A Moderate Approach to Liberal and Conservative Thoughts on the Scriptures or (A Friend’s Most Important Question)

This is for all my theological friends that enjoy conversations. This is a little speech written by a friend of mine here at Johnson for his faith community. The theme was, “Your Most Important Question.” His thoughts were worthy of conversation, dialogue, and perhaps debate. I ask that all remain friendly and kind if conversation does proceed from such a touchy subject. He has allowed me to share this and leave his name out of it for now. So enjoy my friend’s thoughts on the Bible:

My Most Important Question

Good morning. For those of you who do not know me, my name is *** ***** and I am the summer intern here at ********* I am a 21 year old senior at Johnson University and I have been a part of the community here at ********* since the fall of 2009.

My most important question is about the Bible, specifically its authorship and inspiration. I always thought I understood the Bible pretty well. I mean, it all seemed pretty easy in Sunday School. However, the older I became the more I questioned and examined what I believe about the Bible. I soon realized it wasn’t that easy to understand at all

I have been attending church since I was in the womb. God blessed me with a wonderful family who loves him and a family that taught me how to love God. So because of that I’ve been in the church all of my life. I went to youth group, camps, and big Christian youth conferences when I was younger. I was just your prototypical dorky kid in youth group.

When I was growing up I had these grand plans for my life which included meteorology, being a lawyer and then finally I thought I wanted to teach. However, after attending a Christ in Youth Conference my freshman year in high school, I decided that I wanted to enter into the ministry.

So in the fall of 2008, I started attending Johnson Bible College…now Johnson University to prepare for a career in ministry. I wasn’t sure specifically what kind of ministry, I just knew I wanted to do this with my life.

In the last year, more so the last few months, I have been doing some thinking about how I view and interpret the Bible..and it has caused me to wrestle through some hard questions about how to see the Bible…and as a result my approach to the Bible has changed

Growing up in the church I was taught that the Bible was the authoritative word of God.

I was taught that it was inerrant. That it was infallible and that it was inspired by God.

And as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, that it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

I believed and accepted this because it was what I was taught and I trusted the sources that this information was coming from. However, I never really understood what all this meant because I had never worked through the meaning for myself.

I believe that how we see something affects how we read it and how we interpret it. What we bring to our reading of a text or document affects how we read it. All of us, whether we use reading glasses or not, read through lenses.

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to say that there are two ways to read the Bible, that there are two lenses at which to read the Bible through.

Conflict about how to see and read the Bible is a major issue dividing Christians in our country today. Each denomination has their own certain slant and beliefs about how to read certain parts of the Bible. This conflict usually divides Christians into two groups often labeled “fundamentalist” and “liberal.” Separating these two groups are two very different ways of seeing three foundational questions about the Bible: questions about its origin, its authority, and its interpretation.

The first group believes as the church has traditionally taught that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. They believe the Bible comes from God, as no other book does. As a divine product, it is God’s truth, and its divine origin is the basis of it’s authority. For these Christians, the Bible is to be interpreted literally.

The second group of Christians are less clear about what they believe about the Bible. They think that some parts of the Bible cannot be taken literally. This second group is often uncertain what it means to say that the Bible is “the Word of God” or “inspired by God,” and they are unsure what “biblical authority” might mean.

I never would have considered myself to be a “fundamentalist,” and now since my view of the Bible has changed I don’t consider myself to be a “liberal.” So, what am I? I don’t know. Maybe I have created my own group.

The issue that I first dealt with about the Bible was authorship. Scholars question the traditional authorship of many of the books in the New Testament. For example, we really don’t know who wrote the gospels. The authors of the texts don’t name themselves. Church tradition actually ascribed the names that we associate with each gospel.

Scholars also believe, and I now agree with them, that some of the texts in the New Testament were not written by the people we think they were. By comparing writing style, theology, and vocabulary, scholars think that Paul only wrote seven of the texts in the New Testament that bear his name. The rest were written probably later, after Paul’s death by other people in Paul’s name which was a common practice of the time to write in the name of a famous figure.

After accepting all this, I had to wrestle with the question of the Bible’s reliability. Could I trust the Bible if it wasn’t written by who I thought it was? How can the Bible be inerrant and infallible if Ephesians or 1 or 2 Timothy wasn’t written by Paul?

