It is a sign of desperation: Those who indefensibly deny the plenary authority of scripture as the written Word of God inevitably proclaim – when all their other arguments fail – that you are making the Bible your god or elevating the Bible to the level of divinity.
Lately, I’ve been hearing this more and more from those who believe their personal narrative and perceptions about Jesus are more authoritative and higher revelation than His written Word.
They proclaim “Christ is All”, but their “all” ignores much of who Christ has revealed Himself to be in scripture. (See The Problem with “All”.)
I do not worship scripture or elevate scripture to the “level of divinity”. I do elevate it to the level of divine authority, because it is the external Word of God Himself – and thus supersedes all subjective claims of personal or private revelation.
The external, written Word of the King carries the authority of the King. Your narrative about the King or claims about your perception of the King do not.
A Fractured Jesus
When scripture becomes secondary to someone’s overarching narrative or personal perception of the King, under the guise that our existential experience of the Person of the King is the only relevant and authoritative revelation we need, then we fall into inevitable error.
In essence, they divorce the Person of the King (His relational attributes) from everything else that He has chosen to reveal through His external written Word – and end up with a fractured Jesus.
The external Word of the King certainly reveals much about the Person of King, but it also authoritatively reveals other aspects of the King – including the things the existentialists want to de-emphasize, like His commands, His objectives, His law, His moral precepts, and the like.
They want to emphasize the existential, relational aspects of Jesus, but de-emphasize or outright reject the propositional (truth and external standards) aspects of Jesus.
You see, I agree that all scripture points to Jesus. I just disagree that Jesus is only existential.
The Fulness of Christ
To be clear, Jesus relates to us existentially – in other words, relationally and subjectively. I thrill at the ongoing, subjective presence of God in my life. But He is so much more!
I existentially relate to the Person of the King, and also to all that has He has externally revealed about Himself, His creation, His commands, His morality, His rule, and His Kingdom.
Because I want all of Jesus, I submit my vitally important experience and relationship with Him to the external standards He chose to reveal in His written Word. (This is known as the plenary authority of scripture.)
Those who say it is only about the Person of Jesus, without embracing all the rest of Him, do a great disservice to the Body of Christ. That is why they dismiss the plenary authority of scripture – they want to create an existential narrative that imposes their own image of Christ on the rest of us.
In doing so, they create a new legalism and often become dismissive of all who do not conform to the Jesus they’ve created in their own image. And so they say they are “beyond” the rest of the Body of Christ, and other such nonsense.
They also say that embracing other aspects of who Jesus is and what He commands is a “distraction” from the Person of Christ – thus trying to foist their fractured Jesus on the rest of us. (See Beyond Evangelical, Part 3.)
Without the plenary authority of scripture, we are left with extreme existentialism. Christ becomes whatever and whomever you want Him to be, as you, your subjectivity, and your own perceptions come the supreme authority.
The result is always – always – an anemic, insular “faith” and anemic, insular fellowships.
Let’s affirm the freedom to know and enjoy the fulness of Christ, both existentially and as He has chosen to authoritatively and externally reveal Himself to be – including His commands, His moral precepts, His sovereign rule, and His resolute objectives which are bigger than just you and your subjective sensibilities and perceptions of Him.
Let’s embrace the multifaceted, mult-gifted Body of Christ which Jesus reveals in scripture.
Anything less is death.
I know that offends some, but an existential theology which promotes a fractured Jesus is a danger to the Body of Christ.
Stop the Whining
If you really think “Christ” (as you perceive Him) can be severed from His written Word, that scripture is not the written Word of God, or that it has no plenary authority over your existential narrative about the Person of Christ, then stand your ground and defend yourselves.
Otherwise, stop the whining, the cries of “persecution” and “division”, the protests that such views must be valid because those who promote them are charming and were nice to you, the claims that you have a “high view” of scripture while dismissing its plenary authority, and other disingenuous arguments that seek to deflect folks from your core theology and its disastrous consequences. (See Organic Dead Ends.)
Let me repeat that: Stop the whining. Stop the cries of “persecution” and “division”. Stop the disingenuous arguments that seek to deflect folks from your true beliefs.
In other words, own your stuff. If you wrote or endorsed it, you own it – pure and simple. And please, please, stop denying the clear meaning of your words to now back pedal when challenged. If you didn’t mean it, openly and publicly retract it.
Otherwise, face up the fact that it is proper for others to dare question you, to hold you accountable to Biblical standards, and to expose the disastrous “fruit” your existentialism has produced among God’s precious people and our surrounding culture.
This is a needed debate. Now is the time to have it.
- Beyond Scripture? (Part 2) (crossroadjunction.com)
- Beyond Scripture? (Part 3) (crossroadjunction.com)
- Plenary Authority (crossroadjunction.com)
You’ve captured the essence of thought of what I have been trying to say for some time now. I come at this at a slightly different angle, but I think you’re right. Jesus is fractured and fragmented when we attempt to Abide in Him only and not also in His words. John 15:7
I love it. I’m getting tired of Pastors claiming new revelation when what they practice does not line up with scripture.
I am thankful you have been able to articulate much of what I have been thinking, but just could not put into words.
Jim, Excellent article but Jesus said it best in John 17;17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. John 17:17 (KJV)
Rick, those who deny that scripture is the written Word of God would say that “word” in that passage is referring to Jesus. Although Jesus is the Word made flesh, and is twice referred to as the “Word of God” in the New Testament, they are simply wrong in denying the numerous other Biblical references to scripture as the written Word of God.
The way they twist every verse – like this one – shows the extremes they will go to in promoting their existential theology. I’ll have more to say about this in a follow up blog.
This may be grasping at straws here, but do you think the whole “accept Jesus as your PERSONAL Savior” mindset has something to do with this reshaping of Jesus to conform to OUR image? An idea of a personal Savior is not in the Bible. At least not straight up. Israel seemed to have a relationship with God as a people, not necessarily individually. It seems when we reduce Jesus to just a personal Savior, He’s not seen as Lord of nations. I think he is both, but this existential movement seems to forget the latter. Perhaps if we start understanding the latter, this country can truly repent as a nation and we will see a Great Awakening again.
Jodi, I think there’s much truth in what you say. The truth that Jesus relates to us personally has been taken out of balance, to the exclusion of all the other ways He relates to us and His creation. Thanks.
Great Blog, Jim. Glad I found you.
Interesting read. I agree with the substance of what your saying, but not the spirit. It seems like an inquisition rather than an attempt to build up the body of Christ.
Jason, I understand your concerns. But those who subordinate the written Word of God to their own existentialism preach another gospel, and undercut the Body of Christ.
Here’s something I just read from 1984 which is prophetic and timely still today: http://www.bible-researcher.com/schaeffer1.html. I highly recommend it. As you will see, the concerns I raise are not new.
Thanks for linking to the article. It has a much better spirit behind it. A spirit that seems concerned without attacking. For me personally its hard to receive something from someone who seems more angered about something rather than passion for something. Again agree on the substance but not the spirit behind it.
You mention another gospel. What do you think was the gospel Paul preached? Do you think your thoughts line up with his gospel?
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Good question. I’m probably not the best judge of that. I’ve followed the debate between N.T. Wright (no relation) and guys like John Piper over Paul’s understanding of the Gospel, and read some of their related books. I think it’s interesting, but way too nuanced to be practical. But I do find that among a community of believers who start with the plenary authority of scripture – which includes Paul’s epistles – consensus on what is truly important often comes easily.
I am actually very laid back on many of the traditional “doctrinal” points of division – Armenian vs. Reformed, eschatology, and the like. I have my views, but don’t see them as essential. For example, you won’t finding me pushing stuff like that on my blog. We have a wide spectrum of views on such non-essentials in our fellowships, and we are totally at ease with each other.
Most of what I am passionate about are things that I have found, as one who has helped start a number of fellowships, to be essential from a practical standpoint – and thus foundational – for healthy fellowships and the full expression of the multifaceted, multi-gifted Body of Christ. I am equally passionate in opposition to those who thwart this.
On the plenary authority of scripture, and it’s relevance to healthy fellowships, I do find that to be an essential of the faith and essential for healthy ekklesia. Our fellowships concur, and have encouraged me to raise our shared concerns through my blog so that others can break out of the bondage that comes from an existential theology.
gotta agree with jason here.
I’m keen to see who these people are who are making big claims about christ but place no or little value in scripture.
I read quite a number of blogs and books so not sure who this is directed at.
If saying the bible is the written word of god helps someone get something from it, great. I’ve studied the bible and i dont see it being called the word of god but whatever really, this is just terms christians argue over thinking theyre doing some good. Ive read enough christian books to know the term word of god has so many different meanings and applications its almost comical especially when the accusations start flying. It mostly just boils down to ‘my interpretation of scripture is direct from god so i can judge everyone according to that’… of course everything we believe is direct and undilluted, but anyone we disagree with has overlaid an extrabiblical narrative or subjective interpretations.
