Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 2 - Sufficiency of Interpretation

[Paul] didn't say, "I know what I believe," obviously he did; he said "I know in whom I have believed." - David Ravenhill

Knowing Jesus Christ is the vital life of the believer. Knowing Jesus is salvation. We have condensed the saving life of Christ into a moment a decision, a prayer and an acquiesance to a list of doctrine, but we have neglected the necessity of knowing God through the person of Jesus Christ.

In consistency with this method of mental assent we have cultivated a Christian culture that is truly passionate about nodding our heads to proper doctrine, to proper scripture interpretation and to proper theology. We are commanded to hold fast to sound doctrine and to a sound confession of the truths of the faith, but not in the place of a living, growing love relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

As I live and minister to the illiterate, the poor and those whose mental faculties are scrambled by drugs, malnutrition, toxic exposure and poor education, I realize more and more that Jesus is the revelation of God. It is Jesus Himself who reveals God to the poor. Like the Hebrew masses of Bible times these men and women are cut off from the scripture and from the ability to soundly interpret it. It takes years on the field to teach believers to read and to interpret scripture, but before they can understand a word of the Bible they can know the Father through His Son and enter into a love relationship that teaches them far more about God and how to be like him than all the professional Bible interpreters in the world. It is the knowledge of the person of Christ that is truly transforming. That knowledge is augmented, initiated and propelled forward from the Word and through Scripture, but its core is a person to person relationship with the Savior. Paul had impeccable doctrine, but he found it in His personal relationship with Christ the King. His passion and desire was not greater revelation of doctrine or head knowledge, but of Jesus and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death (Phil 3:10). It was this pursuit of knowing the Person of Christ that focused Paul's life into, "this one thing I do" (Phil 3:13). He was in a love relationship with God: a living, walking, talking relationship with his Master: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who he had never known in the flesh but knew intimately through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 15:27). 

Our interpretation of Scripture is not sufficient. Our pet doctrines, our understanding of predestination, our five point plan of salvation, Romans Road or Nicene Creed will not get us into Heaven. Heaven is the unveiled glory of Jesus, and He has reserved that intimate exposure of Himself for those who know Him intimately. Scripture is indeed sufficient. It does hold all the knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. But without the Holy Spirit bearing witness to The Way, The Truth and The Life that knowledge holds no reality and power over the soul. They are only words on a page to us and our knowledge of them and belief in them is vacuous because we are not meant to believe and know a book alone, but God Himself. We are called to a higher knowledge and a more costly faith in the revealed Person of God in Jesus. Do we really know him? Or do we believe that knowing the Bible is enough? Or knowing our church's doctrine? Or believing the right thing? Will we be judged by our theology or by our relationship with Jesus. Scripture gives a harrowing picture 

Matthew 7:21-23
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
Luke 13:24-27
24 "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' 26Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' 27But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'

We might cite our mighty deeds or our familiarity with Jesus's teachings, but the LORD wants to know us Himself. He wants us to give ourselves to Him in a way that gives Him complete access to our lives, complete intimacy cultivated by complete sacrifice of our life to him. In that final day many will find that they interpreted themselves away from the LORD and away from His presence into an idol made of intellectual understanding of a god who fit in the right box and behaved himself according to the borders of their understanding of the scriptures. They will have known the words of God, but not the Living Word of God.

The Sufficiency of Scripture or of One's Interpretation?

The Bible deist talks a lot about the sufficiency of Scripture. For him the sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is the only way God speaks to us today. He loves to repeat slogans like "The Bible is all I need to hear from God" and "What the Bible says is what we should say, and where the Bible is silent we should be silent." Although the Bible deist loudly proclaims the sufficiency of Scripture, in reality, he is proclaiming the sufficiency of his own interpretation of the Scripture. Bible deists aren't alone in this error. When many people say they have confidence in the Bible, what they really mean is they have confidence in their ability to interpret the Word, in their own particular understanding of the Bible, in their own theological system. Nobody says this out loud, for fear of being labeled arrogant. But they demonstrate it when they refuse to fellowship with those who baptize differently, or with those who have a different view of the gifts of the Spirit, or with those who have a different view of the end times. Many Christians agree on the fundamentals of the faith, but are so confident that in the debatable areas their interpretation is the correct one that they separate themselves from those who differ with them.
The Bible deist is especially guilty of this because he conceives of the Bible and his interpretation as one organic whole. After all, the Bible deist has consistently applied grammatical, historical exegesis to the text. Above all, he has a good theological framework, and his interpretations are consistent with his theological framework, and his interpretations are consistent with this theological framework. He stands squarely in a tradition that is hundreds of years old and has many illustrious names within it. With that tradition behind him, plus his own personal skills and abilities, he is sure he is right. Oh, there are times, when he can admit the possibility of being wrong--for humility's sake, or better, for the appearance of humility. Otherwise, he might give some people he thinks he is infallible. But in his heart of hearts he knows there is only the minutest possibility he might be wrong in any of his individual interpretations.
So it is extremely difficulty for Bible deists to concede that they themselves might be presently holding an erroneous interpretation. They refer to their opponents' interpretations as "taken out of context," or as a failure to apply consistent hermeneutical principles. Or, in some cases, where they have little respect for their opponents, they chalk up their opponents' views to just plain sloppy thinking. In those rare cases where they have to admit that their opponent has out-argued them, it wasn't because their opponent had truth on his side. No, their opponent was a skillful debater--actually, he was downright tricky. In one case, a theologian I knew was asked why other knowledgeable interpreters of the Bible held a different eschatological position from his own. "Sin," came the terse but honest reply.
The Bible deist is so confident in the sufficiency of his interpretation that it is difficult for him to be corrected by experience. He usually has negative comments about subjective things like feelings and experience. He doesn't realize it, but it is more important to him to know the Bible than to experience its truth. This is inevitable result of exalting the mind over the heart, and knowledge over experience. It also explains how someone full of biblical knowledge may be able to give a better explanation of humility than an elderly lady in his church--but possess so little humility when compared to her. Haven't we all witnessed this tragic disparity?
-Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God p. 252-254
The Pharisees of Jesus's day had the Scriptures and knew them inside out. They had them memorized and considered those who did not have them to be "cursed" (John 7:49). Yet, it was their confidence in their knowledge of the Scripture that gave them an assumed authoritative stamp on rejecting Jesus. They rejected their God and His Way. They were offended by His unorthodox, unanticipated fulfillment of the covenant. While He fulfilled the law, he broke their interpretations of it. While he healed the sick, forgave the sinner, set the captives free and raised the dead, they squabbled over whether or not He was born in the right place and whether or not he conformed to every jot and tittle of their interpretation of Sabbath-keeping.

They were so concerned with the finer points of interpreting proper doctrine that they tithed the mint and rue, but left the poor and the needy without comfort (Luke 11:42). They had hidden the Word of God in their minds memorizing it, theorizing on it, interpreting it and holding it sacred, but when confronted with the resurrection of Lazarus, their reaction was to kill both him and Jesus (John 12:10).

Knowledge of the Scriptures and the ability to interpret them is important, but it is the Holy Spirit who gives life and bears witness to the truth, not the proper hermeneutical method or systematic theology. Jesus does not honor those who hold the proper interpretation over those who are confused or hold erroneous theology. He honors those who honor Him with their whole hearts and their whole lives: those that know Him and love Him.

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 1 - Introduction

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