This I believe…

Another song from my Sunday School days went like this:

“I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery.
I may never fly o’er the enemy, but I’M IN THE LORD’S ARMY!”

The song was always accompanied by lots of stomping on our part.  It felt like we were stomping on anyone who didn’t agree with us.   I’ve seen a lot of spiritual stompers.  I’ve been one myself.  Maybe still am at times.  I’m sure I’ve got some boots close by.

There’s a lot of stomping going on around the topic of the Bible.  I was in college and seminary during the Scripture wars.  Harold Lindsell picked a fight with plenty when he wrote Battle For the Bible. The book pitted a bunch of evangelicals against one another.   Some of the casualties of the war included godly, Christ-honoring, Bible-believing professors under whom I sat.

Back up the church bus!  How can they be casualties of Bible wars if they are Bible-believers?  Great question.  For spiritual stompers it’s not a matter of believing the Bible but a matter of believing certain things about the Bible. “You may be a Christ-follower, you may seek to let Christ express Himself through you, but if you don’t believe as I do about the Bible…” then stomp, stomp, stomp.  For instance:

Inerrancy – the belief that the Bible contains no mistakes.  The thinking goes like this: “God is perfect.  The Bible is God’s Word. Therefore the Bible is perfect.”  “Jesus, the living Word is sinless, so it is assumed that the written Word is sinless.”  (Does anyone see the danger in that thinking?) Back to Lindsell’s book: He says, “…the Bible is not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, or medicine…when it speaks on matters having to do with these or any other subjects, the Bible does not lie to us.  It does not contain any errors of any kind.”

Then we run into statements in the Bible that aren’t perfect.  I hate it when that happens.  Take this example: Mark 6:8, speaking of Jesus sending out His disciples, says, “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff…”  The same account in Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10 has Jesus saying, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff..”  So, who got it right? Mark or Matthew and Luke?  Did Jesus tell his disciples to bring staffs or not?

This freaks some people out.   “All Scripture is God-breathed…” after all.  That means the Bible is always right.  It is, in fact, impossible for the Bible to be wrong about anything.  If it’s wrong about anything, well, it may be wrong about everything.  Yikes! Then what do we do?

So what does it mean to “believe the Bible,” “confess it’s true” when we are well aware that certain “facts” don’t fit?

First, questions are good.  I know, we’re not supposed to ask questions.  We’re supposed to provide answers to other people’s questions.  But, sorry, I have questions.  So did Origen.  Origen was a theologian and respected Bible interpreter in the 3rd century.  He read the war accounts of Joshua and couldn’t get a handle on them. “Why would God command His people to commit genocide?” he asked.  Others have asked the same thing.  His take on it?  He concluded that the conquest stories in Joshua are allegories of how we battle the temptations we face.  How would that fly in the church today?  No matter if you agree with Origen or not, you have to love the fact that he asked questions, that he wrestled with the texts and that he tried hard to apply the Bible to his life and world.

Second,  Literal or not?    Shouldn’t we read the Bible literally?  Sounds right, doesn’t it? Right but not simple.  Here are a couple of definitions of “literal:”
1. “It happened exactly this way.”  or,
2. “What the writer intended.”
So, for example, what does it mean to read Genesis 1 literally?  If you follow the first definition, Genesis 1 is a play-by-play description of how the world was created. If you follow the second definition, it could be a God-inspired meditation on the origins of the universe attesting to the creative power of God.

Tim Keller, who believes that Genesis 1 is a poem, says this: “The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken.  Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.”

Third, accept the Bible for what it is. Some years ago the late Adrian Rogers, one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, was asked for his definition of inerrancy.  He answered: “It means the Bible is truth without mixture of error historically, philosophically, scientifically and theologically.”  While I have huge respect for Dr. Rogers, he was making claims about the Bible that the Bible doesn’t make for itself.

The Bible does not claim to be inerrant. It does claim to be true.  “The entirety of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” Psalm 119:160.  “True” does not mean “inerrant”.  The Bible is 100% true, but that doesn’t necessitate that all of it has to be 100% scientific and historical “fact.”  To require the Bible to be “factual” in the areas of history, chronology, science,  is to impose on it a 21st century mindset that distorts it.

When you’re dealing with any book, you have to know what its purpose is or you won’t understand it correctly.  The main purpose of the Bible is found here:

“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself…And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Luke 24:27, 44-45

The purpose of the Bible is to point us to God’s final Word: Jesus.

Let’s take off and keep off our stomping boots and put on our sandals and walk with Jesus – the Living Word.

My Hope is Built on ______________.

The comments about my earlier blog are thoughtful, insightful and honest. How can I reply to each?!  This blogging may be tougher than I thought. I’m going to put off addressing the question of “What’s up with the Old Testament and New Testament picture of God,”  and talk a bit more about the Bible.

I’m a pastor.  A pastor’s son.  A pastor’s grand-son – on both sides of my family.  A nephew of pastors – again on both sides of the family.  I grew up in a home that not only had a Bible in every room but several Bibles in every room in every translation available. Our Bibles didn’t stay on the shelves.  Ours was a home where the Bible was read, studied, discussed and, yes, debated.

