There have been quite a few well-known Christian leaders taking a swing at Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins.  Probably the article I see getting the most circulation is Al Mohler’s article, “We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology.”

While most of what Mohler said came as no surprise, one paragraph in particular actually shocked me initially:

Like so many others, Bell wants to separate the message of Jesus from other voices even in the New Testament, particularly the voice of the Apostle Paul. Here we face the inescapable question of biblical authority. We will either affirm that every word of the Bible is true, trustworthy, and authoritative, or we will create our own Bible according to our own preferences. Put bluntly, if Jesus and Paul are not telling the same story, we have no idea what the true story is.” (emphasis mine)

My initial thought was, Wait a minute, Mohler can’t really be saying that if he was forced to choose between Paul and Jesus, he wouldn’t know who he’d choose, would he? If I was forced to make that choice, then it is obvious and easy. I’d choose Jesus.  You know, the guy who is God, and came to save the world from their sin?  Yeah, that guy.  Paul’s great and all, but he would be the first to say (and did say) that he doesn’t hold a match to Jesus.   It seems like an obvious answer to an easy question, so Mohler couldn’t really be saying that he wouldn’t be able to choose which of their stories to accept if he had to, could he?

But then I realized that this is exactly what Al Mohler is saying.  He is quite clearly saying here, and makes no apologies about it, that if someone were to genuinely convince him that there were unresolvable conflicts in the Bible, he would be completely lost.  Al Mohler puts the authority of scripture as the foundation of his faith as a Christian, and is quite eager to let people know.

And putting the authority of scripture as our foundation would make sense, I suppose, if we were “Biblians”.  But we’re Christians, and that means that Christ must be the foundation of our faith.  We don’t follow the Bible – we use the Bible as a means to following Jesus.  We as Christians should not believe Jesus is Lord because the Bible is authoritative, we believe the Bible is authoritative because Jesus is Lord and he believes the Bible is authoritative.

By placing scripture (or perhaps, more aptly, our interpretation of scripture) as our foundation, we end up building a theological house of cards, where our faith in Jesus is built on top of many various doctrines, and if any one of them falls over, our faith in Jesus does as well.

Rob Bell address this idea as well, in his book Velvet Elvis.  He gives the example of the virgin birth, and how, although it is an important doctrine that he affirms, if we were to discover incontrovertible proof that the virgin birth wasn’t true, that our faith should start with Jesus, and that this news should not crush our faith.  Mark Driscoll took particular exception to this idea.  He responds to it in his book, Vintage Jesus, but you can read the specific response online here.  His response is quite clear.  He states that the virgin birth is foundational to his faith, and then lists 4 reasons why.  He essentially says, You don’t think it would crush my faith to find out the virgin birth is false?  Of course it would!  It is one of my foundational cards, and here are 4 other cards that rest on top of it. Driscoll shows here that he doesn’t understand Bell’s point and then simultaneously proves it, by showing how his own faith is a house of cards where if you take out one piece, it all falls apart.

By not putting Jesus as our foundation, we set ourselves up for failure.  By making our faith in him conditional on other doctrines or ideas, we are setting those ideas before him, and scripture itself states that we should not put anything before God.

The point here isn’t to point fingers at Al Mohler or Mark Driscoll.  We all, including myself, are often putting things before God.  The Bible has a word for it – idolatry.  Some would say that any sin ultimately comes to idolatry – putting something in front of God, even if it’s simply our own desires.  Also, this theological house of cards isn’t an issue exclusive to conservatives.  Liberals have their own version, where they see Jesus’ precarious position in their theology, and so to compensate, they take away things from Jesus, such as his divinity, or the resurrection, so as to hedge their bets in case their card house tumbles.

There are other things at stake though than just the balance of our faith.  Our interpretation of scripture begins to change once we put Jesus right in the centre of our faith where he belongs.  When we put the authority of scripture at the centre, then when we see Paul and Jesus talking about the same topic from slightly different perspectives, we just mash their ideas together, as if we’re making a cake and it calls for “equal parts Paul and Jesus.”  But when we put Jesus at the centre, we view what Paul says through the eyes of Jesus – we read Paul’s words in the context of Jesus’ teachings.  We should do this for all of scripture. We do not read about Jesus and see how we can fit him in and amongst the rest of scripture; we read all of scripture and view it in light of Jesus, with an understanding that Jesus is the truest revelation of who God is.

We can see that the authors of the New Testament take this approach.  The writer of Hebrews starts off their letter by taking the creation story, and affirming that Jesus was there in it, that the universe was created through Jesus.  The letter continues by stating that Jesus is, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  God is perfectly represented in Jesus, so we must view all of what scripture says about God through the lens of Jesus.  We see this same trend in 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul states that when Moses struck the rock and it produced water, “the rock was Christ.”  Here we see again, that Jesus is the foundation for Paul’s faith, and he reads his scripture in light of that, rather than the other way around.

Should we affirm the authority of scripture?  Yes, we most certainly should.  But it is because we have put our faith in Jesus, and Jesus takes scripture seriously, so we take it seriously too.  Scripture is wonderful, and I affirm that it is “God-breathed”, but we should never put the creation ahead of its creator.  We must affirm that, above all else, Jesus is Lord.

Advertisements