I was wondering how long it would be before someone accused me of being legalistic and dogmatic…or any other fun name.
This last week I was having a conversation with a co-worker. I forget how the conversation came up but somehow we began to talk about what we believed about God, the Bible, who Jesus is etc. Oh I remember…The question that started it was, “So have you always been religious?”
That’s the question that sparked our conversation. I had said something about Jesus and my co-worker asked me that question. That led us into a conversation about those things listed above. During our conversation, this person said something that I found astounding. I shouldn’t be shocked anymore by how bad American evangelicalism is but I was surprised by this statement.
My co-worker asked me if I believed the Bible. That was the first surprise ‘cause this person claims to be a Christian. So when a professing Christian asked me if I believe the Bible, I guess I think it’s kind of a trick question. I’m like, “Am I being punked here?”
So I said that yes, I believed the Bible from cover to cover, that I believed it was the very spoken and written revealed Word of God etc…Then I said what I guess my co-worker found so offensive. I said, “I think that you cannot be Christian unless you believe the Bible. All of it.”
To my surprise, this person got all huffy and said, “Wow, that’s a very dogmatic statement.” I was confused and I guess my facial expression gave me away. I asked what they meant by that; in other words, is it a bad thing to be dogmatic about the Bible? They looked at me and, with a straight face, said they believed that someone could be a follower of Christ and not believe every word of the Bible. They said that the OT just didn’t seem to fit into their idea of Jesus’ teaching.
Again, I shouldn’t be surprised by this but I have to admit I was. In my mind, there was no question and there is no question. So our conversation began in earnest then because I knew in that moment that this person is far from Christ. My contention to them and to you is simple.
You cannot be a follower of Christ without believing the Bible.
All of it.
If that statement makes me dogmatic and overly opinionated, so be it. There are some simple basic things that I think we must believe about the Bible or we simply cannot be actual followers of Christ. So here was my arguments to them (well, some of them).
1. Jesus believed the Bible (what we call the Old Testament).
How do I know this? Because Jesus quoted texts from the Hebrew Scriptures, aka the OT. In fact, Jesus spoke clearly about even so-called controversial OT stories, like the story of Jonah (see Luke 11:29-32). In fact, Jesus went so far as to claim to be the fulfillment of OT prophecy. In Luke 9, we see Jesus’ transfiguration, along with Elijah and Moses, clearly connecting Him with both the Law and the Prophets from the OT. All throughout the Gospels we find Jesus quoting OT texts. Jesus believed the Bible. Know why Jesus believed the Bible? Because…
2. He was/is the very Author of the Word.
Pretty much all the New Testament lays this out pretty clearly for us. We see the most clear statement of this in John’s gospel, perhaps one of the most beautiful texts in all of the NT (John 1:1-18). If He wrote it through the direct inspiration of the human authors then I’d say we’re pretty safe in believing it (2 Peter 1:21).
3. Without the fullness of Scripture we can’t understand who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish.
If all we read is the NT, we still get a pretty clear picture of this statement but when we understand that the entire OT points us forward to the coming of Jesus, we can’t miss this. I mean, it’s pretty hard to miss this if we are serious readers/students of the Word. All through the OT we see promises of One who will come; the promised seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, the promised seed of Abraham through whom all will be blessed, the One whom Moses promises to the people of God, the eternal King promised to David and the One who will usher in the new covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah…and so it goes on and on.
Without the Bible we can’t understand who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish.
4. Without Scripture we can’t know Jesus.
Think about that. If we didn’t have the Bible we would know nothing of Jesus. Only those who were around to see and follow Him during His brief ministry here on earth would know Him or anything about Him. Without the OT we can’t know who, what or how to anticipate the coming of the promised One. Without the NT we wouldn’t know what He did or how we are to live in light of His coming.
Peter says something really astonishing in 2 Peter 1:16-21. I invite you to read this text carefully. Peter, who saw all that Jesus did and knew Him intimately, says something staggering. Look at verse 19 of the 2nd Peter text. He has just talked about how he was an eyewitness of His majesty. Peter saw Jesus transfigured, crucified, resurrected and watched Him ascend into heaven. Peter saw all that and yet says that we have a more sure word than even his own eyewitness testimony.
He says we have the Word.
This is one of the rallying cries of the Reformation:
Sola Scriptura. The Word only. By the Word, we know who God is, who His Son Jesus is and how we are to relate in faith to Him.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not worshipping the Bible instead of Jesus. I’m not saying the Bible somehow is more important than Jesus. I’m saying that God has revealed Himself to us by His written Word and His incarnate Word but we cannot know the incarnate Word without the written Word. Any “knowledge” about Jesus apart from the Bible is heresy; this has been true throughout the history of the Church and hopefully always will be.
It saddens me deeply that American evangelicalism has wandered so far from the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Let us return again to an actual biblical understanding of the Word of God. We could all use a little more dogma in our lives.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’ve recently begun to work my way through Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will. There are several things going on in Luther’s writing that I think still needs to be addressed today. Sadly, the heresies fought by Luther and other reformers are still prevalent today in the Protestant church and most definitely in the Catholic church and society at large.
