In this first installment of a 2-part series centering around Greg’s new Inspired Imperfection book we look at what it means for scripture to be “God breathed.” Additionally, we explore to the potential consequences of keeping or removing the bible as an authoritative source in the life of a follower of Jesus. Greg makes the case that far from detracting from the bible’s credibility, if viewed through the lens of the cross, the mistakes and errors in the writing made by the human authors enhance the bible’s authority in showing God’s power through the cross.
As the saying goes, it is important to major in the majors and minor in the minors. We try to call it as we see it and not shy away from questions that come up during our study of scripture and discussions of cultural issues. We at Woodland Hills have tried not to just inherit a theology and never question what we’ve been given, but rather push and prod and see where logical weaknesses exist. We also believe that how we have these discussions and debates about potentially controversial topics is often just as important as the conclusions we come to.
Greg is releasing a new book called Inspired Imperfection, which addresses biblical inerrancy and the fallibility of the authors of scripture. Being that it has the potential to cause controversy among those that hold biblical inerrancy as a center ring theological idea, the next two messages seek to give context and background as to why the book was written and what its central claims are. 2 Timothy 3 says that all scripture is “God breathed.” Greg and Woodland Hills both hold to the traditional orthodox doctrine of plenary which holds that the entire biblical canon (rule) is divinely inspired. Not that it is all equally inspiring, but it is all nonetheless divinely inspired.
One of the reasons Greg wrote this book was to confront some of the more liberal Christians camps who have in recent years noticed some of the legitimate issues, mistakes, errors, and mis-use of the bible and who, in his opinion, have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Instead of digging a little deeper in to what a divinely inspired set of books filled with errors might mean for us in light of the cross, they have cast the bible as an authority aside. Rightly these folks point out that the bible was not meant to be our center or object of worship, but rather a tool to point us toward Jesus Christ. The problem is one can’t hold the bible as divinely inspired but pick and choose the parts one wants to pay attention to and follow. As soon as that is done, you have put yourself, or your pastor, in a position of authority over and against the authority of the bible. The orthodox tradition has always had a range of interpretations of different biblical passages, but you can’t just throw out the parts you don’t like or agree with. The bible is like the Christian constitution in some ways. In America for example, a judge can interpret the constitution one way or another, and different judges throughout history of the supreme court surely have, and disagreements can be had within that space, but as soon a judge says this is my ruling and I don’t care what the constitution says about it, we clearly identify that person as being outside the boundaries of acceptable.
Generally speaking, as far as literature and tradition goes, there is great unity and consistency in the biblical narrative across generations and centuries, and the gospels specifically have been shown to be generally reliable taken as historical documents. But without too much effort one can also see that there are clearly errors, mistakes, agendas, and omissions in the biblical canon. Our common-sense logic tells us that a perfect God would write a perfect book, but we must examine our assumptions, starting point, and lens we’re reading scripture through to ask toward what or where is the biblical narrative leading us. If inerrancy was so important to God, we must ask the question why He inspired a set of books so full of errors and contradictions.
Just to name a few of the issues we find in scripture, there are clearly issues with the portrayal of ancient near eastern cosmology, number of people mentioned in many passages, contradictions of battle accounts, attributing the same action to both God and Satan, order of kings, and the borrowing of biblical stories and songs from other ancient cultures and writings. But we have to remember that God is not coercive. He rather meets us where we’re at and seeks to influence us toward the good, the truthful, and the loving. The biblical account may not always be accurate, but it is nonetheless beautiful and perfect in its intended purpose of leading us to Christ crucified as the center foundational revelation of God. Instead of throwing out the parts that don’t appear beautiful, we have to dig a little deeper to see where God is taking on the sin of his people in order to maintain relationship with them and move them toward himself.
So how do errors enhance the authority of scripture? With any issue it’s important to understand the starting point set of assumptions, or the frame of reference, because where you start determines where you will end. We find in scripture like Colossians 2 that Christ is the wisdom of God, the revelation of the mystery, and God’s power. Specifically, Paul says elsewhere that he claims to know nothing except Christ crucified. So, our starting point frame of reference must be the cross. How is the cross God breathed? Well, we find in Paul’s writing, such as 1 Corinthians 1, that he clearly didn’t consider his own writing to be inerrant. He corrected himself twice in a row as he was trying to remember who he baptized, thus invalidating his whole argument. But through that experience he offered the inspired realization that it was through his weakness and lack of eloquence that the power of God and the wonder of the crucified Christ is revealed. When God breathes it doesn’t change the imperfections of the people he’s breathing through, but rather uses the imperfections to reinforce the power of the cross. His power is made perfect in our weakness. As 1 Corinthians 1 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The cross reveals what God has always been like. He has always been a God who takes the mistakes, the errors, and the sins of the world and uses those very things to point us toward our savior Jesus who is made perfect in our weakness. Why would anyone think our sinfulness is an obstacle to God accomplishing his purposes through his divinely inspired text, even given it was written by fallible human beings. We trust the bible not to be inerrant in its content, but rather to be perfect in its purpose of pointing us to the one who overcame our mistakes and the death consequences of our sin on the cross. If God has used fallible human beings to record his divinely inspired scripture, then we should have hope that he can use broken people like us to accomplish his purposes in the world.
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