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Friday, June 23, 2006

What Is the Proper View of Scripture?

This is definitely going to be one of those "thinking out loud" posts. Let me set up the discussion with this information to bring my readers up to speed:

The other day, there was a post on Pyromaniacs entitled How we "do" Christianity, and the reverse. It dealt with a comment the author had come across which said basically that Christianity is not a relationship with a book, but is a relationship with God. Dan Phillips, the author of this particular Pyro post, wrote in conclusion:

So do we have fellowship with writings, or with God?

It's a false dichotomy.

God tells us that we have fellowship with Him by means of the words that He moved men to write.

To the degree that something else, some other method or direction, entralls us -- to that degree, we are no longer "doing" Christianity.
In the comments section that followed, I attempted to try to understand what role the Holy Spirit plays in all of this in the daily life of the believer. I was soundly ravaged by Mr. Phillips for apparently being a TBN-wannabe (TBN as in Trinity Broadcasting Network) fringe heretic who is "fascinated and enthralled with the blank spaces in between the lines of Scripture."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I fully acknowledge that, in the past, I have been a part of a regular broadcast on TBN, albeit as a keyboard player and not a "theologian". But my appearance as a musician on that network does not, in any way, serve as my endorsement of all the teaching that comes from that network. In fact, I would have to say that, generally speaking, I do not endorse most of what is taught on TBN.

Even while I've been writing this post, Mr. Phillips has jumped in with more sweeping accusations against me, saying that I have demonstrated a "disdain" for the written word of God. Unfortunately, Mr. Phillips mistakes difference with his interpretation of particular verses to be disdain for God's word itself.

Despite all that, I think that this really is a legitimate discussion for us to be having, and in particular I wanted to respond to something written by Mike Young in our discussion there. Mike has definitely taken the level-headed approach in handling my questions, and I started to type a response to him. However, my response got so lengthy that I figured it was better to take it up here. Besides, I would like to get input from my other readers on this topic.

In one of the comments on that lengthy discussion, I wrote:

God does not hide behind a book. He does not limit Himself to only giving us a book.... The ultimate revelation of God was in Jesus. Yes, we learn a lot about Jesus through the Bible, but the goal (by Jesus' own words, as recorded in Scripture) is for us to be "in Him" and for Him to be "in us".

Like it or not, there is a danger of putting the written "Word of God" above the actual, living Word of God, which is Jesus. And if you want to hold to a belief that the only way the Holy Spirit works today is through pointing us back to the Word, I just don't see how you get that from Scripture itself.
Mike wrote the following in response to me (specifically in response to the very last sentence in my quote above):
You really are arguing against scripture, even if you don't think you are. And I'm really not trying to attack you on this, so I hope you'll be patient with my observation....Apart from scripture, how do we know we're in him? Again, 1John dealt with this and instructs us to test such spirits to see whether they're of God. I previously asked how we were to do this. Well, it's through the scriptures. John makes this clear in chapter 5. It was the purpose for even writing the epistle.
Following is the response that I composed to Mike.

Mike, thank you for your response. You and I actually are not very much in disagreement at all. In fact, I think any disagreement between us at this point on this issue may possibly be semantics.

There is one paragraph that I'm not positive I fully understand what you're saying, and so I would like to clarify, if possible:

Apart from scripture, how do we know we're in him? Again, 1John dealt with this and instructs us to test such spirits to see whether they're of God. I previously asked how we were to do this. Well, it's through the scriptures. John makes this clear in chapter 5. It was the purpose for even writing the epistle.
I don't disagree at all that the writing of the epistle was for the purpose of instructing in assurance of eternal life. But his epistle (to my reading -- correct me if I'm missing something else here) does not point merely to the written word. He says in verse 10 of chapter 5 that anyone who believes in the Son of God "has this testimony in himself" (NASB...the NIV says "in his heart"...Greek has just the reflexive pronoun).

Now, I may be way off base here, but it sounds to me a lot like what God talked about in the Old Testament when He said that there was coming a day when He would write His law on our hearts.

Again, this does not in any way negate the written word, because it is through that written word that we are introduced to Jesus (since none of us were alive at that time when He was physically here!), and we have some of His teaching recorded in the written Bible.