The questioning of the Bible’s authorship also led me to question the inspiration of scripture. The inspiration of scripture is understood to mean that God guided the writing of the Bible, directly or indirectly. What scripture says, then, ultimately comes from God.

I became really confused about what I was hearing about the scripture’s authorship. Some of these letters were written by Paul and some were not. And we can’t be sure who wrote this gospel, but we’re fairly certain this person wrote that letter.

I had been taught that the Bible was God’s word, that it was a divine product.

Well then, who wrote Romans? Was it Paul? Was it God? If scripture was “written” by God, then how was it done? Were the writers mysteriously led by God to write what they did? If so, does that still happen today why can’t I do that.

I found it hard to believe and accept the traditional view of inspiration knowing what I did know about the Bible’s authorship.

The alternative to seeing the Bible as a divine product is to see it as a human product–as a human response to God…the product of two ancient communities. This is the lens through which I now see scripture. The Old Testament is the product of ancient Israel and the New Testament is the product of the early Christian community.

What the Bible says is the words of those communities, not God’s words. I know that sounds controversial, so let me explain myself. What I mean by that is that I don’t believe God communicated to the authors the exact words he wanted them to say. I don’t believe that God took control of Paul’s hand and wrote his letters for him.

Scripture emerged from authors who were a part of God’s community and the books in Scripture arose out of particular circumstances and were written by authors with intent and agenda. Those individual authors interacted with one another to carry forward the story of God putting his family back together.

To see the Bible as a human product does not in any way deny the reality of God. In all of this questioning about scripture, I never questioned my faith, I never questioned the truthfulness of what is in scripture. I just had a lot of questions about how the Bible came to be.

Just because I accept that the people who we think wrote certain books in the Bible did not, and because I don’t hold to the traditional view of inspiration does not mean that I reject that the Bible accurately conveys the will of God and the teachings of Jesus

I am not devaluing scripture when I say it is a human product. I see the Bible sacred not in origin, but in status.

The Bible is sacred not because of some mystical, mysterious involvement from God. The Bible is sacred because of its value, because of what it means for us.

For us, the status of the Bible as sacred scripture means that it is the most important collection of writings we know. These are the primary writings that define who we are in relation to God and who we are as a community and as individuals. This is the book that has shaped us and will continue to shape us.

To me, seeing the Bible as sacred in status and not in origin also leads to a different way of seeing the authority of the Bible. Rather than being an authority standing above us telling us what to believe and do, the Bible is the ground of the world in which Christians live.

The biblical canon names the primary collection of ancient documents with which Christians are to be in continuing dialogue with.

Scripture, N.T. Wright says, does not exist to give authoritative answers to questions other than those it addresses.

Some questions and issues of scripture only applied to the time they were written, others still affect us today.

Wright goes on to say that one can deduce from Scripture appropriate answers to such later questions, only that we have to be careful and recognize that is indeed what we are doing.

In the modern period, the Bible has almost been elevated to a position of worship.

The Bible is not an object to be worshiped it is the lens through which we see God. It’s important that we put our faith and trust in God and not just the lens through which we see God.

I still think the Bible is holy, and I still think it is the Word of God

And a word is a means of communication, involving both speaking and hearing. A word is a means of disclosure; we disclose or reveal ourselves through words. Words bridge the distance between ourselves and others; we commune and become intimate through words.

The Bible is a means of divine self-disclosure. It is a record of God’s interaction with his creation. It is God’s way of revealing himself to us. It is God opening himself up to us and saying, “Here I am!” And it contains the stories and traditions that reveal the character and will of God.

By no means do I think that I totally understand the origins of scripture and how to understand it, but I’ve wrestled through these questions about the Bible and I have come out the other end of the tunnel and my faith is still strong. This is how I see the Bible now, as a lens that helps me see God.


Conformed to the Image of His Son

The topic of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship is something I’m very passionate about. And it seems to me, in my experience anyways, that it isn’t something many churches talk about or do. I feel that the Church today focus too heavily on evangelism. Now, don’t get me wrong, that is quite important, but the lack of discipleship is hurting many.

I attended a Christian school and was surrounded by great Christian men and women, but even after I was baptized I felt I was kind of left on my own to figure things out. The biggest trouble was not having a spiritual director or mentor. Yes, I learned quite a good deal about the Bible, but I still needed that guidance. Maybe it is my fault that I didn’t seek someone out. Not to put blame on any of those great folks at MMS for they have given me more than enough in this life, and I’m indeed grateful.

