“You can do better Phillip…..#4???”

This is a text I got a few days ago from one of my most sarcastic and best friends.  It then linked me to a survey conducted by the Barna Group for The American Bible Society who was looking for “American’s Most Bible-Minded Cities.”  Here’s a different link but to the same survey: Barna Group

See who’s in 4th place?  That’s Springfield, MO, where I live and pastor.  Yes, I could do better – in lots of areas, not just this one.

“Bible-mindedness.” What does that mean? How do you tell if you’re Bible-minded or not?    According to the survey, those who “report reading the Bible within the past seven days and agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible” are classified as Bible-minded.

A couple of thoughts:
Accuracy: According to Webster, “accuracy” is “freedom from mistake or error.”    Does one need to “strongly agree” that the Bible is “free from mistake or error” in everything within its pages – historical references, science references, chronology of events, details of events (For example, Mark 6:8 – Take a staff; Matthew 10:9-10 – Don’t take a staff,) to be considered Bible-minded?

This is a head scratcher.    What does this definition say about guys like Dietrich Bonhoeffer – yes that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the guy who wrote The Cost of Discipleship, a book that’s on every evangelical pastor’s book shelf?  Yet, by this definition, he brings up the rear on the survey.  In his book, Christ the Center, Bonhoeffer, writing of the Bible and the use of historical criticism, uses pretty clear language, “But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.  We must get into the troubled waters of historical criticism.”

Uh-oh. What does his view do to our understanding of what it means to be “Bible-minded”?

Does anyone question Bonhoeffer’s commitment to Christ, love for God, love for people?  Does anyone question his desire to live out the life of Christ in his culture?  Can we really label him as one of the “least Bible-minded”?

I’m just asking.

Second thought:
Going to Sunday School as a child, I remember proudly checking the box on my offering envelope that said, “I read the Bible every day last week.”   As I grew up, and continue to grow up spiritually, I realized that being “bible minded” was not as simple as checking the box.

The Pharisees knew the Scriptures like the back of their hands, but when God stood right in front of them, they didn’t know him from Adam (John 5:39-40).
Here are some questions I have to ask myself – questions that aren’t so easy to check off:

*Am I more attentive to my wife than I was last year?
*Am I more generous with my resources than before?
*Do I handle disappointments and hurts with trust in the God who has the power to work all things for good?
*Do I show compassion for those who are hurting?
*Do I do justice, love mercy, and walk in humble dependence with God (Micah 6:8)?

In other words, am I allowing the Word (Jesus) to whom the words of the Bible point, to transform me into His likeness?

“Accusation is Not Proof”

It’s old news now – Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, tweeted about President Obama during the Inauguration.


I’ve stared at this tweet off and on, not knowing how to respond. Not knowing if I should respond.  “Some thoughts are better left unexpressed,” I’ve told myself. “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” advice I obviously have not followed in the past.

News came to me this week, however, that made the tweet personal.  Driscoll lobbed a bomb at the President.  The pastor, along with all Americans, has a right to criticize our leaders and their policies.  It’s the American way.  No problem there.  Driscoll’s tweet though was the delivery of a spiritual slam.

“…who today will place his hands on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Several months ago a message began circulating that “Phillip doesn’t believe the Bible.”  Like the Energizer Bunny the message keeps going and going.  I heard it again this week. I thought, “Really?”

The charge came as a result of a teaching I gave in September 2012.   I’ve listened to the audio of that teaching three times  – I never said what was said I said.

I did say this: “We can’t build our faith on the foundation of the Bible, but on the person of Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:14)

And I said the following in response to an earlier comment from another teacher at the same seminar concerning inerrancy: “Every inerrantist I know, or have read, believes that only the original manuscripts are inerrant.  So if you base your trust in the Bible on its inerrancy then you won’t be able to trust this book (the one I’m holding in my hand), because the Bible you have right here is not the original manuscript.  And if you base your trust in the Bible on whether or not it is inerrant then you can’t trust what you have here…”

The claim is made by those who hold an inerrantist view, that the trustworthiness of the Bible stands or falls with inerrancy.  If the Bible contains any real errors it cannot be trusted.  Then there is the admission that every Bible that exists probably contains errors.  Only the original manuscripts can be considered perfectly inerrant.

So…think along with me…if the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on inerrancy- as defined as “without error” –  and only the original manuscripts – which no one has – are inerrant, then that does not bode well for the trustworthiness of the Bible we do have.

That is why I like and hold the definition of inerrancy given by John Piper – “Perfect with regard to purpose.” The Bible’s main purpose is transformation, not information (2 Timothy 3:16), and it’s unfortunate that so many people spend their time arguing over the “information” part.  The Bible is absolutely trustworthy to do what it is intended to do.

Back to the tweet.

I do not know why the President is accused by Driscoll of not believing the Bible.  I do know that in the words of Edward R. Murrow, the pioneer of television news reporting, “Accusation is not proof.”

Yeah, it’s a bit personal.

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.