But it seems like the thrust of the biblical writers is that the life that comes through Jesus (actually, the life that is Jesus) becomes more than just studying written words on a page. It becomes a life within us. Simply put, the written word is not the end in and of itself, but the means to that end. (And to that extent, you are correct that the bulk of my argumentation has been against an incorrect elevating of the written word. We are in agreement on that.)

Now, I really do understand that this causes grave concern for many. But let me use your own analogy to show my side, too. You said that the KJVO folks unhealthily elevate the written word, specifically the KJV. Fully agreed. And you likewise cautioned against writing off the idea of living by the Scriptures based on their distortion of it. Again, agreed.

But the same holds true for an understanding of an indwelling Holy Spirit. Just because TBN and other "crazymatics" (as another blogger recently termed it) have gone overboard with "thus saith the Lord" should not negate the reality that we are to walk by the Spirit.

Let me explain a bit more what I mean by those words, because I do not believe that walking by the Spirit comprises a 1:1 relationship with simply following the "letter" of the written Word. (That is absolutely and positively a part of it.)

What I have a hunch is being taught in Scripture, and is sort of my "working hypothesis" in this subject (and please note the word "working", because I am not claiming to have all this figured out by any stretch of the imagination) is this: The process in which a believer/disciple of Jesus Christ grows in maturity is one in which the written word forms a foundational aspect to knowing the voice of Jesus and learning what life in the Spirit looks like. But, as a believer matures in their walk, and "practices" (not the best word) walking in the Spirit in their daily living, it seems to me that more and more of their understanding and guidance comes from the Spirit's voice within them, not only the written word.

In other words, when they encounter a situation or a decision or a question, it's not so much, "Well, let me search the Bible and see what God already said about it" as it is a sense in which they are so familiar with what God has already said that they can discern quite readily whether this new situation/decision/question is of God or not.

Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. By that, I don't really think He was merely saying that His sheep would have a correct doctrine of inspiration so that they would trust the written word.


So I open it up to Mike (if he comes over and reads this) or any of my other readers. What, if anything, does Scripture say about its own "sufficiency"? And what role should the Scripture play in the ongoing life of the believer?

Until next time,

steve :)

16 comment(s):

Steve, great post. I read the post and the comment thread you are referring to. I am in agreement with you. The Pharisees seemed to be much more acquainted with Scripture than we are, and yet Jesus said that while they searched (ie. studied) the Scriptures, they missed the whole point...a relationship with God. This would seem to indicate that reading the Bible and a relationship with God are not necessarily the same thing. Jesus said that we would know others by their fruit, not by their correct systematic theology. It is disconcerting that Christians these days are known more for their intolerance, indignation and defense of "truth", than by the fruit of the Spirit...love, joy, peace, patience, etc. To say that the written Word is all that we need seems to me to undermine the necessity of the Living Word (Jesus) coming to earth AND coming to indwell each believer. If our greatest need was information, then this might be understandable. Instead, our greatest need is transformation and salvation and this can only be accomplished by a Person!

By Blogger Raborn Johnson, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 12:03:00 AM  

Raborn, I really appreciate your thoughts in response. Thanks, too, for being someone that I can ask to hold me accountable. (It was great to see you and Erica last night at the show, and the timing was perfect, as it gave me a chance to point you to this topic and get your input.)

I'm still reeling a bit from the beating I received from Dan Phillips, and so I'm not going to say a whole lot more right now, but you can probably expect to see at least one more post on this topic. I have a lot of thoughts running around in my head right now, but I need to make sure my thoughts are focused on the topic itself and not defending myself! ;)

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 9:11:00 AM  

Steve,

First I'd like to comment to raborn's comment. There is no biblical fruit that is inconsistent with the scriptures. I'm not suggesting that you're stating otherwise in your comment. I just want to be clear where I stand on this matter as there are those who speak frequently about the fruit, but in a manner that is wholly inconsistent with scripture. For example, within the IFBx movement there are those who consider a soul won to Christ as such fruit.

Now, back to the post on Pyro.

We are commanded to walk in the Spirit. This is for certain. But how we do this is explained in the scriptures so that we do not err and get led by a false spirit. And there are many false spirits present in our day and age.

