I got carried away and wrote a long email to a young man who wrote me. It covers evolution, church history, the apostles, the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Gospel, and what is central to Christianity.
I hate to see it simply languish in my sent folder, so here goes:
All Bible quotes in this post are from the NASB.
You wrote:>>Either you believe everything in the Bible is the inspired Word of God, being completely true, and that it is the standard for which Christians should live their lives, or you don’t.<<
To me you just made two statements, not one. The first, if I'm understanding your meaning correctly, is that the Bible is completely accurate historically and scientifically. That's a bit more narrow of a definition than "completely true."
Is the Bible “Completely True”?
There is no denying that I don’t believe the Bible is completely accurate historically or scientifically. I don’t believe the world is set on pillars (1 Sam. 2:8). I don’t believe that the sky is as hard as a metal mirror (Job 37:18). I believe that the earth moves, even though Psalm 93:1 says it doesn’t.
Of course, everyone–including you, your pastor, and everyone else you know–agrees with me on the three things I just listed. Oh, they have their excuses as to why that’s different than doubting the exact scientific accuracy of Genesis 1, but it all looks the same to me.
Do we really believe that God made plants before there was a sun? Do we really believe that there is a tree that if you eat from it, you’ll have eternal life whether God wants you to have it or not? That’s certainly what the story of the Garden of Eden suggests. God had to ban Adam … No, let’s not call him Adam. His name is Man. The Hebrew word Adam is used over 500 times in the Old Testament, and it is only translated Adam in the first few chapters of Genesis.
So, God had to ban Man and Life (Life was the name of Man’s wife) from the garden because if he didn’t, then Man would eat from the tree of life and live forever; apparently even if God didn’t want him to live forever!
Maybe that was meant to be an accurate description of the very first days of mankind, but I don’t believe that. And everyone I’ve read on the subject of how the Hebrews told stories agrees with me. To the Hebrews, “true” was not a matter of historically accurate. “True” had to do with whether it communicated truth.
I believe that the story of Man and Life not only communicates truth, but it communicates God’s truth. It’s not just a saying or a bit of human wisdom. It’s a message from God.
In that sense, I do believe that the Scriptures are completely true.
Is “scientifically and historically accurate” the correct definition of true? Well, that’s for you to decide, but I believe that is a modern, western definition that doesn’t apply very well to the Hebrew Scriptures. It was certainly not their mindset, according to every Hebrew scholar I’ve read.
Is the Bible our Standard
The other part of your statement was whether the Bible is “the standard for which Christians should live their lives.”
First, let me say that I definitely believe that the Bible is the standard for which Christians should test, though not necessarily live, their lives. If our lives disagree with the Scriptures, then we are in error. With that I completely agree, but the Scriptures teach us that we are to be led by the Spirit, not led by the Scriptures. The Scriptures can provide guidance, but we are to walk in the Spirit.
Today, we think the Bible is the center of the Christian faith.
I’m pretty certain that the apostles thought that Jesus Christ is the center of the Christian faith. I think they believed that the ultimate testimony of Christianity was that the Gospel they received from Jesus was “the power of God to salvation,” and that those who believed the Gospel received a real and powerful justification, becoming new creations.
Paul describes that concerning the Thessalonians:
“You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For the Word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1 Thess. 1:7-8).
The Scriptures talk about the Word of God growing three different times in Acts (6:7; 12:24; 19:20). We tend to equate the Scriptures and the Word of God, but the apostles didn’t. They believed the Word of God is either Jesus or the entire message of God, in whatever form it came. One major form is that the Word of God lives in us, planted like a seed. It can grow because as the number of disciples multiply, the Word of God grows.
We can say that the Scriptures are the standard by which we must live our lives, but could the apostles’ churches say that? I’ve read all the writings of the second century church, and I can tell you–along with the agreement of pretty much every Christian scholar you want to check–that the New Testament writings were not gathered together until about a hundred years after Jesus died.
And do you know how they gathered the New Testament writings?
They were not gathering “inspired” writings. They were not gathering “New Testament” writings. They were gathering the writings of apostles and men who accompanied the apostles. They wanted all and any they could find.
It was the apostles who were inspired, not just their writings. (For example, see 2 Thess. 2:15 and verses like 1 Cor. 11:2 and 14:37.) The New Covenant has never been about a book. It has been about God pouring out his Spirit on all flesh, bringing them into the church, and making of them a family that would glorify his name by their love for God, their love for each other, and their disdain for the things of the world.
Boxing up God, the Scriptures, and the Gospel
I’m so sorry, dear reader, that writing like this is so limited. Today we’ve boxed everything up and made everything nice and tidy.
God’s never been that way. He’s always left questions and things we don’t understand. He doesn’t care about our fitting his grand plan into our limited human minds. He cares about our trust and obedience. He wants us to know him, for eternal life is to know him, not to pass a test on his plan of salvation (Jn. 17:3).
The Original Faith
My goal is not to convince you of things, but to let you look at the faith that’s been handed to us. The original faith consisted of a firm trust that God sent Jesus, Jesus sent the apostles, and the apostles raised up churches to preserve the truth. Those churches all had a basic “rule of faith” to keep them on the straight and narrow. The Apostles Creed is a 4th century “rule of faith.”
When you read the writings of the 2nd century church, it’s such a glorious thing to see the purity of original Christianity. They held firm to the foundation that “The Lord knows those who are his, and let those who name the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19). They demanded that Christians accept the basic truths, the sort of things outlined in the Nicene Creed, but after that, “sound doctrine” was much more like what is described in Titus 2 than the sort of things we argue about today.
They honored those who lived holy lives. In fact, one early Christian said, “We don’t speak great things; we live them.”
When they defended Christianity, they spoke of the divinity of Christ’s teachings and how the Spirit of God empowered them to be delivered from greed and lust and to live lives of good conscience. Further, they stood gallantly during persecution, arguing that the bravery of the martyrs was proof of the power of the Spirit of God in the lives of Christians.
Misusing the Scriptures
I love the Scriptures. I hope, as you can see, that I study them thoroughly. I pattern my life after them, and I quote them in defense of all I say. If what I say can’t be found in the Scriptures, then what I say can be rightly rejected.
But we’ve done something awful with the Scriptures in the modern era. As I read today in a George MacDonald book, there are too many people who are “more desirous of understanding what they are supposed to understand than of doing what they are supposed to do.”
We argue and fight over doubtful matters. We make our determinations of what is true based on our intellectual interpretations of Scripture, when in fact Jesus (in Scripture) taught us to judge our teachers by their fruit and not by their confident interpretations (Matt. 7).
The Doctrine According to Godliness
We need to relearn the “doctrine according to godliness” as mentioned by Paul in 1 Tim. 6:3. Because our doctrine is according to intellect and argument, rather than according to godliness, we are what Paul describes in 1 Tim. 6:4-5:
He has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved minds and deprived of the truth.
Let us set ourselves to obeying Jesus Christ and honoring him by our lives.
Evolution and Doubtful Disputes
I have a web site on evolution. That is not because I think that Christians need to take a position on evolution, nor because I want anyone at all to agree it’s true. What I want is that men who have boxed up the Word of God and wrapped a book cover around him do not splinter the church of God into fighting factions over doubtful subjects.
The mark of a Christian is not that he agrees that Genesis one is literal … nor that it’s not literal. The mark of a Christian is that by the power of the Spirit of God he obeys Jesus Christ, living a life marked by the love of God.
We have enough work achieving that goal, but modern Christians have forgotten that it is a goal. They have become confused into thinking that Christianity is a mere understanding of and assent to the atonement.
Salvation is not a plan; it’s a Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.