A Biblical Perspective on the Bible

A number of folks I hang around with that are asking hard questions about the Bible and its place in the life of the child of God.

These conversations have been among friends, believers, individuals who are passionately committed to the Bible as the foundation for life, and who confidently acknowledge its profitability for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. I have heard many honest people asking honest questions and expressing both conventional and unconventional points of view. Some of those perspectives are kind of weird. Some are troubling. Some make a lot of sense. A few qualify as “all of the above.”

Such is the way of mere mortals as we learn new truths. We poke and prod and ask questions; we wobble around and stumble; we get up and give it another try. I’m thankful for honest friends who are willing to help me in that stumbling. They’re not, WE are not questioning the foundation of the Bible, not in any way, shape, or form, but we are questioning the traditional ways God’s people have related to God’s word.

I’ve come to the realization that while the Bible is the First Word, while it is the Standard by which everything else is measured, it is not the Last Word. Sacred Scripture has nothing to say about flush toilets, social networking, pornography, pro sports, abortion, personal computers, masturbation, public schools, motorized transportation and ten thousand other topics (though it may speak to topics tangential to these). If we limit our thinking to only what the Word says, we’ll never be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us.”
 I believe God is calling his Bride [hear me carefully here] to stop treating the Bible as a limitation, and to employ it more as a launch pad.

The Bible itself is filled with directives (eg John 3:8-10, 14:26, 21:25, even 1 Corinthians11:14), instructing us to extend our learning beyond the foundation of this magnificent, foundational Book. The Bible is our foundation, our starting point. But a foundation is useless unless one builds on it.

Several New Testament writers bemoan an unwillingness of Christians to grow up. Hebrews 6 clearly describes the “milk” the new believers’ curriculum of the first century: “…not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” These are the baby steps (“milk”) of the apostle’s teaching. After we learn these, then we must move on to the “solid food” of the ways of God. Unfortunately, the apostle could not write about the meat that was on his heart, because those to whom that book was originally written were unready for real meat.

Someone wise has said, “It’s hard to expect the results of the first century church when we rely more on a book they didn’t have than the Spirit that they did have.” And we clearly do not have the results of the first century church. When measured by the 1st century standard, our 21st century church, which is well-grounded on the Book, has been an utter failure at changing the world around us. When was the last time you saw a spontaneous, accidental revival meeting in the streets of your hometown, with thousands coming to faith in Christ? When was the last time that your church saw someone so convicted of sin that they fell down dead? How many people have you raised from the dead? We are (mostly) well-grounded in the Word, but we are mostly powerless.

If sola scriptura (“doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.”) were enough, we’d be walking in way more power, way more holiness, way more intimacy than we are.

Someone else has said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” If you are content with what you and your church are experiencing in God, then well and good. Keep up the good work!

Many believers, however, are not able to say, “Wow, my church is amazing! I can’t imagine things any better!” We want to find that “better.” My church, after twenty centuries of “growing,” should not lag so ridiculously far behind the beginners, the absolute rookies of Jerusalem and Antioch, who are the subjects of the Book of Acts: we’ve had two whole millennia of the Holy Spirit in our midst, but not one church in a thousand lives up to the first century, our “beginner’s standard.” If your church is that one, then hallelujah! Mine is not, I’m afraid. And I WILL NOT SETTLE FOR THIS WIMPY, POWERLESS CHRISTIANITY.

I will give everything I have to see the church in my region grow up into that which Jesus died for. I have already spent my fortune. I will risk my respectability, my reputation, my understanding, my sanity in order to attain to the high calling that is still un-touched before us. I will guard vigilantly against error, but because I am going where nobody that I know has ever gone, I expect I will make mistakes, I expect I will fall. But I will fall towards the goal, the high calling in Christ Jesus. I will NOT settle back in my pew, put another check in the plate, and pretend that we’re living up to the “greater works” that Jesus promised.

I haven’t raised a single person from the dead yet, but I’ve tried several times. I’ve not transported from here to there like Elijah and Philip and maybe even Jesus did, but it’s not for lack of trying. I have visited Heaven, as Jesus did. I’ve never walked on water like he did, but I’ve gotten soaked trying. I have changed the weather. I have sat with the King of Heaven as He fell in love with me and sang me love songs. I have plundered hell and brought back spoil for my King and my co-laborers. I have embarrassed myself more times than I can count, pressing forward to apprehend what has been promised to me.

Someone will say, “But you could get it wrong! You could make a mistake! I must warn you! I must protect you from the possibility of making a mistake!”