But is living by the Spirit merely obeying the letter of the Law? No. I reject the example of the Pharisees because they were not believers. In Christian terms, they would be considered Tares. They had an outward appearance, but were dead inwardly. Again, I'm mostly clarifying here as there are many that will cling to the Jews being God's chosen people and heirs to the kingdom of God. Yet the scriptures make it clear that such a covenantal promise passed onto a spiritual Israel and not to a physical one. The physical decendents of Abraham merely enjoy certain blessings upon this earth. But they are not all the children of God.

So then, there is a witness that indwells us, the believer. This witness is instrumental as I've said before. He first imparts faith to believe God's word and faith to understand God's word and the ablity to repent. He further illuminates truth in our hearts and minds that we might live according to them. Every true believer has this innate ability.

But can a person walk in the Spirit apart from the word of God? I believe this is really the crux of the discussion.

No! The scriptures make it blatantly clear that we also live by faith and that faith comes by the word of God.

So, faith to believe is initially imparted by the Spirit and then what we believe comes by the word of God.

Are there convictions? I sure hope so. But convictions are only convictions as they are consistent with the word of God and not apart from it. The Spirit brings about convictions via our conscience. But because of the effects of indwelling sin, we are not perfect in this matter. Many do things in the name of Christ, which are disgracefull and abhorrant in nature. Yet they believe they're following their convictions. The church at Ephesis also thought they were doing a great thing in seeking out false believers and false teachers amongst them. They were squarely focused on doctrine, doctrine, doctrine, but in practice denied the very doctrine they thought they were upholding. There was no love in them for the brethren, for their neighbors or for their enemies. Therefore, there was no love for Christ either.

As a contrast, the church at Philadelphia manifested their doctrine in their love towards others. Not only were they highly commended for this, but Christ promised to bring even the Jews around them to repentance and knowledge.

And finally, the church at Sardis was rebuked for not keeping to the doctrine that was delivered to them. Christ found them (the elders and most of the church) to be utterly dead.

These are three examples provided to us in Revelation of churches that thought they had it dialed in. Unfortunately, popular dispensational teaching has caused folks to stay away from this book. But it's a blessing to the hearers and the readers of it.

In summary, I do not believe for a second that a person can live by the word of God apart from the Holy Spirit as an active agent. Likewise, I do not believe it's possible to live by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit apart from the word of God.

The more word of God we write on our hearts, the less dependent we become on the physical text. But few of us possess such a photographic memory as to make a bible indispensable. This is why we must read the scriptures, meditate upon them and be diligent in our dividing of them.

I hope this makes sense.

Your friend,

Mike

By Blogger Mike Y, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 9:53:00 AM  

Mike, thanks for taking the time to read. And per your email request, I've included the relevant text now from my comment on Pyro into this blog post so that people can see specifically what you were responding to.

You've given a lot to respond to here, and unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to all of it. However, there is one statement that I would like to press in on, if you don't mind. I think this relates a bit to your A=B, B=C, therefore A=C comment on Pyro. I had responded to it there, but I'm not sure if you saw it in the shuffle.

Here, you wrote: The scriptures make it blatantly clear that we also live by faith and that faith comes by the word of God.

I believe you are referring to Romans 10:17 in this statement. However, you have abbreviated the progression in a way which may lead to a wrong conclusion. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes "by hearing" and that hearing comes "by the word of Christ" (NASB).

Now, is it possible that this relates to my final statement in the post above about Jesus saying that His sheep hear His voice? In other words, faith comes from hearing Him. And the ability to hear Him (to learn to recognize His voice) comes from the word (the Bible).

I'm not saying this is absolutely the interpretation of that verse, but I believe it is possible.

See, some difficulty comes in to play when we read all references to "word" in the Bible as the Bible itself (with the notable exception of John 1 in which we all know the "Word" to be "Jesus").

When David talks about "Your word", is he speaking prophetically about a sixty-six book canon that would be completed many centuries later?

When Paul talks about "all Scripture", is he including his own writings in that? Contextually, he refers to Timothy being taught the Scriptures, which at that point would have just been the Old Testament.

