Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Does the Bible really claim to be that middle part?

I believe that the Bible is sufficient to lead a person into a relationship with God through Christ that will save from sin and bring meaning and purpose to a life that will be eternally blessed. I don't know that I can tie that down to a single scripture, or even a concatenation of unrelated scriptures. Still, I believe it. It's a "big picture" kind of belief.

But I don't believe that the Bible is - or claims to be - the answer to every question about living for God that can come up in your life.

Is that heresy?

Some folks will quote John 16:13 and interpret that as meaning that He has revealed all truth, and there is no more truth. Does it say that?
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Hmm. It's a promise from Jesus to his closest friends - on His last night with them before being betrayed, tried, tortured and murdered - that the Spirit will "guide you into all truth." He doesn't say "reveal all truth to you." He doesn't say the Holy Spirit will "tell you everything that is yet to come." He doesn't promise them that the Spirit will reveal all of the answers to all of their questions about godly living, or church government, or acceptable worship. I don't see it.

Peter's opening praise to God in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:3) is sometimes excerpted to prove that New Testament scriptures provide us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Really?
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

I don't read anything about scripture there, nor above it, nor below it, to put the idea of "scripture" into the context of that verse. And while His divine power is revealed in scripture, it is not exclusively revealed there. It's also made plain through His creation (I'll proof-text right back with Romans 1:18-20). How else can you explain the exemplary behavior of so many people who have never heard of God, or who have never known enough about Him to believe? That's Paul's argument in his opening salvo to Rome: The proof of God's goodness is all around us!
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.


Now, I understand the appeal of sola scriptura. But I think we also need to admit the evidence that scripture introduces - God's nature as revealed through the inherent goodness of His creation. Truth can be discovered outside of scripture, from the ways in which creation might have taken place - to the encryptive process of the human genome; from the reasons I don't want to admit to myself that I hold certain beliefs/prejudices - to the depths of desperation felt by a person who loves God and his or her church family, but is starved with homosexual cravings.

Book, chapter and verse for those, anyone?

Folks might also quote 2 Timothy 3:16 as saying that scripture is all-sufficient in all matters.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

First off, the scripture Paul is referrring to would have to be the Old Testament; Timothy wouldn't have had the New (except, of course, the letter he was holding and maybe a couple of others), because he said Timothy had known it from his youth. So it's a stretch to say that he's referring to a canonized Bible. That aside, though - since when does the word "useful" or "profitable" mean "all-sufficient"?

Look, I'm not trying to be contentious here. I just don't want to try to make scripture say more than it's trying to say ... or to make it more than it is.

It's God's word. He chooses what and how much He wants to say.

Once again, let's be honest. Scripture leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Human logic can, in all good conscience, take the same passage and mean two very different things. But even human logic cannot defend the conclusion that because those things are different, one is automatically right and the other is automatically wrong.

Do we really have to dig into that thing about eating meats, especially if sacrificed to idols?

That was a question of conscience. The council at Jerusalem tried legislating it. As nearly as I can tell, legislating didn't work. In the end, it turned out to be something you could do in good conscience (it helped if you were a Gentile), but might have real difficulty doing with a clear conscience if you were a Jew.

Was the scripture available in century one all-sufficient to answer that question?

No; the situation required some spiritual guidance and some new scripture to be written. And in the end, Christians really just had to use the guidelines provided and sort it out for themselves.

They were forced to think about it, meditate on it, study existing scripture about it, do a logic-check on it, do a heart-check on it, pray about it, discuss it with each other and decide whether their own freedom of conscience - or tenderness of conscience - was restricting someone else's in an un-Christlike way. They were tempted to either insist on their own way as right, or they were inspired to accept others as different on the issue but still siblings in Christ.

You won't find that part of the story spelled out in scripture, will you?

It has to be a lot closer to the whole truth. You know it is.

Because now you're forced to think about it, meditate on it, study existing scripture about it, do a logic-check on it, do a heart-check on it, pray about it, discuss it with each other and decide.

Does the Bible claim to be all-sufficient when it comes to truth?

Is it possible that God shares His Spirit with us to guide us into all truth today because He intentionally left some blanks unfilled next to the test questions of our lives? (Just like He did for Job?) That some of those answers we need to work out together? That working them out together will bless us far more than insisting on the certainty of our positions?

I believe it's vitally important to all of us to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So help us, God.

15 comments:

mmlace said...

WOW.

Keith, I've been sitting here, reading, re-reading, skimming, studying relevant Bible passages, and just thinking about all you've said for about 30 minutes. So much content that I believe I'm still taking it all in. So much applicable content, that is, and very well-said.

So much that I believe you've said it all; I have nothing left but a "ditto" or a "what he said."

"Is it possible...that some of those answers we need to work out together? That working them out together will bless us far more than insisting on the certainty of our positions?

Absolutely, it is. I know, because I know how blessed I am by studying and discussing and working things out with my fellow (although not so much like-minded to me) brothers and sisters.

I also know how blessed I am by the thoughts that you share. Have I mentioned that lately??? Well, just in case I haven't...thanks. Much love in Him--Lacey

Alan Gable said...

Keith, man, good stuff. I don't know that I have a decent answer but I've got few thoughts. Here goes.
The Bible is a weird book. It speaks on vastly different subjects through various worldviews from different points in history and therefor speaks to different worldviews on different places on the historical and cultural timeline. In this way, it is kind of a book that grows as we grow. It feeds us along the way(like manna - only enough for a cetain amount of time. There will be more when you are ready tomorrow...) but there are some parts of it that may even be closed off to us until we get to a certain point in our lives. Kind of reminds me of a story. John 9, Jesus heals a blind dude with some mud (happened to be Sabbath). In verse 13, the Pharisees start badgering him (the blind guy) about all sorts of theology and the nature of his healer. "Who is this guy? Where is he from? Why doesn't he keep the Sabbath? Is he from God? etc. The formerly blind guy squares up to these powerful, famous guys and says something like "Look guys, I don't know anything more than you do but what I do know is that before I met him, I couldn't see and now I can. This guy changed my life."
Jesus later talks to the formerly blind guy and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. His response is great. "Tell me who he is and I'll believe whatever you say." Great story with a great lesson.
We church people complicate things. Biblical interpretation is important but it can get in the way. How many times do we sit back and say "I will follow Christ because he changed my life."? The blind dude knew much less about Jesus than you or I do but his faith was anchored by personal encounter, not diligent study of the scrolls or lengthy theological debates.

Is it possible that the truth of the Bible comes to us in waves rather than all at once? In other words, could it be all truth but only small digestable portions at a time? Is there scriptural basis for that line of thinking?

Keith Brenton said...

I think you're on to something, Alan ... at Pentecost, 3,000 people learned enough to commit their lives to Jesus. Chances are good, that - like Jesus' parable - they were all different kinds of soil, and in some the truth shriveled and some fell away. But in the rest, it grew.

It grew.

pegc said...

Thank you for your words and thoughts that exude wisdom. I appreciate so much what you said and I think I agree.

I say "think" because I am still digesting it. The part that hangs on me is that far too long I believe we have "worshipped" the scriptures instead of Jesus. Does that make sense?

In other words, we have held on so tightly to the scriptures, we have missed seeing Jesus. Reading what you have posted today helps me see that I can read scripture, but I worship Jesus. Thanks for the clarification.

Keith Brenton said...

Someone coined the word "bibliolatry" for what you describe, peg ... and I'm still a little sensitive about it because I think I was guilty of it for many years.

mmlace said...

Good to see you over here, Alan! Very ironic that you brought up the story from John 9, because last night in our discussion on "Ways to Be a Bad Christian" (based on Matt. 23) we took a long look at that particular story. In fact, I almost commented along those lines, but decided against it (mostly because it was late and I was sleepy). But since you brought it up...

We do tend to over-complicate things, searching diligently for answers that may not necessarily be there right then. I, as well, believe answers come in waves, we won’t always necessarily be able to understand everything right away. I also believe we sometimes spend time searching for answers to questions that just aren't as important. Chuck's comment was, "In reading this story, we see all this rigamarole, with questioning people and witnesses and skepticism. But do you get even the slightest inkling that anyone was happy" that the dude's life was changed???

What’s so amazing about the fact that the Bible is weird is the fact that it still remains applicable. The things that mattered most to God then still matter most to Him now. Even when Jesus is not quoting scripture, it’s interesting to note the parallels of things that He said to the things that His Spirit said in the Old Testament. He reveals the most pressing matters of truth to us. He teaches us more truth along the way as we grow, some from His word, and some, I believe, from life experience. Other truths, we may never be able to understand in this life (Is. 55:9)

JP Manzi said...

Keith, you are one heck of a thinker. Thank you for putting the bible in it's proper place. John 21:25 comes to mind with this post.

Keith, I ran into so much trouble in my own faith life with "bibliolatry". Thats a good word to describe the problem

Paula Harrington said...

Well, I was reading the first part of the post and kept telling myself, "Please don't let him say but. Please don't let him say but" then you said

But I don't believe that the Bible is - or claims to be - the answer to every question about living for God that can come up in your life.

How can you not believe that the Bible is/has the answer to every question about living for God? If the answer isn't in the Bible then is it up to us-fallible beings with selfish desires?

I'm not trying to be difficult or disrespectful but do hope you'll help me to understand what it is you're saying.

Respecfully,
Paula Harrington

Keith Brenton said...

Paula,
Believe me, in many ways it would make life easier for me if I could just flip to 27th Philipedes chapter 1,457 verse 35,278 and read, "Thou shalt not have powerpoints in worship depicting the driving of nails into my Son's hands or feet, for even though such images will break the hearts of some of my children, they will turn others away in disgust rather than remorse."

And that, I believe, is about how big the Bible would have to be in order to give us all of the answers to life's questions.

There are just a LOT of things that are intrinsically neither right nor wrong, and we don't need to pretend that they are or that the Bible is going to spell them out.

I am sad that I disappointed you, but I'm not going to lie to you about what I believe.

shannon said...

As always, well done!!!

brian said...

"a person who loves God and his or her church family, but is starved with homosexual cravings."

would you know what to say to help/encourage a heterosexual in the same situation?

as for the powerpoint example, what about these verses? Phill 2:3-4; 1 Cor 13, etc

just recently found this quote by jerome...
"Knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ and ignorance of scripture is ignorance of him."

mmlace said...

Brian, I agree with that quote, but would you say that knowing scripture is knowing everything that there is to know about Christ and knowing him completely???

Keith Brenton said...

brian, thanks for your thoughts.

The gender craving in my example is actually irrelevant, except to those who are suffering it. My point was that this internal conflict is not one that the Bible specifically addresses.

And people, quoting Scripture, will in good conscience interpret it in all kinds of ways.

Example:

I find your first citation to say "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." I think we all know what I Corinthians 13 says. These are great principles.

You and I might apply them very differently. If a certain image breaks your heart, would you apply Philippians 2:3-4 to mean that you should not include it? If it repulses you, would you apply the same scripture to mean that you should include it?

If so, then the inclusions of that image is neither intrinsically right nor wrong -which is what I was trying to describe as a possibility in the text of my post.

Someone else might fasten on the Ten Commandments and declare that any graven image at all is evil. Yet another might seee passages in Galatians at giving us complete freedom in such matters.

My question remains: Does the Bible claim to encompass all truth? Does it claim to be the answer to every question about living for God?

brian said...

mmlace
I definitely believe our personal experiences of walking with Christ create the intimacy He wants, but I think jerome's proverb is a pretty good statement.

keith,
maybe I was distracted by your examples. I appreciate your discussion on the problem.

but with the examples of differing uses of scripture to make a decision, the Bible isn't at fault either way. There are a lot of things we won't and can't know, but I would suggest the problem usually isn't with the Word but with our limited and selfish understanding and usage.
another monkey wrench is conscience, if someone thinks something is sinful, for them it is and God will judge them for doing it.

anyway, I am rambling. you bring up some good thoughts.

the main disagreement I would throw out is that we might work together to come to a solution which is wrong if we start with the assumption that the Bible doesn't have authority, was guided by God, and isn't able to answer today's questions.

I personally think God left the blanks to see how we would treat each other, and that's why I quoted those two of the numerous options.

another trap though, in addition to treating each other poorly, is not seeking out God's Truth/Will because we don't think we will find anything conclusive, or shouldn't

Matthew said...

Thanks for the outlook. Check out the blog at www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org