Without getting too hot or bothered about Zach Hunt's article in Huff Post today I would like to say that he's on to something. Sure, I might disagree with his (purported) supposition that Jesus blew off the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures to start a Love Movement on His own. Or that the OT Scripture is a jumble of problems best left unread and unfollowed if one is to follow hard after the living God. Or that the past 2000 years of church dogma has pretty much left society screwed up, fragmented, and more hardened to God than ever before. Or even that the best divine authority in life might better be found outside the Bible and especially outside of the people of God for whatever reason we wish to throw out there (and there are many).
On the other hand, might we have become a bit too cynical or disbelieving in our minds and hearts to do the hard work of theology, leaving lesser lights from the pulpit and civic podium to measure its contents and speeches for us? Or perhaps have discovered that in order to hear God's Word again we just might have to change our cultural perspectives and hardened mindsets (horrors!) so that we actually can hear God speak to us again? Or that with time-and-distance from the God-event of the OT, Jesus knew then, as I've been thinking myself, that God might have to speak in a new way that might shake up the church establishment in order to get both church and mankind to listen again to His heart's passions? That with years of indifference, spiritual disregard, casual worship, brotherly bickering, tribal in-fighting, national exile, and divine judgment, the OT Scriptures became so "lost" to its intended themes and topics that Jesus pretty much had to "re-interpret" God's Word... which, in this instance, was the very God Himself speaking His own heart and mind to mankind. Not simply as a great prophet. A revered priest. Or beloved scholar. But very God of very God come to live, and breathe, and example, God's redemption to those who would stop, hear, and listen.
However we may disagree or fuss over Zach Hunt's comments I think we would do him a great injustice if we didn't seriously consider his argument that the church has made the Bible a holy relic that cannot be touched lest the whole God-thing-system comes crashing down on its head. Its what we call in religious circles as "bibliolatry"... the worship of the book over the Author. The lifting-up of our own religion through its religious pages to the ill-and-fate of others less fortunate to be in our "happy band of merry men." From bibliolatry comes folk religion... a colloquial name bestowed upon popular Christian movements, cherished christened ideologies, unquestioned church norms and beloved traditions that would cause its followers, members, joiners, and congregants, to think and do very "un-God-like" things. Things which seem to ring true in our religious (or is it legalistic?) and prideful hearts, but are very untrue and false when held before the Light of the Lord as He hung on the Cross forgiving His betrayers. Abandoned even of His own Father when taking on the idolatrous sins of His people upon Himself. Torn and rent by the hard pride of religious sin and desperate lust for self-righteousness.
Hence, let's not be too hard here today. And don't think that we must swing to the deep end of mysticism and magic, dreams and trances, agnosticism and atheism, in order to hear God again (of course I might sympathize with Christian agnostics and atheists if they do go this route). However, I am a firm believer that God's Word is enough, and that the church is redeemable through His people as His earthly hands and feet. But it is also true that we need a little Spirit-filled common sense, a bit of a backward glance towards past church histories filled with both its mistakes and failures as well as its successes and gains (I think of Christian martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for one). And some outside help - even it were to come from the ranks of the "heathen" speaking in the name of science, philosophy, and scholarship. God has given to us reason and experience to be used and not abandoned. Let's use them in good order beginning with a prayer of help to the Lord to illumine our darkened hearts. Amen.
January 22, 2014
|The process of interpretation -|
Its not all that easy!
Does God Care About the Bible As Much As We Do?
by Zach Hunt
January 21, 2014
For many in the church today, using the Bible as the go-to, definitive, and final answer for everything is the whole point of the Bible.
Otherwise, God wouldn't have chopped it up into nice chapters and verses that we could weaponize at the drop of a hat, right?
(Fun fact: The chopping didn't start until at least a 1,000 years after the New Testament was finished.)
But what if God had other intentions for the Bible? What if God didn't intend for it to be the unquestioned final authority on everything that we've turned it into? What if, dare I say it, God doesn't care about the Bible as much as we do?
I don't mean God thinks that it's worthless, but what if we think more highly of the Bible and its authority than we should?
I know that might sound crazy, but I have a sneaking (biblical) suspicion why that might actually be the case.
My suspicion begins in the Gospels where time and time again we hear Jesus declaring, "You have heard it said... but I say...." Now, sometimes he's just talking about tradition or the teachings of other rabbis. But a lot of times, he's talking about scripture itself, what we would today call the Old Testament. We tend to gloss over Jesus' words as nothing more than a rhetorical device, but when we do we miss the gravity of what he's actually doing.
