Suppose the Bible had never been written

Controversy over comments made by Andy Stanley, (pastor of North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta, Georgia), made me recall a quote from the late OT scholar, Dr. John Bright. I’ll get to Dr. Bright’s comment in a moment. First, a little context.

Andy Stanley is one of the leading younger evangelical figures in America. He is a gifted communicator with a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has a special interest in explaining truths in ways that the common person can clearly understand. His ministry at North Point Church has extensive influence both locally and globally.

All of this means that when Andy speaks, his words will be closely and widely scrutinized – the price of visibility and influence! (And why we should pray for such leaders).

I am not sure if Andy would admit it, but he could have found a better way to say what it seems he wanted to say. Some of his critics, however, need to realize that Andy effectively communicates in ways that address some of the deeper assumptions held by skeptics. I see this as a loving effort to clear unnecessary confusion that blinds people to the gospel.

Andy said,

“The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is something that happened in history. And the issue is always – Who is Jesus? That’s always the issue. The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents that tells us that story…”

A number of bloggers picked up on Andy’s words and offered critical review. Andy graciously commented on one blog and offered important clarification.

Comment by Andy:

“Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that I was suggesting an approach to talking about “The Bible” in a culture that is no longer moved by “The Bible says.” But I do believe the epicenter of the faith is something that actually happened….”

On one level, Andy’s point needs to be heard by evangelical leaders who keep themselves far too insulated from culture. It’s easy to take our clichés for granted in a world that either doesn’t get it or sneers at it. Phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “The biblical approach….” (in the wider culture) are often ineffective and counterproductive to our desire to encourage people to hear from God.

But there is also a danger with going too far in adjusting our language for culture.

Paraphrases of the Bible like “The Message” offer quite a few examples of overreaching to be colloquial with Scripture. I heard of a church that promoted God’s kingdom as God’s party to get people to “sign on” for God. This is how we don’t want to adjust our language. We can exercise wisdom in this area by simply asking how the audience might hear you when you use certain words. Do you want them to think of their parties when they think of God’s kingdom?

Don’t misunderstand. Relevance is important and many bible teachers fail to see ways that it shaped the very choices of words in the New Testament. I am not advocating the idea that we should only use words from the Bible when teaching and sharing truth.

Those who say, “Stick with the terms used in Scripture!” demonstrate a naive understanding of biblical words. The great New Testament words of salvation (redemption, propitiation, sanctification, justification, reconciliation, etc…) came from the world of that time and had prior meanings and associations ranging from the market place; to the temple; to the courtroom, etc…. Was there risk of misunderstanding when including such terms in the New Testament?

Yes, we need to be careful not to acquiesce to trendy terms if their popular meanings could lead people into serious misunderstandings of God’s revealed word.  Yet we must be willing also to restore some words to richer and fuller meanings based in a God-centered worldview.

I believe I understand what Andy wanted to convey but he could be accused of fallacious reasoning when emphasizing “what happened in history” over the reliability of the written text of Scripture.

When I think about this matter, I prefer what the late OT scholar Dr. John Bright wrote: 

“We do not worship a book. On the contrary, the sole legitimate object of worship, and the supreme authority to whom the Christian submits himself, is God — the God who, according to the Scripture, worked his redemptive purpose in Israel and, in the fullness of time, revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  The Christian’s God is the Creator and Lord of all things, and is the Lord also of Scripture.  He existed before there was a Bible, and quite independently of it. He performed his work of creation when no man was there to record it. He gave his covenant law at Sinai, and that law had authority in Israel before the Pentateuch was written. He did his saving work in Jesus Christ, who came, did mighty works, died, and rose again, and this would be just as true had the Gospels never been penned.”

“The Bible, therefore, derives its authority from God; it does not have authority of itself, but rather by virtue of the God to whom it witnesses and who speaks in its pages.  The God of the Bible is the Christians’ supreme authority in all senses of the word.”

“True. Yet there is a practical sense in which this comes to much the same thing. What, after all, would the Christian know of his God, of Christ, and of the nature of the Christian faith apart from the Bible? Suppose for a moment the Bible had never been written or had been lost to us. What would we know of the history and faith of Israel? What would we know of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and the significance of his saving work as the early church understood it? The answer is: precious little” (p. 31, The Authority of the Old Testament, 1975).

Steve Cornell

See: Is the Bible from God?  

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Andy Stanley, Bible, Bible from God, Bibliology, Bloggers, Christian worldview, Church Leadership, Communication, Culture, Gospel, Gospel-centered, Holistic ministry, Jesus Christ, Life of a pastor, Scripture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Suppose the Bible had never been written

  1. Randy Burk says:

    Steve, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter. You gave a fair and balanced analysis on this situation. I’ve already shared my thoughts on Denny’s blog so I won’t be repetitious. My concern is clarity. We’ve all had people (believers and unbelievers) ask us what me meant by that…what we said…some statement we said that was misunderstood or not clear, at least in the minds of the hearers. It gives us the opportunity to rethink and rephrase so there is no misunderstanding.
    In your comments you used expressions (what it seems to me he wanted to say…….I believe I understand what Andy wanted to convey)
    These phrases….. It seems to me and I believe I understand…are those I would use too. But there is some doubt. Even Andy Stanley’s statement, (But I do believe the epicenter of the faith is something that actually happened….”) does not bring clarity. I think I know what is meant by that. However, I am not sure. Why not clearly speak your convictions and remove any doubt.

