesus, not just time in "prayer and Bible study." We have to ask him about things, and then we have to listen, and if you've ever tried it, that's a lot harder than it sounds.

In conclusion, please allow me to clarify what I have said. I believe the Bible is the word of God (I may even believe it more than you do). However, we should not let it take the place of Jesus in our lives. It is an easy thing to do.

...the scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells us what he has seen. The distinction is not an imaginary one. Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen, there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes; but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God.A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Some other things to think about regarding the Bible:

-What did Jesus have in mind when he talked about "the word" in, Matt 4:4; 13:18-23, 24:35, Mark 4:33; 13:31; Luke 3:2; 5:1; 6:47; 11:28; etc.?

-Furthermore, what was the author's concept of "the word" when they wrote the following passages: Romans 10:17; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 2:14; Revelation 19:13. (Keep in mind that they didn't have a print copy of what we now call the Bible at that time.)

-Finally, what was Paul referencing when he said, "All scripture is god-breathed... What was Scripture at that time, when the Bible (as we know it) was still being written?

Links to consider:

9Marks: "Sufficiency of Scripture"
Piper: "Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture: What it Does and Doesn't Mean"

Friday, July 11, 2008


Mission Trip

I'll be out until July 21 on our Mission Trip to East Saint Louis, IL. In the meantime, enjoy these missions-related links:

The Washington Post has an article about churches Rethinking Missions, specifically what has come to be known as "voluntourism." [HT to MMI.]

Tim Schmoyer has confessed what he calls "Mistakes I Made on Our Summer Missions Trip" in which he reminds us of our priorities when on mission.

The book that started it all (or at least the modern missions movement): An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, are Considered.

...or simply Willam Carey's Enquiry.

"East Saint Louis Toodle-oo" by Duke Ellington

Savage Inequalities

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Praying for Gas Prices

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Rocky Twyman has a radical solution for surging gasoline prices: prayer.

Twyman - a community organizer, church choir director and public relations consultant from the Washington, D.C., suburbs - staged a pray-in at a San Francisco Chevron station on Friday, asking God for cheaper gas. He did the same thing in the nation's Capitol on Wednesday, with volunteers from a soup kitchen joining in. Today he will lead members of an Oakland church in prayer.SF Chronicle

HT to Purgatorio

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Thinking Through Al Mohler and Archaeology

Today Al Mohler wrote about George Washington's boyhood home, Gabriel's Revelation and Archaeology.

...Christians are too often overly excited about the latest "discovery" that gains media attention -- either in elation or travail. Archaeology is an important scholarly discipline, but it is not immune from ideology and many of the conclusions and arguments announced to the public are actually not at all what they first appear to be. Furthermore, archaeology is largely a matter of historical reconstruction, often with little actual evidence. As a rule, the more distant the time, the more difficult the reconstruction. That makes sense, of course, as time destroys both evidence and the preservation of memory.What Should We Think About Archaeology and the Bible?

I'm not sure I agree with Mohler's conclusion, however:
Authentic Christianity is based upon the inscripturated revelation of God -- the Bible -- as our authority. In the end, archaeology cannot prove or disprove the biblical text. Nothing can be found, or not found, that should shake our faith in the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Word of God. Archaeology can expand our knowledge and understanding, but cannot establish the authority for our faith.
I love Al Mohler, but I'm either missing his point, or he's using some strange logic. By saying "Nothing can be found, or not found that should shake our faith in the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Word of God" is he assuming that the Bible is true a priori, without considering any outside evidence as to its accuracy? Is he assuming the Bible is true, regardless as to what evidence can be found against it?

Don't misunderstand me here, I'm an Biblical Inerrantist (and so is Mohler). I trust it totally, but that's because it stands up to intense and constant scrutiny. If there was compelling "archaeological" evidence to show that it was a fake (say, if there was a security tape from one of the Councils of Nicea, showing church leaders making it up), I'd have to toss it out and find faith elsewhere. My faith in God comes from my trust in the Bible, not the other way around. (Mohler agrees when he says: "Authentic Christianity is based upon the inscripturated revelation of God -- the Bible -- as our authority.") Without the Bible, we have no record of God's words, and that would make all teachings about Him potentially subjective, and therefore unreliable.

Perhaps Mohler is arguing something along the lines of Spurgeon, speaking on our efforts to defend the Bible:
"How are we to defend the Bible?" Spurgeon was once asked. The great Nonconformist preacher, with a true spiritual insight and a shrewd common sense sometimes lacking in profounder theologians and more versatile scholars, answered, "How would you defend a lion? Open his cage and leave him to defend himself!"Source

Perhaps Mohler's point is that it is improbable that any single archaeological find will ever totally prove or disprove the entire Bible. Furthermore, we, as Christians do not have to defend it, it can defend itself. To paraphrase Voddie Baucham, we don't have to defend the Bible, but we need to be prepared to defend our belief in it. I think that is the distinction that needs to be made here.

