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"