The biggest problem in Christianity today is that we try to obey the Bible too much.
I know, I know. Most pastors and Bible teachers say exactly the opposite, that the problem with Christianity today is that we don’t obey the Bible enough.
But I disagree. I believe we try to obey the Bible more than we should, with the result being that we almost completely disobey God.
As we continue to look at the issue of inerrancy, we have seen that the Bible does not contain errors, but that this idea has led many people to read the Bible wrongly. When we understand how the Bible functions, why the Bible was written, and how the Bible is true, we see that the Bible was not written to us, but is a book which shows us what people of God have done in the past, and how this affected God’s mission in the world. Even the accounts of Jesus were not written so that we can follow His example blindly, but so that we can live in our day, and our time, and be Jesus to the people around us, NOT try to be like Jesus as He was 2000 years ago.
But when we misunderstand the purpose of the inerrancy of Scripture, we think that the Bible is without error so that we can have an infallible and perfect guide for how to live our life now. We read what people did in Scripture, and what God commanded them to do, and we think that we must do the same thing today.
Tragically, this sort of living actually causes us to disobey God rather than obey Him.
So how are we to live? How are we to read the Bible? Here are two suggestions:
Be Jesus to the World
This is basically what I said yesterday. All Scripture points to Jesus, and so the point and purpose of Scripture is not necessarily to give us a list of commands to follow, or a list of doctrines to belive, but rather, to inform and guide our lives so that as individuals and as communities, we can look more like Jesus today. Again, we are not to look, act, and talk like Jesus did 2000 years ago, but as the living, incarnated, present representation of Jesus in the world today, we are to look and act and talk the way Jesus looks and acts and talks today.
We are not just “followers of Jesus;” we are Jesus. We are not just to represent Jesus to the world; we are Jesus to the world. We are not just to teach the world about Jesus, are to show the world who Jesus is by are actions and behaviors.
Everything in the Old Testament, I believe, is people trying to figure out how to look like Jesus (even though they didn’t know His name). They were trying to work out in their daily lives what it meant to be the people of God on earth.
When Jesus came, He showed us perfectly what it looks like to be Jesus on earth at that time.
After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the early church continued the task of trying to be Jesus in the world, making the necessary adjustments to both their beliefs and their behaviors (believing and doing some things that Jesus never taught or did), to fit with the different needs of different cultures and different situations. Many of the letters of Paul, Peter, and John are about this very things – a fledgling church trying to flesh out how to live and look like Jesus in the various situations they found themselves.
But once Scripture was no longer being written (we will look at this subject later), the need to figure out how to be Jesus in every new situation did not stop. All the questions were not answered. All the needs were not addressed. So it is our job now to read Scripture as a way of informing our future directions and goals as we attempt to be Jesus in the world.
Reading Scripture to Guide our Future
I know I have said that Scripture is not our “guide.” But in a way it is. It is not a guide so that we get instructions from it on exactly what to do in every situation, but it is a guide that tells us what others in the past have done, and how it worked out for them, and sometimes, what God thought of what they did. Scripture is an example for us of how others tried to be Jesus in the world, and Scripture includes both their successes and their failures.
So we read Scripture not to learn to do exactly what they did, but as a way to inform our own decisions about how to be Jesus in the world today. I have written of this before, but it is as N. T. Wright has suggested in his paper, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?” Scripture is like the first three acts in a four-act play, and we are the actors in the fourth act, for which there is no script. What should we say? How should we behave? How can we finish the play?
We must not simply repeat verbatim the lines and scenes from Act III. That would be easiest (and what most Christians are trying to do today), but would not make a good ending to the play, and is in fact, not what the author of the play intended. No, the only thing we can do is read and learn and discuss the first three acts, and then, based our understanding of those three acts, the plot structure up that point, the way the characters act, and how we think the conflict might resolve, improvise the fourth act to the best of our ability.
Again, here is the little graph I made the other day which may help visualize this. The part between the dotted lines are the Three Acts of the Bible. We are in Act 4 to the right. The story line is continuing, and we must use the text of Acts 1-3 to help us live within the “Will of God” for Act 4.
But don’t worry about messing up your lines. As we learned in the study of inspiration, we’re not on the stage all by ourselves. Every so often, we get cues whispered in to us from the wings, and occasionally, a prop miraculously appears which helps move the story along. The Director is directing, even though, because of the spotlights, we cannot see him sitting there in the front row.
So to “obey the Bible” we have to stop blindly obeying the Bible, and instead, allow it to push us in the trajectory, or continue in the storyline, that is found within the Bible. That is the only way to faithfully uphold the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture.