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August 22, 2006

Comments

Brian T. Murphy

no. I certainly don't believe that about the bible. and I'd trade a bible for a human any day.

Whitney

OK--so I had this lengthy explanation of how Owen has his wires crossed here, but then it led me to realize that he's actually right. But people trading kids to keep a printed Bible is just one more way humans screw things up.

We should follow what scripture says about placing God's truth in our hearts, writing it like words on a tablet, setting it deeply within us so that we will be transformed by its power and also be able to tell it to others. God gave us his very breath written down (miracle!) in order to do that.

But to assume that ink markings on a page are the sole form, or conduit, for this is extremely short-sighted. Do followers of Christ not have his Spirit? Are we not exhaling God through the power of the Spirit? Is it not like a fire burning in us giving off smoke full of the aroma of Christ?

Trade a person to keep a Bible? People, listen, God is much more mysterious and miraculous and flippin' awesome than gold-edged pages that rip if you turn them too fast. Keep God's word in your heart. Keep a Bible at hand so you can keep learning it.

It reminds me of something I learned from C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters." Satan loves to distract us with props so we don't realize we're missing true connection with God. Whatever copy of scriptures you prefer--be it leather-bound, a duct-taped cover, those cloth covers with handles and floral designs (*shudder*), etc.--just be sure that you're not caught up in "your Bible" instead of being caught up in God.

Matt Adair

BTM - I told you it sounded crazy.

Whitney - I told you it sounded crazy, too.

A couple of thoughts: one, we need to be careful to not be chronological snobs, placing our enlightened selves above those poor stupid people living in the past. History lesson - the Middle Ages had essentially taken away the Word of God from the people of God (and yes, while God does give us the Spirit, he 'normally' speaks to us through the Scriptures) as technology and the Church had kept the Scriptures from the people. Imagine having never heard God speak to you in your native tongue and never having a printed copy in your possession - once you get it, what would you trade for it?

Second, one of the reasons I posted this is because my estimation of much of southern American Christianity is that we really don't believe the Bible is worth much of anything. Call it post-Enlightenment rebellion or Gnosticism redux, but we honestly don't believe that the Scriptures really play much part in making us like Jesus. We might spiritualize it (literally, by divorcing the Spirit from the Word) or relativize it (by minimizing the message of the Scriptures), but when it's all said and done, our view of the Scriptures and the Church ('We don't need 'em) is contrary to not only history but to the Word of God itself.

The issue here isn't whether or not we have a printed NIV Action Bible for Dyslexic Moms of Left-Handed Boys. The issue to me is, if we don't have the words of God contained in the Old and New Testament, what will we know of Jesus and what impact will that have on us as people searching for hope in a jacked-up world?

Whitney

Chronological snobs suck, for sure. But there's still something to be said for learning from the errors of previous generations. I still say supplanting the importance of God with printed versions of his word isn't justifiable, not for Gutenberg or anybody else.

But, since you're pushing for use of a different lens altogether, it's kind of a moot point. If I understand your question correctly, then it's like looking for others ways of connecting to God besides the Bible--is that right? I mean, you ask "what will we KNOW of Jesus" (my emphasis), which might be a different question... but maybe not.

They're age-old examples, but what about the thief on the cross next to Jesus? Or people who followed God before scripture was ever written down? Where were the words of God contained then? In his people. Right? I mean, maybe I'm off frolicking in left field, but it seems to me that God is not on the pages of my Bible. He's in my heart, whispering to my soul, and opening my spirit as I read words in the Bible. Plus, it's not like God physically picked up a pen and jotted down the Old and New Testaments. He's always used people as a conduit including the writing of the Bible. So if we don't have the words of God, we will know Jesus through other people. He left us witnesses as a provision for this until Gutenberg's invention of movable type. He set eternity in the hearts of men (which I still don't fully grasp the meaning of, but it seems to fit here). He gave us the beauty of nature as proof of his greatness. Genesis chapter 1 is a poem that was passed down again and again describing the beginnings of earth to explain the role of creation in showing who God is. When we speak to God in earnest and with faith, he is pleased to respond; his response helps us know him. I don't know--it just seems like these are all ways to know Jesus besides reading the Bible.

My question is: why do you ask?

Matt Adair

Whitney - The question of how do we know God is obviously a rather massive question. What I do find interesting is that even in a time that depended upon oral tradition because people either couldn't read or had no access to the written Word, the Scriptures never waver from an importance of the necessity of the Word of God in people's justification and sanctification (to use the 25-cent words). In other words, both history and the Scriptures seem to point to a reality in which specific words from God (which He has given to us in the Old and New Testaments) are necessary for our salvation. My concern here really isn't whether the words are in print or passed down through story, my concern is that we have little confidence in these specific words from God to redeem and renew us.

Here's why I'm asking all of this (or at least part of the reason). While I was on my study leave in Birmingham, I spent most of my time reading on the sociology, psychology and theology of the suburbs. Why? Because that's where I minister and because while I wholeheartedly applaud efforts to minister in city centers, over half of Americans live in the suburbs and pretty much no one's talking about what it looks like to follow Jesus in our specific context.

Those who have written on suburbia all give a pretty accurate description of the realities of suburbia, particularly with its false hopes of consumerism, choice, and isolationism. Not much argument there - people in suburbia are obsessed with control and therefore demand choices in everything and will consume goods and services like Robert Prusa goes through free BBQ, craving community but driving straight home from work and pulling into their 2-car garage which shuts behind them and isolates them from their neighbor. As we've pretty much all figured out, that kind of life pretty much sucks. It offers alot but doesn't deliver much.

So the question becomes, how do you respond to this general sense of angst over this thing you call a life? Interestingly enough, because God has indeed set eternity in our hearts, we all respond to our pain by reacting to God - even those of us who are atheists. Some of us go epicurean and treat life like one big Mardi Gras, acting like God's dead and we're in control of our lives. Others of us turn into moralists and try to control God by living a good life which obligates him to do what we want. Either way, by breaking the law or keeping the law, we're still simply trying to gain control of our worlds. So in any suburban neighborhood, you have good church folk living next to the family who couldn't give a flying spider monkey about Jesus. And while they both look really different, they're really very much the same - they're both trying to control God.

Christianity must serve as an alternative lifestyle to both religion/moralism and irreligion/relativism. All of the books that I've read on being the people of God in suburbia have proposed a spirituality that is, by and large, devoid of the scriptures. Everything is contemplative and mystical, searching for the 'still, small voice of God,' while ignoring the rather clear words He has given us from Genesis - Revelation.

I guess what it comes down to for me is this: I wonder if some of our struggle to make sense of life here on earth has to do with the fact that we have so little confidence in God's unique word in the Scriptures. When you read the stories of those who have gone before us, there does seem to be a ballast to their lives that we seem to lack in our world. And much of that ballast seems to be the place of the Scriptures in their lives. So I'm just wondering if maybe the Scriptures, as the lens through which we see Jesus, might be a better vehicle for redemption and renewal in our world then we've thought.

Whitney

You and I have very different points of view--it's nice to see things from where someone else sits. I truly didn't understand where you were coming from until you told me the why behind it. I've never lived in the suburbs or been a "suburbanite," so this is all news to me. I came to Christ in an environment where Christians clung to scripture especially through QT or TAWG or JLMT (Jesus Loves Me Time...ok, I just made that one up)--bascially the spiritual discipline of scripture reading/studying. It swung closer to the moralist/religious side of things. So for me it's more of a challenge to answer your question the way you posed it than to answer the one you really seem to be asking: Why aren't people trying to know Jesus through scripture?

Not that I am the most diligent Bible-reader, but I can't answer your question for two reasons. 1) I've had too little experience with people who do NOT view scripture as a vehicle for redemption and renewal. And 2) I've learned too much about the power of God's word in my own life to discount it that way. The only place I guess I've seen this happening is with some postmodern discussions about topics like homosexuality where people's desire for tolerance leads them to relativistic interpretations of scripture.

On second thought, a very recent debate in my church has brought up a related question for me regarding scripture. We've been discussing hierarchal, complementary, and egalitarian church polity ($5 words I learned yesterday at our Owner's Night meeting). Vintage21 operates as a complementarian eldership where only men can be elders. Women can serve in every other leadership position. During the meeting last night, church owners were free to express differing viewpoints whether hierarchal or egalitarian with the understanding that nobody would object to their continued ownership of Vintage21 church. My question then is: how do you move forward in ministry with differing opinions on how the church is governed? It's pretty much the challenge that now faces our community because that is what we plan to do. Thoughts?

Matt Adair

Whitney - Ah, the joys of communicating via the interweb net thingy that Al Gore has given us. Thank you, Mr. Almost President.

First of all, I love that Vintage21 had an Owner's Night. Great stuff. We're doing one here at Christ Church on Friday. We won't deal with this particular issue - our issues will probably be more petty.

If you put two people in a room for more than five minutes, they're going to disagree. So whenever you get a group of people together, fireworks can erupt because every decision you make is not going to be liked by someone. So think of the person who is closest to you in belief and conviction about how to do life and ministry and you'll find at least one point of difference between you.

