I have written a lot on the subject of the Bible itself.
I have written about errors in how we approach it and see it, interpret it, use it to amplify our own biases and assumptions... about how we tend to miss the scandal of it, and about how we regularly overshadow Jesus with it...
I've written a lot on this subject because it is one of
the main problems facing Evangelical Christians today.
I would even go so far as to say it is the defining "idolatry" of our time (along with the intense, Empire-loving, Jesus-ignoring nationalism we see so much of amongst American Christians... but that's another set of writings entirely). Bibliolatry is one of the easiest traps to be ensnared by in our current context - perhaps the most seductive mistress our religious culture will ever parade in front of us in our lifetime... And I think this challenge is one that we should engage and not avoid.
Along those lines, I want to trace a quick path through scripture to illustrate how the people who worship the Bible itself are, ironically, missing what their idol has to say.
The people who champion their inherited understanding of what Christianity is (or must be) often lose sight of the Christ meant to be at its very center. I know this to be true, because I used to be that person. The Bible was my true "Lord." ...I suppose that made me a Biblian.
We find that people are quick to quote something like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 or 1 Peter 1:20-21 in order to paint the image of the Bible as a "user's manual" or a collection of easy, overly-simplistic facts... But it is neither of those things. People also use those same verses to confuse the idea of the Bible's "inspiration" with a bunch of things they want to see and maintain within it, even if many of those same things contradict Jesus. And this reminds us of something crucial: Regardless of how much we love the words found in the pages of scripture, apart from the revelation of the person of Jesus, we ultimately understand nothing they have to say, and do not benefit from them at all. And anyone who seeks to observe the entire counsel of scripture through the governing lens of Jesus should know that. We should know that Paul and Peter do not themselves trump Jesus. Those often-quoted and defensively-referenced passages that I mentioned above are just like everything else...
They are subject to Jesus, and only come into proper focus when seen through him.
In saying they are subject to Jesus, I am not saying they contradict Jesus... but I would argue that the ones who cling to someone like Paul in an unhealthy way certainly are making him contradict Jesus, because they're using him in a way which is out of harmony with the full story. They are preferring their own version of what they want Paul to mean, and ignoring Jesus in the process, rather than accepting what Jesus has to say first and foremost and allowing that to alter how they read Paul even a little bit... So we're not just dealing with "Biblianity," but "Paulianity" too.
Sadly, this mindset is so ingrained and so entrenched in so many of us today that a lot of people can read what I'm saying here and be entirely flabbergasted - absolutely adamant that I am "throwing scripture out" or "not believing Paul" - simply because I'm attempting to give Jesus the very "preeminence" (first place) that Paul himself says Jesus should have.
...It's weird, isn't it? And for some reason, it can be easy for us to forget someone like Paul's own journey. It can be easy to forget this simple, staggering reality:
Without the revelation of Jesus...
Paul is still Saul.
It really didn't matter how much he had cherished the scriptures up until that point. Saul literally knew every verse backwards and forwards, but apart from Jesus, everything he had known produced death and destruction in him. The eye is the lamp of the body, and Saul's eye? ...Well, it was no good. So Saul was full of darkness.
A lot of Christians have similar eyes... and thus, scripture produces in them the same death and destruction. The same darkness. I'd love to borrow from something Professor Trelawney says so brilliantly in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
"The heart that beats beneath your bosom is as shriveled as an old maid's, your soul as dry as the pages of the books to which you so desperately cleave."
We should engage scripture the way that Jesus did, and not the way the Pharisees did.
You'd think that would be a commonly agreed upon point for Evangelical Christians, but... alas. Unfortunately, this is something we have to point out and remind ourselves of. Regularly.
ALL THAT SAID, LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES.
This is just a glimpse of the thread which travels across two covenants telling the same story.
Ezekiel looked forward to it. John and Paul pointed back to it.
...Jesus was its very substance.
The Word made flesh, who gave us the Spirit, to manifest that same Word within us.
This is the great and ultimate truth the scriptures testify to.
They are not an end unto themselves.
To those born of Spirit, who have become the temple of God, and who can now perceive the Kingdom all around them... the scriptures are no longer an idol used to entrench us or keep us from having to change. As my friend Matt-the-poet said amazingly, "These words are not walls." They dance with God, and even bear the very breath of God... but they do not entrap God. They are a shadow - a reflection of the reality which is in Jesus alone.
So when people say something like, "You are the only Bible a person might ever read," they are absolutely right. But that shouldn't be stated as some sort of unfortunate, alternative way to have to salvage ministry - as though we already missed out on the more ideal way... or as though everything would be perfect if only we could force people into a room to make them read the Bible and sort things out. "You are the only Bible a person might ever read" is not a grudging, tragic concession being made for someone who misses out on something better. It is not a Plan B. It is the very promise and intent of the power of a new covenant. And as for those of us who still cling to scripture in unhealthy ways? Those of us who still force the Bible out in front of us, so it has that power all to itself?
We are not revealing how much we are
invested in the power or purpose of God.
We are only revealing that we simply
are not ready for this new covenant.
I don't think we can overstate this point, given what we see all around us in Christian culture. If scripture itself is to be trusted, then it's worth pointing out that not only is the Word of God Jesus, but even the ultimate embodiment of "scripture" includes us, and was always meant to. It's a natural part of being the place God dwells, isn't it? The prophets said this would happen. Jesus accomplished it. And Paul spoke it over the church 300 years before the Bible was even assembled...
You are the living letter of God.
And God is sending you out.
The way people send out paper and ink.
But you are flesh, written on by Spirit.
And so we find that what many people do not want to see in the Bible is anything which directs them beyond the Bible itself. This means that, really, what many of us are terrified of is that the Bible might actually serve its own purpose. You see, the scriptures seek to draw us to Jesus, and to our own full inclusion in him. They seek to show us how Ezekiel's hope could become Paul's reality, and to harmonize us with that same story. But it's almost this paradoxical thing, and it's certainly a mystical and beautiful truth to consider:
We cannot see the Bible for what it is until we are willing
to look beyond it, and to view it through the lens of Jesus.
Or, to put it another way:
The scriptures guide us to Christ so that
Christ can guide us through the scriptures.
And we do not honor them if we refuse to allow them to accomplish that purpose.
May all with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive be overcome with delight by what they hear, see, and receive.