ICYMI (that’s “In Case You Missed It”, for those of you who are not millennials or otherwise well-versed in the ways millennials express themselves via texting and social media), Andy Stanley is currently preaching a series entitled “Who Needs God“. One particular message in the series argues that the historical event of the Resurrection, and not the Bible, is the foundation of the Christian faith.
Predictably, the evangelical blogosphere went nuclear. People came flying out of the woodwork, with this piece by pastor and seminary professor David Prince being among the most widely shared, to denounce Stanley as an old-fashioned theological liberal. Others came to Stanley’s defense, arguing that he was making an apologetic point, helping skeptics to approach the idea of biblical authority in a new way.
This exposes one of evangelicalism’s deepest and most underlying flaws: a view of the inspiration of Scripture that would be much more at home in Islam or Mormonism than anything remotely resembling biblical Christianity. It treats the Bible as a “magic book” containing automatic, infallible expert knowledge on every subject it addresses (it has to be, since it came from God and anything coming from God is perfect in every way, just as He Himself is perfect in every way).
This view of biblical inspiration expects and demands that the Bible be something it was never meant to be. It denies the basic humanity of the biblical writers, and it denies the complexity of the biblical work itself. It denies that the biblical writers were people of a specific time and place, living within specific cultures and writing to speak to issues and people within their own specific cultures, who had other priorities than to provide us with something that would stand up to our expectations of what a holy book ought to look like.
If questions like “Were there dinosaurs on the ark?” or “Was the world created in six literal days?” are sufficient to derail the Christian faith, then the Christian faith should never in a million years have made it out of first-century Jerusalem. That such questions are being asked at all, indicates that we don’t get what the Bible is and what it ought to be.
The Bible was intended to point us to Jesus Christ, who is the basis of our faith. It gives us reliable accounts of his life and resurrection from the dead; the authors of these accounts would have had no good reason to make any of this stuff up. If the Jesus we believe in is a lie and a fabrication simply because there weren’t dinosaurs on the ark or the world wasn’t created in six literal days or the battle of Jericho didn’t go down like it says in the book, then there is no reason why Christianity should have survived the first three centuries of its existence. This is a time when it was incredibly dangerous to be a Christian. People routinely gave up their very lives, many in excruciatingly horrific fashion, for their faith. Do you think for a minute that they would have died for a Jesus who could be shown to be a fabrication if there weren’t dinosaurs on the ark or if the battle of Jericho didn’t go down like it says in the book?
The earliest Christians were willing to die for their faith because they saw the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes, or because they believed the accounts of people who did. It is this Jesus who is the basis of our faith. If this Jesus could be shown to be a fabrication because the accounts which document his life and resurrection are housed in a book which contains what we would consider to be inconsistencies, then our faith should never in a million years have made it out of first-century Jerusalem.
The Bible did not come down to earth. It was not conceived of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. It did not die on a Roman cross so that my sins might be forgiven and I might have eternal life.
The Bible did not rise from the dead three days later. It did not ascend into heaven and it does not sit at the right hand of the Father.
The Bible will not come in glory to judge the living and the dead and to rule a kingdom that will have no end.
The Bible exists to point us to Jesus Christ, who did all of the above and more.
The Bible is a collection of books written by several different authors in several different places. It has a bewildering diversity of perspectives but is held together by one unifying theme: Jesus Christ is Lord. He came to earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and he is coming again at the end of the age. It is he, not the Bible, that is the center of our Christian faith.