Bottom line is that I'm not saying that there is any invalidity or lack of usefulness in the sixty-six book canon of what we know as the Bible. Quite the contrary. But we can't automatically read our Bible back into passages such as Romans 10:17.

I've gotta run. But again, thank you for your very gracious handling of my comments, Mike, both here and on Pyro, as well as in our private email exchange. You are a blessing, brother!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 11:02:00 AM  

Steve,

I'd disregard the math. It assumes the word and the spirit are co-dependents. The word w/o the spirit results in a form of legalistic religion. And the spirit without the word results in subjective mysticism.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

If we examine this passage in Romans, we see a need for the word of God, even if it's the spoken word (rhma). But the Jews had the written word too. In fact, because their alphabet had no vowels, they had to memorize it. But they still lacked faith, except for a remnant. We need the Spirit to provide illumination and the ability to obey.

-Mike

By Blogger Mike Y, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 11:51:00 AM  

Mike, I am not here suggesting that I believe in any Biblical fruit that is inconsistent with the Scriptures. What I am saying is that I think a distinction needs to be made between the Bible itself and the doctrines and creedal statements that we derive from within it. Many people seem to have a hard time separating their own thoughts and opinions about the Bible from the Bible itself, and then, in the name of Biblical authority, seek to "bring in line" those who are "unenlightened" (and this sometimes, by any means necessary).

My other point is this; we can read the Bible day in and day out and remain unchanged in our hearts. If we simply see the Bible as pointing back to itself, then our time will be consumed with the nuances of sentence structure, etymology and making sure that all of our "doctrinal duckies" are in a row. These seem to me as things which almost exclusively involve only cerebral interaction. I think that God has called us to interact with Him on a heart level, and therefore Scripture points away from itself to a relationship with the One Who inspired the Book. I think that Scripture is a means to and end, not the end itself.

By Blogger Raborn Johnson, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 8:01:00 PM  

I'm probably going to write another post in the next few days to get into this topic further. This whole situation with the Pyros has caused me to really dig into some of this, and I have to admit I feel like I'm tumbling down the rabbit hole even farther.

I will throw this thought out there for you all to chew on, though: I believe that we have anachronistically read our concept of a Bible back into many of the New Testament references to "word", even when it says "word of God".

Basically, as I continue to scan the New Testament and the usage of several key Greek words (such as logos and rhema), I am starting to get the impression that "word of God" never meant "Scriptures" to the New Testament authors. It was the message that they were proclaiming. For example, when the apostles said in Acts 6 that it wasn't right for them to neglect the "ministry of the word of God", what do you think they meant? And how do you think the believers understood what they said?

Interestingly, the NASB often translates logos and rhema as "message". So, we have the message recorded in our New Testament. But it is not the written word itself that demands our attention. It is the content/focus of the message itself. And that focus is Jesus Christ Himself and the message of the Gospel.

When Mike says that there is a need for the "word of God", he is absolutely right. But to anachronistically read "66 books in a canon that we call The Bible" back into Romans 10 is very shaky.

I'll stop there, lest I steal all my own thunder from my next post!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 11:21:00 PM  

Well, speaking of stealing thunder, I realize that I already had pretty much touched on that point about the anachronistic use of "word" to mean "Bible" in my comment earlier today. It's been a long day!! ;)

Oh well. Let's just say that as the day has gone on, I have been starting to feel even more convinced about this issue.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, June 24, 2006 11:26:00 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Dan Edelen, at Sunday, June 25, 2006 12:18:00 AM  

Steve,

Is there a distinction between the written word and the spoken word? Sure there is otherwise we wouldn't be able to read it in the text.

However, is there a point where the spoken word and the written word will be in disagreement? The answer is no, or we can't believe in inerrancy and we can't believe in preservation and we don't really know what we should trust.

So, while we keep trying to draw emphasis away from the written word of God, which we possess, onto the spoken word of God, which we only have a record of-- assuming you believe the written word's account, seems to be moot.

We know what is spoken via two methods that I know of:

1) Being present and actually hearing something spoken

2) A record of what was spoken along with a credible witness

Now, since I wasn't alive to hear Christ, I depend on method 2. And my reliable witness is the Holy Spirit.

