Okay Veritas community let’s talk politics. And everyone goes Yeah, let’s do that. Okay, so I am not really going to talk politics other than just to say this. It seems like our nation is becoming more polarized than ever before. You have the “conservatives” and you have the “progressives” and the two never shall meet.
But let’s turn our eyes to the church in America, where unfortunately it is in much the same state as the political world. We are more polarized probably than ever before. We have the “conservative” Christians on one “side” and we have the “progressive” Christians on the other “side”. The left and the right if you will, taking our cue from the political realm. But what happens if you don’t fit into either the “conservative camp” or the “progressive” camp? What if, as Scot McKnight says on the back of the book Blue Parakeet, “What if I’m too Conservative to be Liberal, and Too Liberal to be Conservative?” Is there a place for you within Christianity? Is there a Third Way to Follow Jesus between the conservative wing and the progressive wing? And if there is, what would that even look like? What beliefs, values, theological ideas, and actions would define a Third Way of following Jesus? That is exactly what we will be spending our time dialoguing around for the next few weeks.
This series was born from many conversations that I have had with people who have struggled finding their place in the church and in the Christian world. Many grew up in the Conservative wing of the church, and they have scars to prove it. They have shared with me the struggle of reconciling the faith that they grew up in and the beliefs and actions of Christians, with the Jesus of the New Testament. One person said, “How can Christians overwhelming support war (for the most part) and yet claim to follow the Prince of Peace who said to love our enemies?” But at the same time many people who i have talked with who left the conservative church, went all the way over to the progressive church. And some didn’t find much help in following Jesus in those spaces. And that has left many wondering are those the only two options that I have…and so that is why we are engaging in this conversation, and one I feel like this community is seeking to provide a third way of actually following Jesus and being a community that embodies, and fleshes out this third way of following Jesus in our beliefs, in our actions, in the way we gather, and in what we talk about and how we talk about it.
Today, we are going to look at what a third way of following Jesus might have to say about the Bible itself. In fact, a third way of following Jesus would have a high view of the Bible. So we are going to talk about what a high view of the Bible even means, and how a third way would be to read and understand and apply the Bible to our lives as individuals and as a community.
To do so let’s turn to the two Scriptures in which we will be basing our discussion and time around, 2 Timothy 3:16 and James 1:22-25 and see what these two Scriptures have to do with each other, and what they have to say to us about a third way of following Jesus.
First let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed( and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
A third way to follow Jesus is about having a high view of Scripture. But what does a high view of Scripture mean? First of all, it means believing that this book called the Bible has been inspired by God, or as 2 Timothy says, it is God-breathed. The word inspired or God-breathed is from a latin word that means “in-breathe” But what does it mean that the Bible is inspired? Here are 3 things it doesn’t mean. 1. Often used for artists and poets and musicians that have something out of the ordinary or give us a life. They inspired us. 2. Poets being inspired means poets own mind went into neutral and some other force or spiritual source penned the words in from somewhere else. This would be known as the dictation theory and this is not how Scripture came to be. God did not take over the hand of the writers of the Old and New Testament. No, the writers personalities, writing styles, history, etc.. can be seen in their writings. 3. Assume when it is inspired we know in advance what it would mean in terms of Bible’s own context, we read what we already believe. We go to the Bible with our own ideas and interpretations and then read everything through that lens.
A third way of reading the Bible is not about worshipping the Bible, that would be bibliolatry. A third way accepts the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God, and through the Holy Spirit- the infallible guide to lead men and women to faith in Jesus and guide them in the life of Christiandiscipleship. A third way insists that Christians must alway be guided by the Word, which is to be collectively discerned and led by the Spirit.
A third way of reading the Bible cuts a path between the highly literalistic reading of the Bible, as well as the typical flat reading which places all the Bible on the same plane, and the other way of reading everything as myth, a good moral book, and coming at it with a hermeneutic of suspicion. A third way takes seriously the historical setting, the literary style of the various writings, what the original intent of the author was, and how God wants to us the text to form and shape us into people that look like Jesus. A third way must hold to a high view of Biblical authority and the inspiration of Scripture, while continuing to maintain a Christo-centric reading of the Bible.
