Vagueness keeps you returning to God. If God wants you to keep coming to him, would he lay out a set of black and white rules and set you free to go execute them all? Would you do this with your child when she was 8 and then say good bye, leaving her alone to continue life? No. You want your children to return to you and trust you and learn from you even if they know all of today’s rules. This is true for God and you, too! Continued prayer. Continued searching. Continued study at His feet, asking for guidance. Continued consult with a community of believers.
In his blog, Phil Gons was puzzled about the following quote from N.T. Wright. (Wikipedia).
“I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself.”
I respond only to this quote, not a full understanding of Wright’s theology. I would agree with what Wright wrote because Jesus himself basically advocates exactly this to scripture-followers of his time. Let me explain.
I am coming to believe that Christian life is a more rich and textured fabric than narrow readings of the Bible allow. I accept what Jesus spoke about breaking the Sabbath and calling himself God in John 15:16-40. I think the story speaks to this issue.
Why do fundamental Christians insist on obeying the Scripture? It shouldn’t be about “getting to heaven” or “being saved”. It shouldn’t even be about being right and Holy, per se. Those are all pieces of the journey to the destination, or something you find at the destination. But the destination of the journey – the fundamental reason to do this thing called obeying God (therefore the Scriptures) – is to Honor the Father.
Jesus gave this answer about why His behavior was not acceptable to the people of his day who staked their lives on conservative readings of their Holy Word. In John 5:23, he says the intent of the Father is “..that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”
In the same conversation, Jesus prioritizes himself, words of a great prophet, and words of the Scriptures, starting in verse 36. He puts himself at the highest priority of all three. “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures 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.” Scriptures don’t give life. Jesus does.
I note that an alternative reading of the original Hebrew could lead one to translate “Diligently study the Scriptures 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.” (In other words, an imperative command to action that will take them toward eternal life.) I think it’s more likely Jesus meant to parallel the previous sentence which identifies their error. The first translation is also more consistent with Jesus next sentence which basically says, “Even though you are reading the Scripture, you refuse to accept their lead.”
Jesus wraps up the discussion again pointing out that the audience’s claim to Scriptural authority is undermined by the precise fact that they don’t believe (and act on) what it says. Remember that Scripture the audience had at the time was the books of Moses. Jesus said in verse 45 and following, “Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
If you deny Scripture, you deny Christ because you have no pointer to him. This much a narrow reader of the Scripture agrees with. Yet there is an additional step. If you pick up a lecture pointer and fail to use it to understand the content of the slide show on the screen, your pointer is useless. I see too many Christians waiving pointers around doing an excellent laser light show called “quoting the Bible to others”. Many have forgotten the content of the presentation.
Perhaps a better analogy is a long-barrel rifle. The rifle barrel can be the Scripture, which sets a believing Christian toward an answer (the bullet). Once the bullet leaves the barrel, it meets the currents, eddies, and turbulence of air (life) that would deviate it from its path to the target. Jesus is the escort through those twists and turns of life. It would be nice if the end of every barrel (God’s Word) could be placed directly against each target and the trigger pulled. It sure would be easier to hit targets. That’s not what life is about because that’s not what God has chosen life should be about. He is interested in a relationship and continued upholding and obedience – your “flight path” (you’re the bullet in my analogy) – as you move in life. Peter Mayer has released a beautiful song brushing this same issue, titled, “God is a River”.
More important is the life lived in obedience to Christ, than the Scripture, per se. Hence, it makes total sense that someone would write, “I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself.”
Originally posted July 2008 in the Increa Wikilint. Links to other pages are not active in the edition posted here.