Friday, May 1, 2009

Jesus and the Bible

Sometimes in evangelical circles (a circle, despite my aversion to labels, within which I would place myself) and maybe especially in some Baptist circles (and yes, I'm a Baptist Christian) a discussion gets going over our attitude toward and approach to the Bible as it relates to our attitude toward and approach to Jesus.

Specifically, some of us more moderate types (there I go accepting a label again)have felt that some of our more fundamantalist/inerrantist brothers and sisters at times seem to elevate the Bible to a status in which it would be a fourth member of Trinity (mathematically impossible, I know, but you probably get my point); that is, they seem at times to make a stated commitment to the inerrancy (as they define it) of the Scriptures such a test of fellowship that it feels like they're saying that such a commitment is necessary to salvation, although I am sure they would insist that they are saying no such thing.

I will say this: my memory of the sermons I heard back when I regularly attended annual Southern Baptist Convention meetings (1984-1990 and thus during the height of the Conservative Resurgence/Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC)is that they emphasized believing in the Bible (notice how I put that--"believing in" the Bible, not "believing" the Bible) much more than they emphasized believing in Jesus and following Jesus, but of course inerrancy (again, as determined by those who were insisting on allegiance to the word--the word "inerrancy," not the Word of God) was the chosen stick with which to bludgeon folks during those days.

Anyway, this topic came up in the comment stream on another blog yesterday which got me to thinking about it and so I left a comment in which I tried to state in a simple fashion how I view the relationship between Jesus and the Bible.

Here is what I came up with; it works for me.

(1) Scripture is divinely inspired; Jesus Christ is divine.

(2) Scripture points to Christ; Christ fulfills Scripture.

(3) Scripture tells us how to be saved; Christ saves us.

(4) Scripture guides us in worship; Christ is worshipped.

(5) Scripture is the written Word of God; Christ is the living Word of God.

(6) Scripture is the revelation of God; Christ is the ultimate revelation of God.

4 comments:

cartercanes said...

Dr. Ruffin, what you have written about the Bible helps me greatly.
I may have misunderstood, but it seems that you suggest that the Bible is, of course, very important to Christians, but not necessarily MORE important than Jesus.
On another note, I have always had problems with " if you believe in me, you will have everlasting life". Sometimes I wish that the Bible said "if you have faith in me, you will have everlasting life". I finally think I understand "faith", after many years. However, I can't seem to bring myself to "believe" in something unless my mind tells me that it is "for sure" true.
The other problem that I can't seem to get past is the idea that Jesus died for our sins. I don't see why he had to do that. God can do whatever he wants, when he wants, so who came up with this idea that someone, and it had to be God's son apparently, must be crucified and die because of our sins?
Additionally, one would have to ask, how many Christians believe, or claim to believe, in Jesus so that they might go to heaven upon death? So some are "scared into" confessing belief. I guess, if I was on my death bed, I would surely be scared into at least trying to believe. Also, believing, for personal gain, is not a good reason, of course.
Can a person "make" his self believe?
If you look at Muslims and Jews, those people believe because they were raised by their families to believe what they do. Do you think God chooses who will believe and who will not? This brings us to the idea of a person being "saved". Could you let me know what you think this means? I guess, having been baptized about 40 years ago, I should know.
There is so much to consider while being a Christian. I wonder if we could simplify all the vast amount of information down to just 2-3 cardinal points?
Example:
1. Have faith in God.
2. Treat your fellow man well.
3. Meditate using the Bible.

The Beast's Lair said...

Mike,

As one of those "inerrantist brothers" you mention, I have no problem affirming your six points at the end of your post. I find it interesting on your sixth point that you say "Scripture is the revelation of God" and not "Scripture is a record of revelation." That is a fairly important distinction.

So, I don't think any able-minded inerrantist would disagree with those statements. I have a theory, which I will be posting after finals, that concerns these labels you mention. Could it be that evangelical conservatives are unwilling to take a good look at some legitimate moderate positions because of fear of that label? Instead, conservatives tend to focus on the abuses of moderate positions. Could it be that moderates are unwilling to take a good look at some legitimate conservative positions because of fear of that label? Instead, moderates tend to focus on the abuses of conservative positions (a problem I am not accusing you of here, your post has simply triggered what I have been working through).

Michael Ruffin said...

David,

I think you understand me correctly; the Bible is vitally important as the text that points us to Jesus and that shows us how to be saved and to live as Christians. The thing is, though, that it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that saves us; one can't have a personal relationship with a book, regardless of how inspired that book is.

Your struggle with "belief" and "faith" is an understandable one. The tension is this, I think: it is good to believe in Jesus in the sense of believing that he lived and that he is real--but such "belief in" will not save; on the other hand, "saving faith" is really trust--we trust in Jesus in the sense of betting our lives that he is who the Bible says he is and we give ourselves over to him.

Your question about why Jesus died for our sins is a good one. One way to think about it is to consider that for something to mean anything it usually has to cost something; the fact of sacrifice (what was given up?) makes a gift more meaningful. Perhaps salvation offered without cost to God would not have been regarded by people as very valuable.

I'm going to come back to your question about being saved later.

Your three points are not bad. I find it hard to improve on what Jesus said when he said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart,soul, mind, and strenght and that the second was to love our neighbor as ourself.

Thanks for entering into conversation with me.

Michael Ruffin said...

Philip,

I guess that I see the distinction between Scripture as the revelation of God and as the record of God's revelation as too fine a point; in a sense, I'm comfortable with either statement. I think that God first and foremost reveals himself in history, in real community and in real relationships in the real world with real people; it's the old idea of salvation history, I guess. Such acts of revelation were naturally talked about and passed along (oral tradition) which I regard as a continuation of God's revelation and then eventually the oral record of such acts was written down, collected, redacted, translated, etc.--all of which I would regard as part and parcel of God's act of revelation. Indeed, perhaps we can even think of the ongoing interpretation and application of God's acts in history and of the revealed record of those acts as God's continuing process of revelation, although I recognize the need to be a little careful about that--I seem to recall some distinction being made by some between "revelation" and "illumination" or some such.

The answer to the questions in your last paragraph is "Yes, definitely yes." In Southern Baptist life, at least, what happened (and I guess still happens) is that to affirm "inerrancy" was associated with being part of the "inerrancy party" which meant that to be an inerrantist implied that you supported the radical inerrantist cause, not the "doctrine" of inerrancy. On the other hand, for a conservative/fundamentalist to affirm anything that a moderate/liberal said would imply to other conservatives that he was headed down the slippery slope of, at best, neo-orthodoxy or, at worst, gross liberalism.

I have a suggestion for you, once you get past finals and have lots of time (!) on your hands. Go to the SBTS library and check out the Proceeedings on the Conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987. I have wished, as you know, that folks of your generation could understand better where folks of my generation are coming from on some of these issues. If you choose to read that book, let me know, and I'll tell you some things about it.

Blessings,

Mike