    Regarding relevance…I appreciate what you said and agree.
    It is interesting how the Lord Jesus Christ dealt with some people. There was no doubt or lack of clarity about what He was saying to the lost.

    The Lord Jesus Christ had a way of validating and proving the faith of many. He would ask hard questions and make hard statements.

    In John 6 the Lord Jesus knew people were not convinced of His claims, that He was Messiah and the Son of God. They were following Him only for the signs and miracles He was doing. Thus the hard statement of “eating my flesh and drinking my blood.” We know with what clarity Jesus spoke in the context of their fathers in the wilderness having their physical life sustained by the manna and water from the rock. The Lord Jesus was crystal clear and they refused to commit to Him saying it was too hard.

    Luke Chapter 4 the Lord Jesus is in a synagogue in Nazareth. He identified Himself as the Messiah by reading a portion of Isa. 61 and proclaiming to them that Scripture was fulfilled before them all. They seemed to be on board with that, until the Lord Jesus tested their faith telling them about the gentile widow and gentile leper that the Lord sent Elijah to. They understood what the Lord Jesus was saying and wanted to kill Him for it.

    Finally, the SyroPhoenician woman of Matthew 15 and the hard things that Jesus said to her, validating her faith calling it Mega Faith! Such wonderful clarity here.

    I believe we ought to be relevant, never intentionally offensive, and wise as serpents, harmless as doves. But, in our attempt to connect to these various culture groups, in our relevance, are we being clear, faithful, and true to that which our Lord commissioned us…are we not saying the hard things in clarity? So as not to be offensive we will not lay down the terms of discipleship the Lord stated in Luke 14:26 and also not count the cost Luke 14:28?

    • I agree, Randy, that clarity is essential. I also don’t think we should become overly troubled about the possible offense in the bad news that must lead the way to the good news. The Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgement (John 16:8). We need a renewed emphasis on the conviction and contrition that lead to conversion! This was a point of concern I raised many years ago about the “seeker friendly” method of Church. Yet clarity swings in different directions. This is why it’s important to know something about the way people hear us when we use our terms. Although I could not recommend Rob Bell’s book (Love wins), one point I appreciated was the concern about which Jesus a person is rejecting when they turn away from an invitation to believe in Christ. ALong these lines, it’s important to ask what a person hears when we say “The Bible says…” Most people only have fragmentary knowledge about the Bible usually mixed with misguided cultural assumptions. The bits of knowledge people possess tend to circulate as bullet points for skeptics and late night comedians whose aim is often to dismiss Christianity as either simplistically implausible or ridiculously offensive. This is why I believe that bearing witness to the message of the gospel must be done with greater wisdom and restraint. (see: Answering tough questions).

  2. Lauren Law says:

    Acts 17:11 says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Examining a pastor’s teachings is praised in the Scriptures. No one should be criticized for doing so.

    You stated above, “Those who say, “Stick with the terms used in Scripture!” demonstrate a naive understanding of biblical words. The great New Testament words of salvation (redemption, propitiation, sanctification, justification, reconciliation, etc…) came from the world of that time and had prior meanings and associations ranging from the market place; to the temple; to the courtroom, etc…. ” Those “great New Testament words” have not only come from a “world of that time and had prior meanings”. Those words have been perfectly fine for the almost 400 years that the Scripture has been in print. It’s only in the past 10-20 years that they are suddenly too religious to be used any more. Those words mean now what they’ve always meant. We don’t “dumb down” God’s Word for a society that chooses now to speak and write in initials. Amazing that those words have changed people’s lives…uneducated people…poor people…sick people…sinners…for all this time and now we’re not supposed to use them because they’ve somehow lost their power? God’s Word does not return void…it’s sharper than a two-edged sword. What are we saying about our culture when we decide His Word must be presented in a “softer” more “user-friendly” tone. I don’t believe those who say “Stick with the terms used in Scripture!” are demonstrating naïve understanding of biblical words. I believe those who water down the message are treating society as naïve…and that’s disrespectful at best…sinful at worst.

    Someone in Andy Stanley’s position should understand that his words are going to be examined… and it is his responsibility to make them clear. Questioning something that sounds suspiciously unscriptural is not to be faulted to the examiner.

    • BA Blumenthal says:

      Agreed…If I am IN the world, but not OF the world, why should I speak and act LIKE the world? I am comfortable being ‘different’.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Andy Stanley is the BEST pastor I have ever encountered. I always leave his sermons feeling wonderful. He gets his point across eithout being preachy preachy. Many love him and his is one of the fastest growing church at this time.

  4. Reblogged this on WisdomForLife and commented:

    Worth revisiting!

  5. Larry says:

    As the quote from John Bright points out, to say our faith is in something that happened but not in the Bible that tells us that those things happened is nonsensical.

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