I believe a third way regarding the bible and having a high view of the Bible means a few things related to the purpose of the Scriptures and how we interpret them.
A high view of the Bible means, at least, these 5 things related to interoperation. 1. Everyone can and should interpret the Scriptures responsibly. 2. Biblical interoperation is a communal practice. Meaning that the Bible is a communal book, written by a community, to a community and for a community. And to really understand it, it should be understood in community. That doesn’t mean don’t do personal Bible Study at all. It just means that we believe the Bible is best understood in the midst of community. Why do you think we gather in small groups after the message? To seek to interpret the text together. 3. Interpretation is for practical application. It isn’t just for more knowledge. After all Paul says it himself in 2 Timothy when he says that the Scriptures are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The point of Scripture, as Scot McKnight says in his great book “The Blue Parakeet” is that, “the Bible leads the reader to be more loving.” He continues, “the Bible’s main mission: so that we can become people who love God and love others. If our reading of the Bible leads to this, the mission is accomplished. It it isn’t….” 4. Interpretation, in a third way, means that it must happen in light of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. All too often, in some circles, the Bible has been read as a flat text to support practices that actually contradict the life and teachings of Jesus. The other day I was having a conversation about how the Bible was used to explain manifest destiny, how the white man came to America believing that they were Israel, the ocean being the Jordan River, America as the promised land, and the Native Americans as all the heathen and pagan in the land. The early settlers read themselves wrongly in the text and so much injustice and pain has been done in the name of Christianity to the Native Americans because people read the Bible wrongly and flatly. 5. Transformation and discipleship is the ultimate goal of all Bible reading and interpretation.
If transformation and discipleship lie at the heart of Bible reading and interpretation and this third way of reading the Bible, then James 1 comes perfectly into play here. James 1:22-25 says this, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” The point of reading and interpreting the bible is, in James words, to, “do what it says.” To put it into practice. After all the word was made flesh and blood not the word was made paper and ink. To have a high view of the Bible means that the word must go to work.
This third way of having a high view of the Bible means that the words need to come off of the page, and go down deep into your own life. It seems like all too often, in the church, and in our lives, the words either stay on the page (meaning we don’t even take the time to read it. Some people actually have this high view of the Bible which says don’t put anything on top of the Bible, don’tmess it up, don’t write in it, etc.. But they have never opened it and read it) or they come off of the page and go into our heads (which they do need to do that. They just can’t stay there). We gain more knowledge. We teach memorization of Scripture to kids. Some traditions, like the one that Kim grew up in, had Bible quiz teams, which really was all about Bible knowledge, but actually did little when it came to taking the knowledge and using it to talk about application and putting it into practice, or doing what it says. It is easy to have Bible knowledge, but another thing all together to actually take that knowledge from your head, into your heart, and then out to your hands and feet and out into the world. The other day I was talking with someone about the next chapter of James, James 2 and the fact that knowledge according to a Hebraic worldview is not an abstract idea or concept. It isn’t something that actually resides in the brain. That would be a Greek understanding of knowledge, which is how we in the western world understand knowledge. No a hebraic understanding of knowledge is about practice. They would say that it is impossible that you would actually know something without practice. There is no such thing, to an eastern mind, as abstract knowledge. Knowledge is only knowledge if it is actually practiced and lived out. Or William Barrett puts it this way, “The distinction…arises from the difference between doing and knowing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek.”
So let’s do some communal interpretation together in small groups around these 2 Scriptures. Read the 2 Scriptures together. What questions, thoughts, ideas, doubts, and applications come to mind because of the texts. And what do you think God is saying to each of us (individually and as a community) about this third way of engaging with the Bible? Let’s actually do some of the hard work of interoperation and application together.
1. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in your groups. What questions, comments, insights, etc.. do you have about the passage?
2. Read James 1:22-25 in your group. What questions, comments, insights, application do you have about the passage?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?