Recently I had the misfortune of watching a short video where a nice, clean cut gentleman told me that I can get “an idea of how sincere my love for Jesus is” by asking myself, “How much do I love the Scriptures?”
So far, we’re doing good. But then he goes one step further and equates Scripture with doctrine. He even goes so far to imply that if someone does not “passionately defend” doctrinal truth they may not be sincere. He told me that doctrinal truth bears the image of Christ. He informed me that if I don’t defend doctrine I couldn’t love Christ. “There is no room for personal interpretation,” he confidently informs his listeners and me. It was no surprise then when I found other videos that this gentleman did where he “solved” the age-old disagreement between Armenians and Calvinists. Think about the audacity of that statement. In yet another clip he tells me that God may not talk to me or anyone else anymore.
I’m sure this fellow is a good guy. I imagine that he is pretty devoted to his faith and in following Christ. I’m not here to attack him, but I do want to look at his assertion that Scripture equals doctrine.
We should first start with what the Bible tells us about what is truth. In John 14 Jesus tells us that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” Almost all of us would agree that God is truth. That is to say, that God is the embodiment of all truth. There can be no truth apart from God. God is truth. God is absolute truth. It is at this point that most conversations will usually turn a little “snarky.”
Is the Bible in your house truth? Is it pure truth? Are there any errors in it? At this point, I have to step back and ask you the reader to stay with me to the end. The truth is we have many translations of the Bible today and I believe what we have is the face of what God wants us to have, but there are errors in each translation. The original text that God gave us was perfect. We do not have that text any longer. What is amazing is you can take one copy of a passage and another copy both being hundreds of years apart in age and they are almost identical. This lends credence to their validity.
There was a guy named Erasmus who actually admitted to adding a few things when he made a copy because it helped explain the Trinity better. The Bible was originally written in languages other than English (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Translating anything from one language to another is a difficult task. For one, the mindset of the hearer will almost certainly be different in the original language. This is why it is so important to understand how the original listeners would have understood whatever passage of Scripture you are looking at.
God is Truth. The Original text is perfect. The Bible(s) I have in my house and the one’s you have in your house are not perfect they are translations of copies.
Now, for years preachers and those in charge have tried to minimize or hide this truth. The fear is that it will open the door for us the simple to start questioning everything there is to know about God. A guy I really respect once related a story to me about how a young lady rejected all of Scripture because a well known preacher began “monkeying” with the text.
As I have attempted to illustrate in my drawing by the time we get to doctrine we are a few steps away from absolute truth. Your doctrine is a result of interpretation of translations of copies of the original truth.
At this point you are faced with one of two choices (I hate that phrase because I am sure there is probably more choices out there but these are the most common choices). You can either end up in Peter Ruckman’s camp and spout something just short of insanity about how the KJV is the authoritative version or you have to be willing to wrestle with tension.
The great danger in Christianity has always been that we try to make everything manageable, we try to make incredibly complex things makes sense. Christianity, especially conservative, Calvinistic Christianity has attempted to reduce the Bible to something that is a compilation of logical, irrefutable arguments. The result has been a bastardized version of honest faith. We’ve compared having a relationship with God to sitting on a chair, we’ve created two diagnostic questions and done all sorts of stupid things. Worse, we’ve created our little doctrine clubs and call it church. We’ve elevated doctrine above God. We worship at the alter of doctrine and systematic theology. What other conclusion can be drawn when a man takes the time to make a movie where he compares love of Scripture with love of doctrine?
So you can chose the absolute way, where there is no room for discussion…or…you can chose the honest way. You can chose to admit that our doctrine is the best interpretation we have, but there is room for discussion. I believe that the Bible is the face of what God wants us to have. In other words the key doctrines are clearly in all of the copies.
We as a bride of Christ need to decide how many doctrines are we willing to die over. We need to decide as a Church where is the line between this is what I believe but I could be wrong.
I know there are those who fear this will open up all of the Scriptures to be questioned but is that bad? Didn’t Paul tell the Bereans to test everything? What is so bad if every doctrine we have is tested?
Most of the people I know who would oppose this idea are afraid. They are afraid of what might happen. You can “what if” yourself to death. If what we say we believe is true (and I believe it is) then it cannot be stopped. Truth always finds its way to the top.
I know for some of you that is a scary proposition and you may even be reacting with some anger for me right now—that’s ok. Embrace the tension; embrace the mystery. If you think your theology and doctrine is helping you explain the more difficult aspects of the gospel be cautious. Remember one ancient writer put it this way, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
How do you “prove” or explain something you can’t see? If you and I desire to truly be relevant it is high time we admit that there is a tension in the Scriptures.