To which I answer: Of COURSE we’ll get it wrong! Of course we’ll make mistakes! We’ve never gone this way before. We’re rookies, for pity sake! We are NOT experts at this! But we’re not afraid of mistakes; we embrace them because they show progress. I’ve made a bundle of mistakes already, and I’ll bet you I’m not done yet. (Wonderfully educational things: mistakes.)

I will further answer that I will absolutely listen to the warnings and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. That’s where we’re headed: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [emphasis added] He’s talking about us! We as a people are called to being blown by the Spirit anywhere He wishes. That is not the church that I’ve grown up in, not the church that I see today. I am not content with where I am.

I will also listen to warnings from my friends and companions who are running this race with me. If you feel the need to warn me, come run with me for a while; I’m sorry: I won’t pay much attention to people throwing stones, to people calling me names, to people trying to kill me or my reputation. And I won’t listen to Pharisees. If you want to be heard, this won’t work. I will not stop to have conversation with those trying to stop me from running the race that He has set before me.

I’m comforted knowing that Jesus faced people who were content to judge him, and he didn’t listen to them either. They were so content with their system that they opposed, and then they killed, the King of Glory. They murdered a whole bunch of His followers, too. Those are not the people whose counsel I will be seeking in this race.

We often talk about how every movement of God is opposed by the participants of the previous move of God: it’s true. There are likely to be Christians – our own brothers and sisters – who oppose our march toward “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven!” It’s sad, but it is a reality.

I invite you to join us. I invite you to leave your traditions, your respectability, your doctrines and join in this mad passionate pursuit of Heaven! If you are satisfied, if you don’t understand, or if the price is too high for you, that’s OK: we offer no condemnation: stand aside, and watch us march, run, wander, fall, get up and run again toward the finish line.

If you choose to be one of the naysayers, please don’t be offended if we don’t stop and take notes on why you think that the things we’re doing are impossible. Please don’t feel hurt if we don’t defer to your contentment or your fear, or if we don’t abandon our passion for Jesus in favor of your restraint and hesitation. I’ll try not to hurt you as I march past. But I will not stop to listen to your fears.

I’m pressing forward. Lead, follow, or get out of my way. 


Dangerous Roads Ahead

There are some interesting roads ahead of us. Dangerous roads.

Some will choose not to walk the roads, because there is danger there. But to fear to go in that direction because there is danger somewhere down that road, well, that's the mistake that the Pharisees made, and that didn't turn out so well for them.

Someone spoke of vomiting out lukewarm believers in Revelation.  "I wish that you were hot or cold!" he said.

No thank you.

I will guard against error, against danger, of course. I trust my brothers and sisters to help guard me, as I help guard them. (Thank you for your help!)

But I will travel the road that my Father lays in front of me. If I fall, I fall, and I will get up and go on. But I will not be one who avoids the way my ever-loving Daddy has laid out before me, merely because it's dangerous. I trust him to help me travel this road. He has not promised that I would never fail; he has promised that he would never leave, and that he would provide all that I need. I can trust him.

Do you remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

We must not hide indoors, simply because it's dangerous out there.


Learning From the Book and Beyond

I’ve been talking with a bunch of very cool people about the Gospel of John recently. It’s important to me to be fresh with what I’m talking about, so I’ve been burying myself in the first part of the book recently, more listening than reading this time, just for a new perspective. And indeed, I’ve heard things I’ve never seen in there.

I’ve been attracted to the very fascinating story of Nicodemus in John 3. There are so many interesting things in that encounter! Specifically, I’ve been watching how Jesus and Nick interact, and frankly, I’ve been sympathizing with Nick’s confusion in that conversation. We teach regularly from some of the content of that conversation. I’d like to look at the nature of the conversation itself, the context of it. 

A little background: Nicodemus is a Pharisee, which means he’s spent his life studying the Bible of his day, our Old Testament. Moreover, he’s “a ruler of the Jews,” which means that he’s been studying the Bible for a very long time, and that he has the additional weight of leading the People of God, by means of his immense knowledge of the Book. He’s probably a member of the Sanhedran, and he probably teaches teachers in Israel

I was taught from Sunday School on up that Pharisees are “the bad guys,” but Nick embodies all that is good about them. He comes to Jesus, seeking, recognizing God’s presence in Jesus’ miraculous ministry. He’s teachable! And so Jesus, who is the Word of God (John 1:1), teaches the teacher of the Word of God.