What I'm beginning to get concerned about is where this is starting to go, which is Does God Still Speak to Us Today? Is there new revelation or special revelation not contained in the scriptures.

Please note, I'm really not asking for an answer on this because my aim was to close the loop on whether or not there is a co-dependency on both scripture and Spirit.

If this this is going down the path of special revelation or new revelation or anything like that, then I think this is a nice point for us to part ways-- at least as far as exchanging comments on this issue.

And even if this isn't digressing to such a conversation, I'm actually pretty worn on this as I think I've said enough on the subject. And really don't have much more to contribute without rehashing what I've already said.

As I noted on the Pyro site, after re-reading one of your comments, I stated that I read into your comment and responded based on that. And thus far, we've had some exchanges via email as well as Blogger. I'd like to let it go at that and get on to some other topics now.

I'll let others have their time, now. I've got some code to write and I'm behind on my commentary now.

I wish you the best and look forward to future discussions with you.

Take care,

Mike

By Blogger Mike Y, at Sunday, June 25, 2006 12:19:00 AM  

It was and always has been "The Whole Package," so to speak.

I think that we have a tendency to be like the blind men and the elephant on this whole issue of the complete revelation of God and the Faith. We see a rope or a tree trunk, but we don't always notice the other parts that make up the "whole spiritual elephant."

We start talking past each other and operate off of varying definitions for the words we use and the next thing we know, everyone's a heretic.

It makes me tired.

By Blogger Dan Edelen, at Sunday, June 25, 2006 12:21:00 AM  

Mike, you are always welcome here anytime. I'm sorry you feel worn out on this discussion, but I won't press it any further with you. Be blessed, brother.

Dan, pleasant surprise to see your name here. I'm not sure who you were addressing in your comment. What, in your opinion, is "The Whole Package"?

All, just to re-emphasize again something I have tried to make clear -- I am in no way advocating for abandoning the written word. The only thing I am attempting to do in this discussion is to take an honest look at what the written word says about itself and the implications of our beliefs going beyond what it says.

I know that this is a tough topic to wrestle with. And I'm not going to force anyone to interact who doesn't want to. But for those who do want to examine this issue, the door is still open.

Oh, and just in case Dan's comment was even partially directed to me, I do not assign the label "heretic" in my discussions here. I will talk about what dangers I see in a particular position, and I will urge for more evaluation of a particular position, but I will not write someone off just because of disagreement.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Sunday, June 25, 2006 8:27:00 AM  

Interesting discussion,,, Wish I had something of value to ad... But, I have enjoyed the reading... This is not something that I could add much to without more thought...

By Blogger Ray, at Monday, June 26, 2006 8:41:00 AM  

Steve,
I appreciate your gentleness. Thank you for your willing honesty. I also appreciate your treatment of this subject.
I have a rather lengthy post on my blog of another way of "seeing." Just thought it might be of help. I hear elements of it in your sharing.
Bless you,
Iris

By Blogger Iris Godfrey, at Monday, June 26, 2006 11:44:00 AM  

Steve, as often happens, I am a bit late joining the party. I think that ultimately we must ask ourselves, "What is the Word of God?"

If the canon of Scriptures is closed, then we must assume that all references in the Bible regarding itself would refer to itself in its entirety unless otherwise stated (does that make sense?)

I think we will find that even though believers are filled with the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, the Spirit will never lead them in anything that is contrary to the written Word.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Monday, June 26, 2006 4:04:00 PM  

Gordon, good to see you again! I figured you were busy, but glad you finally showed up.

I think that ultimately we must ask ourselves, "What is the Word of God?"

You asked the operative question here, and one which is starting to really cause me to examine some presuppositions.

It's hard to look at this without getting circular. For example, you said, If the canon of Scriptures is closed, then we must assume that all references in the Bible regarding itself would refer to itself in its entirety unless otherwise stated....

The question that is burning in my mind is, what does Scripture say about itself? Do all references to "word", "Your word", "word of God" refer to the canon? For that matter, do any references to "word" refer to the canon?

More to come!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, June 26, 2006 5:28:00 PM  

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