There is a particular section in the introduction of the book, edited and translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, that I wanted to interact a bit with to begin. I mostly want to do this because of my own past experience with some of the very things discussed in this section. I’ll start with a lengthy quote from pages 46-47.
“Natural theology leads men away from the Divine Christ, and from Scripture, the cradle in which He lies, and from the theologia crucis, the gospel doctrine which sets Christ forth. But it is only through Christ that God wills to be known, and gives saving knowledge of Himself. He who would know God, therefore, must seek Him through the Biblical gospel. We must not expect to understand all that the gospel tells us, for the fact of Christ (that is, the achievement of our salvation by the death of the incarnate Son of God) is beyond man’s rational comprehension. That is why the gospel has always seemed foolishness to the wise men of this world. But we are not entitled to make rational comprehension the condition of credence, nor to edit and reduce God’s Word (as Luther accuses Erasmus of doing) so as to make it square with our own preconceived ideas. That, again, is to try and make man into God, for to understand all things perfectly is the prerogative of the Creator alone. And it is also to exclude faith; for the very distinguishing mark of faith is that it takes God’s word just because it is God’s word, whether or not it can at present understand it. Man’s part, therefore, is to humble his proud mind, to renounce the sinful self-sufficiency which prompts him to treat himself as the measure of all things, to confess the blindness of his corrupt heart, and thankfully to receive the enlightening Word of God. Man is by nature as completely unable to know God as to please God; let him face the fact and admit it! Let God be God! let man be man! let ruined sinners cease pretending to be something other than ruined sinners! let them realise that they lie helpless in the hand of an angry Creator; let them seek Christ and cry for mercy.”
I could drop the mic right there and walk off. But I won’t. This is important for many reasons but it is personally important to me because I have personal experience with how subtle the lie is that we can find God in some other way other than the Bible.
When I first came to believe that Jesus is who He said He was and placed my faith in Him for salvation, I was still very impressionable. I began to read the Bible and gradually came to understand some things. But, as that was happening, I was a part of a para-church ministry.
I want to be very clear here; I’m not bashing this particular ministry. Rather, I am speaking from personal experience of the dangers, subtle as they may be, of wandering away from the doctrine of sola scriptura. There is a reason why this was a rallying cry of the Reformers.
This particular ministry had weekend events that involved some times of teaching and then small group discussion. All teaching that was done was taken pretty much straight from the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. Now I want to tread carefully here for those of you who may have just become defensive. I don’t know what Eldredge’s relationship with Christ is or even if he is a believer or not. I am not saying one way or the other. What I am saying is that all teaching, especially teaching that claims to be Christian, must be held up to the clear light of God’s Word. If we wander away from that in our teaching, we fall into idolatry and heresy.
1. Let’s be careful to find God where He really is and that is in “the Biblical gospel.”
There are far too many so-called Christians out there who will say things like, “I go to the mountains to experience God and hear from Him.” Or something like that. I think we can certainly see God’s majesty in His creation but we cannot find Him in creation. We can always and only find God where He has chosen to reveal Himself and that is in the Bible alone.
God has indeed spoken. He has spoken by His written Word and by His living Word, Jesus, of whom we may read in His written Word. If we wander away from His word (sola scriptura), we wander away from God Himself.
2. We don’t have to completely understand it.
I think one of our biggest problems is that we find ourselves far too clever. We really think we’re smarter than God. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves here. We really think we have it all figured out and that we could do a better job than God at running the world. ‘Cause if we can’t figure it out, then it must not exist. Technology is wonderful and all and we’re pretty smart but we’re not God.
I know I’ve fallen into this in myself. I’ve often thought I could do a better job than God. For example, if I was God there would be no __ fill in the blank.
You’ve never had that thought? Sure you have. That’s because we’ve missed the point. Which leads me to point three.
3. We must humble ourselves. We’re not the point. God and His glory are the point.
I really believe we’ve made ourselves the center of the universe. I’ll give you an example. For those of us who have children, we know that this is true. Our kids think they are the center of all that is and every decision in life should be based around their desires in the moment.
Then again, all us adults believe the same thing.
I am not the point. You are not the point. God and His glory is the point of all that is. In the words of Packer and Johnston, “Let God be God! let man be man!” In other words, let us recognize that He is the point not our selfish interests.
What great mercy and grace God has shown us! He has chosen to reveal Himself; He didn’t have to but He did. And He has revealed Himself in and by His Word. Let us praise Him and meet Him there!
What great mercy and grace God has shown us! He has chosen to reveal what we are to know about Him. We don’t need to understand the rest but rather have faith in He who has spoken. We must trust that all things work together for the good of those who are His and for His glory!
What great mercy and grace God has shown us! He has shown us that we don’t have to consume ourselves in thinking the world is about us. What vanity and emptiness that is! Rather, He has shown us that humility before Him leads us to deeper trust and relieves us of our idolatry of self. He is the point!
Soli Deo Gloria!