And Jesus is dropping some pretty heavy stuff on him. In a few short paragraphs (which may merely be a condensation of several of hours of conversation), Jesus introduces him to the concepts of being born again and being led by the Spirit. We think of these subjects as relatively foundational in the church today, but these would be revolutionary to a Pharisee who has only had the Old Testament to study. He’s studied the Word all of his life, but it hasn’t prepared him for the topics that Jesus is opening up to him. I’m impressed that he stays in the conversation; he doesn’t blow Jesus off, which tells me that he tastes some truth, some life, in it.

In the midst of this earthshaking conversation, Jesus drops in the fact that he, himself, makes visits Heaven while he’s on Earth (verse 13: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven,” whom he clarifies as being himself.) Even in our post-Resurrection era, the idea of visiting Heaven one is a bit of a stretch for many Christians. Fortunately, it allows us to experience a tiny bit of the paradigm shift that Nick was reeling under: this Man, clearly from God, is teaching some things that are waaaay outside the lines of Nick’s religious experience, just as most churches would consider visiting heaven at least “outside the lines” and possible “heresy.” This is what Nicodemus is dealing with.

This is no light conversation between Jesus and Nick. In this context we find the archetypal New Testament verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is that conversation: foundational.

Let’s look at our context: Today, we live in a season that has a lot of this kind of conversation in it. For decades, even for generations, we’ve known what we believed; our theology was settled, grounded, not really subject to change. And then Jesus steps in and suddenly it shifts. Suddenly, those theological foundations are remarkably less solid than we thought they were. Nicodemus experienced that shift, and we are also dealing with the that kind of shift, as the Holy Spirit brings up new topics for us as well. Think about the subjects of revival, apostolic ministry, street-healing, visiting Heaven, even translocation; things these were even not part of the conversation a few years ago. Like Nick’s conversation, these also are topics that are not easily supported from inductive study. 

Then verse 10 of Nick’s conversation with Jesus hit me: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?’” Jesus acknowledged that he was speaking to “the teacher” of Israel (the definite article really is in the Greek), and knew that he was speaking of content that was not supportable from exegetical or inductive study of the Old Testament, but He expected the teacher to know anyway. The topics did not reveal themselves in the Word, but Jesus expected “the teacher of Israel” to know – or at least have some familiarity with them – anyway. 
If an Old Covenant teacher (“the teacher of Israel”) was somehow expected to understand things that were not directly supportable from the Scripture of the day, is it not reasonable that we who are teachers, leaders, thought-shapers of the New Covenant may likewise also be expected to draw some of our understanding from sources OTHER than strict didactic study of the Word? 

If we stop and say it slowly, it’s not quite as scary: “There are more places to learn things than the pages of the Bible.” But we have a hard time with the subject. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Show me that in scripture!” (Comment: they said that to Jesus too. He gave them grief for it.)

Now, I am NOT suggesting that we teach – or personally hold to – any doctrine or practice about which the Word says “Don’t do it!” We don’t contravene scripture. End of story.  

Nor am I suggesting that we listen to every self-appointed spiritual authority out there. I’m suggesting that the Bible is about God speaking to us: let’s listen to God. I’m am suggesting that we allow ourselves and others to draw from non-Biblical sources – including personal revelation, supernatural encounters, and interesting conversations after hours – in order to correctly form our understanding of what the Spirit is doing and saying to the churches today.

Am I saying “The Bible is not enough”? Not quite. I’m saying, “Jesus seems to be declaring that there’s substantially more to learning than just the Bible.”

It looks to me as if Jesus doesn’t believe in the concept of “Sola Scriptura,” the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. The amazing thing about the Bible is that God is speaking. Why do we assume that just because we wrapped it in leather, He has stopped speaking?  The more I know Him, the more I am inclined to follow Him instead of the Book. And I'm coming to the radical conclusion that he has more to say than merely what had already been said and recorded

Personally, I am feeling challenged by the Spirit: that if I do NOT stretch my learning – more than just the Word, not replacing learning from the Word – at least in the data-gathering phase of my study, that I am short-changing what He can do in me and say to me. It is fine to teach from the Bible, to teach what God has said. But I suspect that we’ll be more and more relying on what God is saying. And I believe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

The real issue with Nicodemus was that the Spirit alone can unlock scripture; Nick’s head knowledge could never reveal mysteries of the Spirit. You know, I really don’t want Jesus saying to me, “You’re my child, and you still don’t get it?”