He's breaking the bonds of scripture to bring new truth and breath fresh life into the people of God. He's refusing to be held captive to the words on the page in order to get to the real heart of faith.
And he's calling us to go and do likewise.
But the liberation doesn't stop there.
It culminates at the birth of the church. In particular, the story of the apostle Peter and the sheet that fell from heaven.
According to the book of Acts, the apostle Peter was at a house in the town of Joppa when he decided to go up to the roof and pray while lunch was being prepared. Not long after he had began praying, he fell into a trance and had one of those famous biblical visions from God. In the vision, he saw a sheet fall from heaven full of all sorts of creatures -- "four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air" -- and he heard a voice saying, "Take and eat." Peter said "no" because scripture forbade him from doing so. The voice told him again to take and eat and once more Peter refused. This happened three times and three times Peter said no, citing scripture.
It's an odd vision that only becomes odder when you step back and realize what's really going on.
That voice from heaven was God and God was telling Peter to violate scripture.
We like to gloss over this too as part of the whole "we're no longer under law, we're under grace" thing as if that was some how a fulfillment of scripture -- but it wasn't. Sure, there was a promised Messiah, but there was no sense in the Old Testament that the law would pass away and be replaced by a covenant of grace. Even if there was, the law was at the very heart of the people of God's identity. Saying the people of God are no longer under the Law, but under grace is nothing short of a revolution.
What's happening, then, in Peter's vision, the book of Acts, the Gospels, and throughout the New Testament is a fundamental and radical shift from the old way of doing things (no more sacrifices), from how God related to God's people (no more need for a high priest), and from scripture itself (no longer bound by the law).
It's not a complete break because the continuity is critical, but it is a seismic shift to something radically different than what had come before.
So why was God doing something so radical and so obviously contradictory to scripture?
Because God decided to do a new thing in Jesus and through the church, a Spirit thing that couldn't be bound by scripture, and either Peter (and the rest of God's people) could come along for the ride or stay shackled to the past.
When we hear this story taught in Sunday school, most of us respond the way we always respond when Peter sticks his foot in his mouth -- we're baffled that he could be so dense when God was being so clear in what God wanted and expected from him. But as much as we might like to think we would have responded differently if we had been in his position, I think the truth is most of us still use the Bible the same way Peter did -- as an idol to be blindly followed. An idol even God is answerable to.
Imagine if we had responded to the vision then like we do today to things we think are against the Bible:
- We'd start off with an internet rant about wolves in the church trying to deceive the faithful,
- then we'd string together a bunch of Bible verse to "prove" we're right,
- then follow that up with a thorough trashing of our opponent's knowledge of the Bible,
- and finally wrap things up by denouncing them as a liberal heretic.
And then when all our "righteous work" was done, just like Peter, we would have successfully quashed the movement of the Spirit.
I think our fundamental problem in all of this is that we've forgotten that the Bible is meant to be a guide on how to live and love in this life and the next, but instead we've turned it into a jailer that shackles us to ideology, dogma, and legalism.
Instead of letting the Bible lead us the Truth, we use it as a weapon to attack our enemies and defend our ideological idols.
If Peter had continued to use scripture the way we do today, instead of getting out of the way for God to move, then the power of the Spirit would have been stifled and the church would not have gotten off the ground. If Paul had used scripture the way we do today, he could have never taken the gospel to the ends of the earth and ministered to the Gentiles because they were outside of Israel's covenant as described in scripture. And if Jesus had used scripture like we do today, his ministry would have never left Nazareth.
Answering the call of God to join the new work of the Spirit doesn't negate the inspiration or authority of scripture. It simply puts it in proper perspective and allows it to serve its proper function -- as a guide to be followed, not an idol to be worshipped or a weapon to be wielded.
How do we let it guide us?
The same way the church has always let scripture guide us before we fell for the delusion of sola scriptura -- tradition can lead us, the church teach us, reason inform us, and experience shape us into the people of God formed but not shackled to the Bible.
So, does God care about the Bible as much as we do?
It doesn't seem so.
Though, of course, I can't speak for God, so I can't say for sure.
But I do think the Gospels and the story of Peter in particular should give us pause before we fill up anymore Facebook threads, message boards, comment sections, or Twitter feeds with never-ending strings of Bible verses.
In other words, we need to be careful.
Because God may be doing a new thing in the church today and, if God is, we may get left behind because we're so busy quoting Bible verses and holding God hostage to scripture that we can't see the work of the Spirit unfolding like a sheet from heaven right before our very eyes.
Grace and Peace,
Follow Zack Hunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheAmericnJesus