In his essay, “God and the Bible,” in the volume The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures Peter F. Jensen, responds to proposition that the Scripture is a word about God. Or, he quotes Brunner, “The spoken word is an indirect revelation when it bears witness to the real revelation: Jesus Christ, the personal self-manifestation of God, Emmanuel.” To respond to this challenge, states the issue as whether the “classical position” that the words of Scripture are the word of God; or, is there a way in which we can, by means of the Spirit, come to Christ effectively bypassing the words in the book?
There is a profound temptation here to want not some words but a person. Indeed, when phrased in that way, the “classical position” sounds foolish and misguided. I will not recount his argument here, which is well-structured and persuasive. He effectively demonstrates that there is no gospel without holding fast to the “classical position.” I cannot do that argument justice without simply repeating what he wrote.
What do wish to underscore here is the nature of the temptation to go-around the text. The desire to go around the text seems to have two roots as referenced by Jensen. First, there is the matter of idolatry; an argument which he traces to Tyndale. Second, he locates the movement in a desire for autonomy.
Jensen notes that our forebearers sought for “godliness” by means of obedience (see page 494), while we moderns speak of “spirituality”. But a desire for “spirituality” can easily become a guise for autonomy. We are dependent creatures who must have a clear rule to be obedient. “ A human life lived without the rule of God would be like a game of tennis without a net.” (495).
But I would like to venture an observation on idolatry and the textual nature of Christianity. Idolatry is a desire for a god whom we can control; an object of technology and desire. The god created is a god whom conforms to my desire.
I am in place one. My desire is place two; but reality is place three. I use the god of my idolatry to coerce reality to conform to my present desire.
When one claims a spirituality which supersedes the text and goes-around the text, and does not need the text; then my desires will become the “prompting of the Spirit.” Getting what I want will be the will of Christ. It is the strategy which underlies so much doctrinal change (as if a vote of some denominational leaders had the power to rewrite the Bible).
Words are a brake on hazy thinking and deceitful desires. I am well-aware of the strategies to subvert a text and to torture words into saying what I like. That is it’s own conversation.
And yes, there can be difficult questions. But so little of the trouble in life comes from the difficult questions about the Bible. The “you can make it say whatever you want” dodge is written by people who have no idea what the text says. That is merely a dodge for one who wants to ignore the text.
The words of the text stand athwart our desire to create our own god. We have to play deceitfully with the words to justify our own deceitful desires. A “modern” stance which simply seeks a make-believe Jesus on the basis of a “Spirit” which is remarkably consistently with my personal inclinations at the moment (sometimes this shows up when a Christian embarks on a path of disobedience and justifies it on the basis that he feels “peace about it.”)
The pattern laid out in Scripture, from Adam on, is God speaks and we obey. Our obedience is bound up with both our knowledge of God and our love of God. Paul, in Romans writes of the “obedience of faith.” But, “such a piety of obedience clashes deeply with our Western contemporaries to promote human autonomy as the highest aspiration.” (493). And hence, the desire to subvert the text.
As for the entire book, highly recommended. This is a remarkably comprehensive work on the authority of Scripture at over 1200 pages; Jensen providing one of the many essays. Please do not confuse any limitations in my writing with the very fine work done by Jensen in his essay.