We were taught to respect the Bible, not just the message in the Bible, but the actual book.  You would never find my Bible left in the back of the car.  It could be damaged by the sun.  Each time I was given a Bible dad would show me how to “break it in” and how to apply mink oil to the leather cover.

I proudly carried my Bible against my chest, just like dad did it, as I walked into my Sunday School class.  It was in Sunday School that I learned the song, “The B-I-B-L-E. Yes, that’s the book for me.  I stand alone on the word of God.  The B-I-B-L-E”

Oh, speaking of Sunday School, I rocked the Bible drill.  “Bible Drill” was a competition to see which kid could find a called-out Bible verse the fastest.  “Attention! Present Swords! Begin.”  We’d be shaking like a thoroughbred waiting for the gate to open.  Then we’re off!  Seeing who could beat the rest of the field to Zephaniah 3:9 or whatever.

Yet. my parents taught me that while the “written word” – the Bible, was inspired, it’s primary purpose was to take me to the Living Word – Jesus (see John 1:1,18)

On Christmas, 1970, I received a Bible, titled, Reach Out, the New Testament in the Living Bible Paraphrase.  “Reach Out” was a cool phrase for kids in the 1960s and early 1970s and this New Testament was “groovy”.   Spiritually, 1970 was a big year for me.  I was 14 years old.  In the front of the Reach Out New Testament were written these words,

“To Phillip, who this year encountered the author of this book in a way that gives expression in his behavior.”  Dad & Mother, 12/24/70

Lesson?  One’s commitment to the Bible is measured by the reality of the presence of Jesus in his/her life.

C.S. Lewis was a popular author at our house.  He said, “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible who is the true Word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.”

The apostle Paul was also popular at our house.   Paul did not teach that “every knee will bow and tongue confess that the Bible is the Word of God” (although I believe it is), but that “every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

We may have our differences on certain views of Biblical interpretation and how to understand certain texts, but on this we can agree: Jesus is Lord.  He is the Living Word.  He clearly shows us the Father.

I learned another song in my childhood – from “big church”:
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

“This I Believe” Part 1


“A lie travels around the world, while Truth is putting on her boots.”  Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), British Baptist preacher who in his lifetime preached to over 10,000,000 people

Prompted by some recent mis-representations of my theological views I will attempt in the following posts to clarify said views and to communicate my positions on other theological matters.  So, come on, grab your favorite beverage, and join in the conversation:

Today’s post will follow a “That – this” format.  It was said “that” I believe…. but in truth, “this” is what I believe.

1.  It was said that I believe that “we cannot base our faith on the Scriptures as a whole.”
But in truth this is what I believe:

I believe that the foundation of the Christian faith is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “For no one can lay any foundation, other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11; “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 1 Corinthians 15:14; See also 1 Peter 2:6

Jesus, the Living Word, is the foundation of our faith.  The Scriptures point us to Jesus.
Jesus laid it out to the Pharisees, “You diligently study the scripture because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the scriptures that testify about me yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  The Pharisees thought life was found in the scripture.  Jesus said it isn’t.  Life is found in Him.  Paul, therefore, says in Galatians 2:20, that we live this life by “faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

It’s like our cute, but not always so bright dog, Skittles.  When I point my finger at something to show Skittles, she doesn’t look at the object at which I’m pointing.  She only looks at the tip of my finger.  The Pharisaical trap is to fail to see beyond the Bible to Jesus.

Scripture is the foundation of what we believe but not why we believe.

2. It was said that I believe, “The only thing we can truly believe in are the four gospels.”
But in truth, this is what I believe:  The entire Bible is trustworthy.

The above misrepresentation of my view arose out of a teaching I gave at a seminar at which the leaders were “equipping” people to share the gospel to those without Christ.  The seminar covered topics such as “What is the Gospel” “What is truth” “The Resurrection.”  My task was to address Biblical issues in presenting the “good news” to people.

In talking to a person about Christ, I don’t start with the Bible and the difficulties commonly raised about the Bible. I start with Jesus as presented in the Gospels.  Even with questions and problems people have with certain Bible texts, we can have complete faith in Christ.  We have very convincing historical evidence confirming not only the existence of Jesus, but the historical events of his ministry, crucifixion, burial and physical resurrection.  The evidence of the Gospel’s reliability is such that each person must ask, “What will I do with Jesus.?”

Once a person comes to Jesus, he will then grow into a deeper appreciation for the rest of the Bible.

I believe in the Bible because I believe in Jesus.

So, just to be clear:  I believe this:
*The entire Bible is trustworthy.
*The foundation of the Christian faith is the life, death, resurrection of Jesus.
*When talking to a person about a relationship with Jesus, focus on the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.

Next post:

It was said that I believe that “the God of the New Testament is different than the God of the Old Testament.”
But that’s not what I believe.  I believe…
I will address “that” in my next post.

What do you believe?