I was recently called to task for preaching the Deity of Christ. Simply stated, that’s the Doctrine that God actually existed in human form as Jesus Christ. It is a belief taken to the Nth degree by some Biblical writers. The books of John, Colossians and Hebrews say that Christ was not just the fullness of God in human flesh, but pre-existent with God and the creator of all things. It's a concept dear to my heart because it makes the death of Jesus not an appeasement to an angry God, but the self-sacrificial act of that God to communicate the depth of God's love for God's creation. I preach from the Scriptures, and I calls 'em as I sees 'em. But I can hear the applause of fundamentalists everywhere die down as I continue. To accept every word of the Bible does not mean, for example, that I buy into every restriction Paul allegedly placed on women. (Allegedly because it looks like some of those restrictions were written by Paul only to quote rumors and letters, as evidence by the seeming contradiction when he subsequently addresses and refutes those same quoted passages.) Accepting every word of the Bible gives me no assurance of knowing the details of creation. (Who knows what happened before that first “day”, when darkness covered the face of the deep?) I don't take proposals by Biblical writers on church governance as a permit to follow the same pattern.
I accept that the Bible is true and divinely inspired -- with fudge-factors for the limitations of translation. I also accept that just because someone in the Bible actually said something, that doesn’t make said statement true, reliable or applicable today. Let’s face it, the Bible is by and large a story of humans behaving badly and misunderstanding God. Calling it true or inspired is a far cry from knowing how it should be applied today.
And while I’m on a rant, let me point out that accepting the Bible as divinely inspired does not mean that I agree lockstep with others who claim that same level of faith in Scripture. Some of their more extreme views can only be formed by failing to read Scripture carefully and thoroughly, failing to accept the corrective commentary provided by Jesus Christ Himself, and failing to obey the commands of Jesus on how we are to think, live and treat one another.
Even if I start with a Fundamentalist’s premise of Biblical accuracy, an actual reading leads me to many conclusions that are dramatically different from those popularly accepted as "Fundamentalist."
This puts me in the line of fire between religious liberals and conservatives. Liberals preach forgiveness and social responsibility — and also scriptural skepticism with outright rejection of unpalatable or unbelievable verses. Conservatives preach judgment and personal responsibility — with dogmatic acceptance of their favorite Scriptures and confidence in their own understanding of the same.
(Apologies to self-declared liberals and conservatives who take offense at my generalizations. I’m talking tendencies, not absolutes.)
Christians who find themselves at odds with "Fundamentalists" are too quick to surrender Biblical ground. If the Bible inspires them to call that Christian, they say, then something is wrong with the Bible. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, might say you liberals can’t call that Christian because the Bible says this. And in each camp, "Fundamentalist" and "Liberal" have become broad-brush slurs to imply ignorance or gullibility with the former, and apostasy or convenient disobedience with the latter.
Personally, I think the elements of righteousness are shuffled between the two camps like playing cards. Between the two is the possibility that the Bible actually is divinely inspired, though particular declarations and applications are not.
When Scripture says Moses, Joshua or David said that, then perhaps Moses, Joshua or David said that — but Jesus said this, so this is Christian. That is important, that is historical, that is interesting as something men said to or about God, but this is what Jesus said, and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. “You have heard that it was said” — and indeed it was said in Scripture — “but I say … ” and Jesus clears up where God stands on the subject.
What? Is Jesus saying that the Bible was wrong? No, but He is making it obvious that the Bible was and might still be unclear to contemporary hearing or understanding. Clearly, He's also saying that in His day, it was abused and used to manipulate. He is making it obvious that even if every word is true and inspired, every word is not equally important to living in the Kingdom of God. He is flatly saying that we live by the Spirit, by the Living Word, and not by the selective mimicking of some random slice of Scripture. A huge element of Jesus' spoken ministry was to defend Scripture by challenging its misapplication. Even as His contemporaries declared Him in violation of Scripture, He declared Himself the subject and fulfillment of that same Scripture.
I hope I haven’t offended anyone, but I might have offended everyone — Fundamentalists for my challenge to their exegesis, and Liberals for my defense (and capitalization) of Scripture.
Some people avoid reading the Bible because they don't want to be like people who claim to “stand on every word of Scripture.” They might be as eager to please God as people who know every word, chapter and verse. Each camp and every tribe is likely to be dead wrong on one topic or another — so I accept that I, too, might be mistaken here or there. It is good and right that all of us let Scripture challenge us. It is also good and right for us to challenge one another’s understanding of Scripture, and to accept these challenges with humility and Christian love.
Am I a dinosaur for thinking the Bible is divinely inspired, true, and important for Christian living? For thinking that God might have even intentionally formed and protected it through the convoluted evolution of canon? Knowing that I feel that way tells you nothing about my opinion on anything else. If you don't agree, then knowing the text will at least give you ammo against its misuse -- which might prove more persuasive than to simply deny it any authority. And if you do agree, then please don’t jump the shark to conclude that you have perfect understanding and are therefore right in every opinion based on Scripture.
When we quote Scripture, we must, simply must, accept any challenge found in the Gospel accounts of the teachings of Christ. He's either a great idea that includes permission to challenge popular opinion about what Scripture means, or He’s the Alpha and Omega, the Cornerstone, the Creator — and the One who is authorized to judge our translation, interpretation and application of Scripture.
“You have heard that it was said, ... but I say … “
by Joel Tucker
Joel Tucker is senior pastor at Tropical Sands Christian Church. He served as associate pastor five years and became senior pastor in 2006. Currently, he also serves as moderator of the Southern District, Florida Region. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Auburn University. He enters ministry after 20 years in corporate communications and five years of computer programming. In worship, he plays sax, bass, uke, squeezebox and bass fiddle.