For me my personal statement of faith if i bothered with such a thing would be at odds with every church ive been to… pretty much i think the vast majority of mainstream christianity has got key doctrines wrong. Though i admit i could be wrong. So i cringe when someone waxes on about the ‘word of god’ yet theyre clearly injecting preconceived ideas into the text… that said i also smile cause i know we all do it.
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Thanks for confirming that I’m not alone here. I’m looking forward to the evidence on this one that there are people that are actually doing this. And that its as clear as its presented here. The bible encourages us that love should be our preeminent emotion partocularly towards brethren even if we disagree with them.
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. (1 John 3:14 NKJV)
Thanks for the response. You come across more clearly when you remove the distraction of what you feel so strongly against. Your passions speak much more favorably of you.
Good stuff! Incidentally as a lover of mazes, can I assume the fact that there is no apparent route to the center is intentional?
At this time in Church history it’s essential that the issue of the authority of God’s word be urgently addressed. Through neglect or undermining of God’s word, we are in danger of attributing aspects to God after our own imaginations. In this way your Jesus and mine can be quite different from each other’s and worse, very different from the actual Jesus Himself.
The Parable of the Two Men
A man marries his favourite author and becomes her literary agent. But soon the marriage develops problems and they drift apart. Yet he carries on traveling over land and sea to promote her books, sing her praises and convert people to her ideas.
Another man takes a woman on a date and has more fun with her than he has ever had before. Every date with her turns out like that and so he marries her. He loves the way she enriches his life. He loves their dining and wining. He loves making love to her. But one day she says to him “You never listen to me.” This sentence becomes a recurring statement in their marriage. Every time he hears it he becomes irritated and walks away. “We have a perfect life”, he says. “Why must you complicate things?”
Both of these men are wrong. Neither one should be surprised if he arrives home one day to an empty house.
If you love someone you cherish their presence, but you also pay attention to their words. You love the romance and intimacy, but you take care to hear what they say, and you do the utmost to do what they ask you.
There is no tension here. The one does not exclude the other. Anyone who suggests that every word that proceeds and has proceeded from the mouth of of God is not authoritative, absolute and demanding of our subservience is a liar. And so is anyone who embraces God’s Word without embracing Him in a living and intimate union.
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Beautifully put. In one simple parable you capture the very essence of my often too many words.
If the authority of scripture does eventually become a larger conversation, I sincerely hope the historical context of how we got the scriptures in the first place is an integral part of the dialogue. As a matter of fact, I think making it a key component of the discussion will act as a preventive measure from the dialogue becoming a debate, or a division.
So, my point is this.
God allowed the nation of Israel to be fully formed and a lot of history happen before He codified His Word in the OT.
Similarly in the NT, Jesus did many more works than books could record, and God arranged for the printing press to be invented 1500 years after the birth of the church, and widespread publishing of the scriptures.
I suggest the reason is that He knows we love codes, rules and contracts, because we can control, manipulate and worship them, and He wanted it to be very clear that His personal leadership among His people is the pre-emminent way He works among men.
The law and words of the prophets were given because the hardness of people’s hearts made it necessary to write down what they refused to obey.
We wont forget, twist or argue over His words if we obey them, because they remind us that the fruit of the His Spirit is the evidence that we are following His words.
The NT scriptures are not a codex by which we govern our words and actions, unless we are too immature to recognize His voice, or lack discernment, Godly examples or wisdom.
The authority of scripture is the author, and the fruit (Galatians 5) that He produces in our lives as we obey His words is the evidence of His authority.
I rarely meet anyone that has come to Christ by reading the bible.
I usually meet Christians who have read my or others lives, and come to Him because of the evident fruit.
Is it more complicated than that?
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First time reader, I find it interesting that in your defense of the scriptures you use your experience rather than the scriptures them self. It looks like its common in your writings.
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That is a legitimate problem.
How do you contend with those who think their concept of Jesus or subjective “leading” of the Holy Spirit trumps scripture? Quoting scripture would be a waste of time.
So I have tried to argue from the inconsistency of their premises (i.e., a fractured Jesus and no sure foundation for knowledge due to their existential subjectivity) and the lack of real fruit among fellowships which hold such views – contrasted with the total consistency of a unitary Jesus whose person and words are in total agreement and the fruit of those who have gotten out of their own sensibilities by allowing His Word to challenge their comfort zones.
Subsequent blogs will look at what God through scripture says about scripture.
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