Do you agree with Mohler's conclusion? Am I way off base here?

Monday, July 7, 2008


Does it Matter if the Resurrection was an Original Idea?

Following in the footsteps of James Cameron's Jesus Tomb, Gabriel's Revelation, an "ink on stone document" that shows some literary links to the Dead Sea Scrolls, is causing a stir in the archaeological community over the Bible's theological roots.

Now, I have no reservations that this is a genuine artifact. I'm concerned that so many sources seem to anticipate that this will cause problems for Christianity, as the stone may contain an allusion to "living" in three days, written in a time that probably pre-dates Jesus and the writers of the Bible.

But what may make the Gabriel tablet unique is its 80th line, which begins with the words "In three days" and includes some form of the verb "to live." Israel Knohl, an expert in Talmudic and biblical language at Jerusalem's Hebrew University who was not involved in the first research on the artifact, claims that it refers to a historic 1st-century Jewish rebel named Simon who was killed by the Romans in 4 B.C., and should read "In three days, you shall live. I Gabriel command you." If so, Jesus-era Judaism had begun to explore the idea of a three-day resurrection before Jesus was born.

This, in turn, undermines one of the strongest literary arguments employed by Christians over centuries to support the historicity of the Resurrection (in which they believe on faith): the specificity and novelty of the idea that the Messiah would die on a Friday and rise on a Sunday. Who could make such stuff up?Time: Was Jesus' Resurrection a Sequel?

I'm sorry. Did you say "novelty"?

I'm not familiar with the argument that claims the Resurrection is true because it was an original idea. I don't see the logic in that. Frankly, I don't think that argument would be very convincing, let alone one of the "strongest" that Christians have to offer.

Furthermore, think that Israel Knohl's interpretation is sketchy at best. All he has to go on is "...some form of the verb 'to live'"? This is hardly Time-worthy scholarship.

The related NY Times article uses similarly ominous language, as though the very foundations of Christianity will be shaken by this [possible] interpretation:

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.NYT: Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

Here's a bit on Knohl's personality and past work (also from NYT, emphasis added):

...Israel Knohl, an iconoclastic professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem...posited in a book published in 2000 the idea of a suffering messiah before Jesus, using a variety of rabbinic and early apocalyptic literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But his theory did not shake the world of Christology as he had hoped, partly because he had no textual evidence from before Jesus.

Let's stop for a moment to recap: A scholar seeking to "shake up" views on Christianity (this is mentioned more than once in the NYT article) finds a barely-legible text, and interprets it in a manner that would shake up Christianity. Is anyone surprised? I'm not.

However, I am surprised by the amount of attention this is getting in the media. Look again at the headline: "Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection." One scholar and a faded, smudged text. Newsworthy? Only if it involves doubting the Messiahship of Jesus.

To go a little deeper, let us assume the Dr. Knohl's interpretation is correct, and that the idea of a third-day resurrection existed before Jesus' death. Does that instantly make it untrue? Does it necessarily follow that the disciples used this theology to invent a resurrection story? Hardly.

It may be argued that the Old Testament already holds this theology. Isaiah 53:10-11 references a resurrection, as well as Psalm 16:10 (which could also imply a three-day death), additionally Jesus mentions Jonah's three day ride in the belly of a great fish, which could also hint at Old Testament texts influencing Resurrection theology.

And even if Knohl is right, all this "Revelation" will do is prove to further connect Jewish and Christian beliefs, which should be intimately intertwined, as Christianity sprouts from Judaism, and Judaism finds its completion in Christianity.

Here are a few brief reasons why I trust that the resurrection accounts are true. And, just to be "fair" to those who don't believe it, I'm leaving out mounds of evidence from within the Biblical text itself:

  • If he was dead, Jesus' grave would've stopped the excitement.

    • Opponents would only have to point to Jesus' grave to discredit his Disciples

    • Christianity exploded in Jerusalem immediately following Jesus' Resurrection. This was the town where he should have been buried

  • Jesus' Disciples were changed, and even gave their lives because they witnessed the Resurrection.

  • The New Testament was written and circulated during the time when witnesses to his death could have spoken out against them. Why weren't claims of Resurrection thrown out as lies?

Links of Interest:

Original Article in Biblical Archaeology Review

Text Translated into English