Yet you continue to go on together. Why? Because Jesus frees you to give rather than get. If you have everything that you need in Jesus (and that is NOT a cliche), then who really gives a hoot about the color of the carpet or whether you use a full drum kit on Sundays or if one of your elders has a tattoo (one of ours has two, by the way - full disclosure). The vast majority of the disagreements in the church are over matters of personal preference, where your theology and philosophy of ministry aren't at stake. Therefore you should defer to the rule of law in your particular church (I know that term sounds harsh) - in this case, the elders of the church have both the burden and authority to determine what goes on and who does what, so if you want to swing from the Vintage21 rope, you've got to swing the way they want you to.

Your specific example is a bit different because in my estimation, it is both a theological and philosophical difference. And by different, I mean that it seems to be more weighty than whether the pastor wears a lapel mic or one of those almost-invisible headset mics. Again, in matters of theology and philosophy, the elders of the church make the ultimate call and it's up to the individual member/owner to determine whether they can maintain 'the purity and peace' of the church by not teaching or advocating their particular view. For instance, our church is Calvinistic in its articulation of salvation and we have members who don't hold to those views, but have agreed to not teach their views or be divisive.

I'd encourage someone who disagreed in this area to:
1. Do their best to articulate and persuade their elders to see their view on the particular issue.
2. If the elders do not move from their position and have stated it in writing, search the scriptures and continue in dialogue until you come to a conclusion.
3. If you remain in disagreement with the elders, determine whether you can continue to submit to their leadership.
4. If so, continue to enjoy your community and the beauty of diversity.
5. If you find that you cannot abide by the elders' decision, you should let them know and approach them with both grace and humility. Continued dialogue may get you on the same page or it might lead to going your separate ways. The goal in such a situation should be to maintain catholicity and charity, even where disagreement prevents full and complete union and fellowship.

That was free. You get what you pay for.

Whitney

Matt- Thanks for answering that thoroughly and clearly. It just so happens that I agree with Vintage21's complementarian views (though I'd never known that was the word for what I thought), but I was concerned for those in our church who disagree. Your reply echoes what our two elders (Tyler and Matt) said at last night's meeting. It's how this will play out in particulars that worries me. And worry is really too strong of a word--it makes me curious more than anything.

Yeah, Owner's Night is a monthly thing. In the past these meetings have brought up less volatile issues--freedom in worship, using your spiritual gifts, and what-not. But I've never experienced such a healthy, family-style conversation as I saw last night. Emotions and passionate struggling were present, but so was a lot of honesty and genuine care from all sides. It makes me hopeful for how Vintage21 will continue from here. Here's to Christ Church's meeting on Friday being just as successful.

Michael Vestal

Let me say, I didn't finish reading some of the later comments. However, if i get the jist of (at least the earlier) comments, then I'd have to appreciate Matt's challenging position and agree with him.

Whitney, the best idea i've had in the two minutes i've invested is that if Bunyan and Owen (and others from the era) had all agreed with you, we might not have even our theoretical dilemma. God could have chosen other ways to bring the Scriptures back His people, but apparantly this was His way then-- that these men would be willing to give up everything else that they might cling to His Word and make it available to others. If they (Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Bunyan, Owen, etc.) had given up the Scriptures, who would have translated them out of Latin, printed them, distributed them, taught them (w/out continually sound teaching the Protestant Reformation could have been nothing more than anarchy against Rome)?

Sure, no one particular copy of any one particular English translation might be that crucial today, but we very well might not have anything but a Catholic church that occasionally cracked open their own private copy of the Vulgate over in the small nation in the middle of Rome (or who knows what European nations would look like?), if these men hadn't seen the vital importance of the Church having and appreciating, learning, studying, teaching and discussing the Word.

We are to live according to God's principles revealed in the Word, including valuing human life and loving other people at dear costs. But to presume we'd now be okay if the Scriptures were taken away from us seems to be a dangerous self-confidence that doesn't see the need for some firm, authoritative revelation of God and Truth. Many certainly would doubt that any such absolutely reliable source exists and many more would not see the importance of it, since Christians "know it all" now. But since each of us are still being sanctified, not perfect yet, there is still the possibility (that would inevitablly) occur-- we'd begin making small then bigger errors in our teaching of Christians doctrine, but really in our understanding of Who God is. Without the Scripture there would be reliable, faithful, authoritative rule of faith and practice. We'd quickly be adrift.

Michael

So, i read the later comments, too (always a good thing to do), and realize mine were more out-of-date to the discussion, but maybe Matt will appreciate the kudos.

Sorry, Whitney.

Matt Adair

Michael - it's a few days late, but I am touched by your kudos. Glad to see you on here, man - hope things are off to a great start at Tech.

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