Monday, November 14, 2011

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 3 - The Risk of Relationship


One of the largest temptations in modern American Christianity is also one of the least talked about issues in the Church. As a body of wealthy, western, well-educated believers we suffer from a strong temptation to make our God manageable: to tame Him in our minds and lives and to funnel our relationship with Him into a predictable, comfortable set of patterns and routines conformable to our lives. There is safety in believing that God's interaction with our real, practical lives is at the mercy of our own interpretation. There's a perverse feeling of freedom in believing that God is distant: though few would admit it.

Much like the Muslims I meet and witness to on the streets, many Christians are comfortable with a Holy God who keeps a Holy distance from us, who fails to intervene, who fails to make spontaneous demands, who fails to interact with us in a way that we don't have the ability to control and process. We have a comfort level in believing that God has a set of rules that He won't cross, that we can count on Him not to do certain things or meddle in certain areas. We can rule out His divine intervention and thus never get our hopes up or have them dashed. We know that when He didn't meet our needs the way we wanted Him to that it was just because He doesn't work that way. We can rely on what He does not do. We can have faith in His inaction, in His subtlety. We don't have to stand out on a limb and risk our faith, our emotions and our welfare on the necessity of God showing up. We can safely assume that He won't and make the best of it ourselves.  We justify these mindsets by saying that now that we have the Canon of Scriptures, that we really have all that we need. We don't need the interaction of God, We have His book, His love letter, His rules, His comfort, His doctrine and His system for our lives. We don't need personal interaction and personal revelation and encounter because we have objective revelation in the Bible. We shouldn't expect more. We can be happy and content in that lack of expectation and that lack of requirement.

The horrible danger is that we risk believing and acting as if we don't need God as a Person in our lives. And we desperately do.

We need a God who walks and talks with us. We need the Person of Jesus Christ. We need the Person of the Holy Spirit. We need the Person of God the Father. Only a Person can save you. Only a Person can be your Comforter, your Advocate, your Healer. Only a person can be your Father. Only a Person can live in a love relationship with you. It is a Person who dwells in our hearts by faith. Anything less than that is not Christianity.

We are a Christian culture in love with ideas and theology. We are giddy over the revelations and communications of theologians. We are in a boom of new, exciting theology and in a boom of resurrecting the ancient truths of the reformation. All these things are for the glory of God and honor Him, but are we as excited about our daily interaction with the Person of God in Jesus Christ? Are we really in love with the Father? Are we desperate for the Holy Spirit to have His way in our hearts? Do we know God, or do we only know His book? It is God Himself who is to be the center of our attention, worship, praise and excitement. Our personal lives should be filled with interaction with a loving God who has drawn near to us. Indeed the purpose of our redemption was the glory God receives out of His fellowship with us. In 1 John 1:4 the Apostle John is clear that His purpose in writing the Scripture was that we would have true fellowship with Christ. He was not simply writing it to solve errors in the church, to give instruction or even to give God glory in a general way. He was writing it so that all would join in fellowship with Jesus: the Person. We were meant to fellowship with Jesus. The Bible was meant to lead us into that, and that is our purpose in reading the objective revelation of the Scripture, that we might have fellowship with the Father. That fellowship is not the act of reading itself, but the communion with God that comes as a result of believing the truth and acknowledging God's intervention and interaction in our world and in our lives: first in the salvation of our souls by the death and resurrection of Christ and then in the journey towards eternal perfection in the growing love relationship we have with Christ.

So often we find it safer, easier and more comfortable to settle for less, to create a system of theological safety nets to prevent us from the real risks of being involved in an ultimate all encompassing relationship. Our fears, hurts, unbelief or confidence in our interpretations can pull us away from the most vibrant relationship with Christ and restrict us from ever seeing or acknowledging the fullness of God's Person in our lives.

Unfortunately it is the Bible that we often use to shield us from a real, unmanageable self-threatening relationship with an Almighty Father.