But even still today I feel like I don’t have that guidance or one-on-one with a older, wiser Christian with whom I could be discipled. Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We see that Christ doesn’t want us to merely baptize people and then leave them on their own. We are called to MAKE disciple. We are called to disciple and be discipled.

So I listened to one of my favorite professors at JBC give a sermon on the topic of Spiritual Formation. And I mention Discipleship because often it is something we chose for ourselves to undergo. And Dr. Gupton gave an amazing sermon on some ways to have Christ spiritually formed in you so much so that you are conformed to the image of His Son. And that’s the point of discipleship and spiritual formation. That you be made to look like Christ Jesus our Lord.

So I listened to Dr. Gupton’s sermon and took notes on it. And I wanted to share those notes with you on here so that maybe the Body would be edified. I hope you can take something from them:

Conformed to the Image of His Son
Dr. Gupton on Spiritual Formation and Discipleship

“Spiritual disciplines are activities we do to cooperate with God’s work to transform us into the image of Christ.” -Dr. Carlus Gupton

I John 3:2-3- “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Romans 12:1-2-“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 8:28-29-“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Each of us lives between two realities. We live between who we are and who we long to be. We say to ourselves, “I am what I am.” We are insecure about our ordinariness. We want to distort who we really are. We change, but not that much. The second reality is: “I am not yet what I shall be.” The truth is underscored by Scripture, I John 3:2-3. In between these two realities is the process we call transformation or spiritual formation, growth. We are not the ones who do the transformation, but we are to cooperate with God in that transformation. Transformation=metamorphosis. God works to conform us to the image of His Son. Spiritual formation is the life-long process of being conformed to Christ for our good and that of the world’s.

How do we do this?

We must discuss the spiritual disciplines and practices. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is an amazing book on this subject.

Spiritual Disciplines:
1. They are put forth as overwhelming
2. Jesus warns heavily on putting the spiritual life out of reach of people (Matthew 23:4)
3. Spiritual disciplines are not a measure of spirituality. They are SUPPOSED to help us become more like Christ! Spiritual practices don’t help us at all unless they make us like Christ.
4. They are activities we do to cooperate with God’s work in transforming us into Christ’s image.

Spiritual Practice of Prayer:
-Principle 1- Simplicity. Jesus’ prayer. When you pray say these words. Do this. The prayer captured the major tenants of Jesus’ teaching. To learn what is important to Jesus then unpack those phrases. Kingdom is so much bigger than Church. It’s about our response to God and how we bring Heaven to earth. Kingdom encompasses so much of God’s grand vision for the world and how we participate in that vision. The prayers are simple, repeated throughout the day. Acts 2:42-devoted to Apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They prayed at 9 AM, Noon, and 2 PM. Breaking of bread alludes to Eucharist. Eucharist was about that remembering and that transformation. Consistent participation in God’s work of transformation.

-Principle 2-Regularity. Jesus gives us these as simple, but as something done regularly. I Thessalonians 5:16-18, pray continually. Alludes to praying 3 times a day. Early Christians borrowed the tradition from the Jews.

The 3 Times of Prayer:
The Morning Light- Psalms 88
The Midday- Psalms 92
The Nightfall- Psalms 92

Remember those times so you pray and you honor the presence of God in your life. Reminder that God is in the work of changing you and you want to participate in that work.

1. The Prayer of Morning Light

John Stott’s Morning Trinitarian Prayer

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence
and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God,
have mercy upon me. Amen

2. The Prayer of Midday (can be any prayer)

St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever. Amen.

Mark the time that we say to God that we are walking with God. And that He is working in us, let us cooperate with Him.

3. The Evening Prayer (Prayer of Examen)

5 Practices at End of Day
1. Become aware of God’s presence
2. Review day with gratitude
3. Ask Spirit to see ourselves honestly-reflection
4. Pray about one event of the day
5. Look forward to tomorrow

4 Questions When Reviewing the Day:
-What went well?
-What went poorly?
-What gifts did I receive?
-What needs healing?

Prayer can be simple and regular. By this we participate with God in the process He is engaged in and that is transforming us into His image.