The other day I was listening to a radio program about preparing Christian children for the challenges of college. I agreed with some of what was said and there were other things I disagreed with, but the one quote that caught me off guard, that I disagreed with the most, was when the speaker said that the Bible is the foundation of our faith.
Please hear me out; I believe this to be a common misconception. We say the Bible is the word from God: the Word of God. We hold the Bible in high esteem; we revere it; we respect it. This all sounds very reverent, very holy, and very orthodox, and it is. We should respect and revere the Bible, but we run into problems when we call it the foundation of our faith. That leads many of us to inadvertently fall into idolatry; we worship the created, in this case the Bible, instead of the creator, that is the one to whom the Bible points. We treat the Bible as if it were God, as if we must worship the book.We even use the Bible as a weapon, destroying all conversations with, “Well my Bible says…” In doing so we have mistaken the words of the Bible for the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ.
In John 5 we have a passage where Jesus criticizes those who did not believe in him, saying, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” His critique is clear; scriptures are intended to point us to Jesus. We cannot allow scriptures to inhibit our relationship with Christ. Jesus is the foundation of our faith, not a book. We find eternal life, life to the fullest, in Jesus; the words of the Bible are there to guide us to him.
I understand our desire for something more comprehensible or more attainable than a person. If the Bible is the foundation of our faith we can study it; we can try to put it in a box or bring it into submission, and this is done by conservatives and liberals alike, but having a person as the foundation of our faith is a little more unpredictable.
I like that C.S. Lewis, in the Narnia series, represents Jesus with a lion. You can’t control a lion; you can’t tame a lion; you can’t domesticate a lion. Jesus, God, is like that, but all too often we desire to domesticate God. We act like God is lesser than God is by replacing God with something we can control, and the Bible is a very appealing god because it is a book we can claim to understand, and it isn’t that far from orthodoxy.
Yet we have to realize that the purpose of the Bible is to reveal Jesus. When we read and study the Bible with the end of knowing Jesus, the Bible ceases to be just a book to be domesticated and becomes the revelation of God. When we read the words contained in the Bible hoping to find Jesus, the words lead us to the Word.Then the Bible becomes just as unpredictable and untamable as God is; when that happens we are invited to journey through life with Jesus.
Something else also happens; arguments about historicity or about this interpretation or that one fade to the background. Instead, our interpretations of the Bible become a conversation about who Jesus is. If someone says she doesn’t believe Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, we don’t burn her at the stake as a heretic, or when someone else says he believes in a literal six day creation we don’t claim that he is anti- reason. Instead we will realize that, even though we have divergent understandings, we’re all trying to relate to and better serve Jesus. We’re trying to improve our relationship with Christ. Jesus becomes our common ground, that which binds us together.
Will this solve all of our theological debates? I doubt it, but at least it will help us to stop demonizing and blaspheming those who disagree with us. Obviously those who claim six day creation and those who say that Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch will not have a lot in common, but I hope that some day we can see that we all are striving to know Christ better. I pray that we will learn to love each other as fellow Christians, and stop claiming that one side is trying to rob young people of their faith. If our children grow up knowing the richness of our theological debates, knowing that the Christian tradition includes diverse voices, maybe their college Bible classes won’t be such a life-altering, faith-shattering experience, and maybe the Kingdom of God will be the better for it.