Do you ever find yourself not getting what you need from the Bible? Society would say, “That’s OK, just listen for God’s voice elsewhere.” It is true that God will speak to us through sources other than the Bible, but just a fair warning, we often do a pretty convincing impersonation of God.
A page torn from an inspirational daily calendar of Bible verses is making its rounds these days on the social media circuit. It features a pretty purple flower and a quote from Luke 4:7:
“If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
It is meant to inspire. The only problem with this verse comes to light if you at the surrounding verses and figure out who is saying this. This is a quote from Satan, spoken to Jesus, when he was trying to tempt Him. I’m not entirely sure if this was an oversight by the calendar designer, or a clever Photoshop job, but either way the takeaway is the same: Context matters when it comes to Scripture. There is an even deeper problem today with how we use the Bible and its verses, and a recent article in the Huffington Post offers a sad example of this.
Brandon Robertson, a young Bible institute graduate, recounts in the article how his faith was shaken when he couldn’t find what he needed in the pages of Scripture. “Every time I found myself in turmoil,” he wrote, “I would reach for the Bible, but I was coming back empty-handed most of the time.” That disappointment, he explained, left him “radically disinterested” in God’s Word.
Describing a moment of particular personal crisis, Brandon looked to the Bible for comfort. “With tears in my eyes,” he wrote, “I opened up the Scriptures and landed on Isaiah 3 – a chapter about God judging and destroying His enemies…not exactly the encouragement I was looking for,” he said. “I turned to the typical ‘encouragement’ passages like Romans 8 and Philippians 3, but they didn’t seem to be working.”
Brandon recounted that his disappointment continued on into college, until, during a lecture by biblical critic Peter Enns, he had an epiphany: “We need to be training our children to cultivate a relationship with God, not a relationship with the Bible.”
I agree, of course, that at face value this statement is true. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God. But for a growing number of progressive Christians, the God they want can’t be found in the pages of Scripture, so they look for God elsewhere. They look for God in personal experience, through relationships with other people, and through private interpretations of when they say God “speaks into” their life.
Effectively, this approach untethers God from the Bible. It makes the stories found in the Bible to be about God, but not a living Book in which God reveals Himself to his believers. It essentially makes the Bible simply a historical narrative. For example, the United Church of Christ recently insisted that “God is still speaking.” This is another true-at-face-value statement, until you realize they’re actually suggesting that God changed His mind on issues like morality and marriage, and that their ideas of who God should be trumps the God that the Bible reveals to us. God never changes His mind.
Many people point to Jesus Himself as their alternative to Scripture. For example, Enns, in his book The Bible Tells Me So writes that “for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.”
But in response, Christian blogger Derek Rishmawy asked a very important question: To which “Jesus” are these folks referring to? “…The only real Jesus we have intellectual access to,” observes Derek, “is the Jesus revealed to us in the Bible.” That Jesus reaffirmed the exclusitivity of natural marriage, endorsed everything that was written in the Old Testament, and talked as much about hell and judgement as He did about the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Jesus that progressive Christians claim has not source other than themselves, their own feelings, beliefs, and preferences. J. Gresham Machen wrote back in 1924, “The real authority, for liberalism, can only be…individual experience; truth can only be that which ‘helps’ the individual man. Such an authority is obviously no authority at all.”
The approach we take when it comes to the Bible is vitally important. God’s inspired word is not a calendar of inspirational, therapeutic quotes. When we open the Bible, we are stepping into God’s story, understanding our place in His design, and encountering Him on His terms. When we don’t find what we’re looking for, we should ask whether we’re looking for the real God or remaking a god in our own image. At the very least creating God to be who we want Him to be instead of who He really is.
A relationship with a god we have created is not a relationship with God at all.