A few months ago, I embarked on a journey to question some of the most fundamental assumptions about Christianity. As I’ve peeled back the layers of my religion, and seen the pretty and the not-so-pretty parts of it, there was always the underlying assumption that I always had the Bible to fall back on. In fact, the Bible was my tool that I was using in order to do said peeling of layer after layer of dogma, cultural bias, and conservative politics away from what I thought would be the solid core of the Gospel. But when I got to the center, I discovered something disturbing; the gospel I found there was made of ink and paper. When I pulled on it, attempting to get to the deepest part, the whole thing threatened to unravel and fall apart completely.
I believe I’m not alone in saying that most of my Christianity, at least intellectually, was founded on a combination of a very narrow interpretations of Scripture combined with a selection of Greek philosophy and post-enlightenment apologetics. Sure, I still believed in having a personal relationship with Jesus, and walking by the Spirit, but when it really came down to it, the cornerstone of my faith was not Jesus Himself, but the doctrine of Bible inerrancy. All the things I believed, and how I loved people, and what I even allowed myself to acknowledge as a genuine experience with God was all based on whether or not it was in the Bible. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I began to unravel the paper and ink core of my faith to see what I would find there. I watched helplessly and painfully as large chunks of my faith were exposed as inherently incompatible with one another. The core of Biblical inerrancy was torn beyond repair, and I felt lost and adrift in uncertainty. I somehow felt like everything I read in the Bible was still true somehow, but I could not reconcile that with reason. And if I was wrong about so much I had assumed about the Bible, how could I be sure I wasn’t wrong about whom Jesus was? What if Jesus is not the kind of guy who loves screw-ups like me after all? What if He’s really not all that forgiving and He’s getting really tired of me not getting it right by now? All of the sudden my sense of feeling betrayed by the Bible spread to feeling betrayed by God and now I really had no one to trust.
But then, I heard this question. I know I must have heard it before somewhere, but it never registered as being too important before. Yet here it was again, this question coming to my mind, as if whispered by God Himself: Do you believe in Jesus because you believe in the Bible, or do you believe in the Bible because you believe in Jesus? Do I believe that Jesus is Lord because the Bible tells me so, or do I believe everything the Bible says about Him because He is alive and active and passionately pursuing my heart now as much as He was 2000 years ago on that cross?
Let’s pretend for just a second that the Bible was never written. Or that it was lost to ages, long before Christianity ever really took hold. Jesus is crucified and resurrected and He ascends into Heaven and imparts His Holy Spirit to His disciples and sends them out to the ends of the earth. Paul disciples Timothy, who disciples some Ephesian man, who disciple someone else, and someone else and so forth. Eventually the chain arrives at Chris’s parents, who raised him in a Christian home, and then Chris shared the Gospel with Amanda, who then shares it with me. If Jesus truly was who He said He was, and His Spirit could do what He said it could do, then I would not need to read it on a page to know it was true, because it would be self-evident. His Good News would have eventually reached me through time and space through a lineage of disciples and evangelists and I would have still received His grace and His love that He intended for me to live in from when he dreamt me up in eternity past. Sure, without the Bible I couldn’t quote any of Jesus’s sayings to you besides whatever few were saved by oral tradition. I probably wouldn’t know who Paul, Timothy, or Silas were. I wouldn’t know about Abraham’s faith all that well, or about God’s faithfulness in the Exodus, and I would have a legitimate excuse for not reading Leviticus if it did not exist. However, we do have the Bible, and we do know of all these events and people who lived and walked with God before us. And that is a wonderful thing! The Bible is a useful tool for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. It is a God-breathed book that was written under supernatural inspiration, and whose text has been supernaturally preserved to this day. In it, we find the witness of a God who loves us and passionately pursues us, even to the point of death so that we can live with Him eternally; we find the promises and covenants He made to His children; we get a sense of the longing and the expectancy of humanity and creation for a Savior; it has been God’s method to fuel movements, revivals, and reformations.
The catastrophic mistake that we have unconsciously made throughout the generations is that we have confused the fuel for the engine; the tool for the Builder; the witness for the King. The Word became flesh, and His name was Jesus, not the Holy Bible. He truly is the Word that will not return to God without accomplishing His purposes (Isaiah 55:11), the Word that is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and it is in Him that we find eternal life, not in the pages of a book (John 5:39). Apart from the Word of God, the Bible has not power or authority in itself.
So what does this mean? Is reading the Bible irrelevant or unnecessary? By no means! Continue to read your Bible daily, and memorize passages, and using it as your main tool for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. But do stop referring to it as the Word of God, that title belongs to Jesus. Also, don’t use it as a tool to belittle others, or justify bigotry and hate. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, recognize that there is plenty of room for you to be wrong about your interpretation of Scripture without that ever affecting God’s love for you and His power in your life. Let His life and His love be the lens through which you are constantly shaping your view of Scripture, and not the other way around. We can find so much more freedom when our faith is not focused on protecting a house of cards (narrow interpretations), but instead it’s about building a much sturdier home alongside God (real relationship).
Luis blogs at www.lgrg09.wordpress.com and is finishing up a degree at Houston Baptist University. He is friends with Jon.