What Produces a Bible Deist?
If you asked me why I held these kinds of positions, I would have told you the Bible clearly taught them, and I followed the Bible, not experience or tradition. But I had another motive for being a Bible deist and resisting subjective revelatory experiences. I wanted to preserve the unique authority of the Bible. I was afraid that if any form of divine communication other than the Bible were allowed, we would weaken the Bible's authority and eventually be led away from the Lord.
I thought it was possible we could be taken over by emotional instability and guided by ever-changing feelings. Authority would then be transferred from the objective standard of the Bible to the subjective state of the individual and there would be diminished in the body of Christ, and we would end up as in the period of Judges where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 21:25 NASB). I thought there was virtually nothing to gain from allowing subjective revelatory experiences, and everything to lose. Nothing to gain, because these experiences could not add anything to the Bible, and the Bible already supplied everything we needed. And everything to lose, because all I had to do was look at the Corinthians and the chaos caused by tongues in order to see what could be lost by allowing these things. It wasn't worth the risk.
During the days of my Bible deism, I thought the above were my only reasons for my views of the role of the Bible. Looking back, ten years later, I can see there were more powerful forces at work in the unconcious realms of my heart. I could easily blame my Bible deism on my teachers and the traditions I unquestioningly swallowed from them. I could blame it on a very closed system of education which punished deviations with expulsions. But I was never the kind of person who was afraid to deviate or to question. The truth is, Bible deism appealed to a serious weakness in my heart. The weakness was a fear of being hurt. I didn't like emotions because they caused me to lose control, and if I lost control, I became vulnerable. And vulnerable people get hurt. I had been hurt a lot. Although I didn't know it back then, I blamed some of those hurts on God.
Now I know that I attributed the deepest wounds of my heart to the hand of the Lord. He could have prevented the wounds, but he didn't. Where was his sovereignty when I needed it? Why did some of my most desperate prayers fall from my lips to the ground unanswered? My heart was filled with fear of God--not the biblical fear of God, but a fear of intimacy with him. I wanted a personal relationship with God, but I didn't want an intimate one. An intimate relationship would give him total control, and a voice out of some dark unexplored region of my heart told me that his control would bring me pain again, more pain than I could bear.
So I decided that my primary relationship would be to a book, not to a Person. It's so much easier to relate to a system of interpretive rules and a set of traditions than to a Person. With Bible deism, I could be in control. My principal task in life was to study the Bible and to cultivate the intellect. I didn't need my emotions for this task, just discipline and willpower. No emotions meant no loss of control. And that meant no more hurt.
If I had a question, I could ask the Bible. I didn't have to risk asking a God who might give me a painful answer. Besides, God and the Bible were practically the same. What he didn't say in the Bible, he left up to me. I found the things I liked in the Bible and ignored the rest. So all in all, it was a safe, comfortable system. And for me, it was also becoming a lifeless system.
I had tested life in my early Christian years, and I never would have embraced Bible deism just because of the hurt in my life. The hurt was the open door, but it was my pride that welcomed Bible deism through the door and gave it a home in my heart. For much of my Christian life, I've thought myself wiser than most Christians. Since I thought myself wiser than others, it was only natural that I should be in control of them. If God only spoke through the Bible, then the one who knew the Bible the best would be the one who heard God's voice the best. Therefore, the person who heard God the best, would know best what everyone else should believe and do. This system fit in perfectly with the proud state of my heart. In Bible deism, I found a wonderful tool to keep myself from being hurt and to give me control over my life and the lives of others. The fact that I had an intellectually oriented personality--I loved to study--helped me to be an even more effective Bible deist.
By now you've figured out that Bible deism is not so much theology as it is a system that caters to a personality type. It's a system that caters to a personality type. It's a system that religiously proud, hurt, intellectual people find hard to pass up. It offers us a justification for our pride without having to repent of it, an anesthetic for our pain without having to endure the surgery to heal it, and an outlet for our intellectual pursuit without having to submit our minds to a God whose ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts. To put it very simply, I had the kind of personality that made me much more comfortable relating to a book than to a Person.
When the principal thing in your life becomes the study of the Bible, you have become a Bible deist. But usually a practicing Bible deist does not recognize that they are a Bible deist. Whenever people accused me of being a Bible deist, I assumed that they were just lazy and didn't want to make a careful study of the Bible. They weren't disciplined enough to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and whatever other discipline was necessary to hear God speak. They weren't interested in things like the Sitz im Leben of a biblical text. They probably wouldn't even recognize a Sitz im Leben if they sat on one. I assumed these lazy detractors were just part of the cursed rabble that didn't know the law (John 7:49).

-Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God p. 254-256
As an academically minded introvert I sympathize with Jack Deere's testimony of his own Bible Deism, but not because I believed quite the way he did. I can deeply sympathize with the comfort and protection books bring, and the pain and danger of real relationships with real people. I was terrified of a relationship at almost any level, let alone an all consuming love relationship with God. But when I met God, when Jesus came into my heart, I could do nothing less then throw myself into His arms with all my strength. This total abandonment to a Person, not a book, came as something entirely new in my life. I had never known anything like it. I had never experienced anything remotely close, and I know I never will. There have been plenty of times when my head knowledge of my theological boxes and interpretations of Scripture have cramped my relationship with the LORD. I'm sure there are some even now that I don't see, but far greater than that is my experience of letting the Scripture lead me to the Lover of my soul. It introduces Him. It introduces the Way, the Truth and the Life and the Word and the Spirit combine to bear witness to Jesus. That is what I'm interested in. I love doctrine. I value and fight for sound doctrine, but my love is for a Person. Doctrine leads me to Christ. It helps me know Him. It keeps me safe as I experience His beauty. Authority and power and sovereignty and love belong to the Person of God. I love His Word, but I can't settle for less than God Himself.

In spite of the danger, the risk and the sheer cost of this immersion in the Person of Christ I urge you to risk all of yourself, lay down your own life, surrender all to the LORD and find it all and more in His presence and love. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will give God the glory He deserves for valuing us so much that He gave His Son, shed His precious blood and overcame the grave.

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