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Toppling the House of Cards

• Greg Boyd

Questions can sometimes topple faith like a house of cards. In this sermon, we introduce the idea that following Jesus is the central aspect of faith. This frees us to question and critique different aspects of our faith, without losing that faith.

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It seems that we regularly find people who have lost their faith because of inconsistencies within the bible or between the bible and science. This is the exact same way that Greg Boyd had lost his faith at one point in time. When someone builds a house of cards, the cards all link together, and if one of the cards is removed, the whole house falls. Faith can be done the exact same way. All parts of their faith–from their relationship to Christ, to scripture, doctrines, and theology—can be given up if one part doesn’t align with the rest. For example, if there is an inconsistency within Scripture, then a person who follows this theology might question Jesus’s consistency.

Faith then becomes a package deal. It’s all or nothing. If any part of this faith is wrong, then the whole faith is wrong and everything needs to be thrown out. It puts equal importance into every aspect of faith. However, this is simply not how faith should work as it puts a wrong standard on faith.
Ancient writers don’t write like writers of today. They often wrote stories that were non-literal in order to make a point. They also had inaccuracies–whether it was two different numbers on a census account, or differing accounts of the Resurrection in the gospels. Scripture reflects the worldview of the writers’ day. It’s not accurate by modern standards. See “Across the Spectrum” written by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy for more on this topic.

In our information age, our views on faith will be challenged. Someone would have to wear earplugs and hum a tune the rest of their lives to not run into questions or contradictions about their faith. This house of cards faith makes a thoughtful and curious person vulnerable. If this type of faith is taught, and someone has questions, they can quickly see their house tumble and fall, and then their entire faith is in doubt. This is why so many bible believing Christians don’t survive college with their faith intact, and it’s also the reason many thoughtful people refuse Christianity.

To combat this precarious faith, we must realize that not all beliefs are equally important. Jesus said that his testimony was weightier than John’s. Jesus also told the Pharisees they were not following the important parts of the law, and instead, they were concentrating on the smaller parts. We should not make small parts of our faith the same as larger parts. Let us offer up an alternative to the house of cards. Try thinking of faith as concentric circles instead of a house of cards.

Within the innermost ring, we have Jesus Christ. Jesus embodied the invisible God, and Jesus also was a human being. He was a person who could be followed. As we’ve talked about in previous weeks, faith is a relational term founded in covenant. This relationship with Jesus is where faith is most profoundly expressed, and it is the most important. Without this faith in Jesus Christ, the rest of our faith is just a mental exercise of right and wrong. Jesus asked people to follow him, without a theology test beforehand. Pledging our trust and trustworthiness to Christ is the center of our faith.

In the next ring, we have scripture and all scripture points towards Jesus. The Old Testament laid the groundwork for the life of Jesus. The coming of the messiah, which culminates the story of God with Israel, was told in the life of Jesus. Scripture is important, but it is not as important as our relationship and faith in Jesus Christ. There can be scriptural inaccuracies and differing accounts, but that shouldn’t change our bedrock of faith in Jesus. It can be a book that is “un-scientific” and not “perfect” by today’s standards, and that is ok. There are good reasons why it isn’t, and our relational faith should be centered on a person and not a book.

The third ring reflects core doctrines. These are the ways to live out a Christian life, and there are many different ideas of how to do that. All of them seem to have scriptural support, and we define our view of the world on these doctrines. However, it is important to remember that we don’t get LIFE from being “right” about these things. There should always be a healthy debate about the best way to serve the world around us as Christians, but it shouldn’t be a divisive debate and it most certainly should not cause our faith in Jesus to crumble.

Finally, the fourth ring should be labeled as theological opinions. These are the particular beliefs that Christians have always disagreed over. “What does Providence look like?” “How does pre-destination work?” These topics can be important because they affect how people view Jesus and God, but they are not as important as following Jesus. Everyone is growing and shaping their theology, and no one person has the right answer for everything. Even if some say they do. Theological opinions should be openly discussed and should never be feared because our faith is not contingent on our understandings of these matters. Our faith is contingent upon the life of Jesus, and that makes it a beautiful faith.

Avoid a house of cards theology by having Christ at the center of everything. Do not be afraid of being thoughtful and curious about your faith, as Jesus was never afraid to hear what people had to say about him. Enjoy a God who simply says “follow me”. Next week, we’ll go over how to live out the importance of Christ being at the center of your faith.

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Defense of Christian Faith, Faith

Sermon Series: Faith and Doubt

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Focus Scripture:

  • John 5:36

    “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.

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18 thoughts on “Toppling the House of Cards

  1. Denni Arli says:

    Thank you for this great sermon, I have been questioning a lot about the Bible, this sermon helps me building much stronger foundation of my faith! thanks Greg!

  2. Vinny says:

    Helpful message as always!

    One consideration I have is that people outside of the church who are not familiar with Scripture and its historical accuracy might be skeptical of New Testament accounts of Jesus performing miracles precisely for the reason Greg mentioned: the fear or belief that they would have been- or could now be- explained by modern natural science…
    Any thoughts?

  3. Peggie Greenough says:

    Great sermon! Great series!! Thank you for being bold enough to focus on these issues! Amen and Amen!

  4. Nicole says:

    I just love the way you think, Greg.

  5. Erin says:

    A great reminder that God created us to be an inquisitive creature, just like the scripture calls us to be like babes; curious about everything. However, Greg makes the point of the point, once we have the confidence to accept Jesus as our savior, move on from those questions to questions that lead you from the milk to the meat (which the holy spirit will reveal and lead to you). How liberating!

  6. Paul Buggy says:

    I loved the talk and it reflected my own journey out of a house of cards. Greg (or anyone) could you direct me to some books or websites/articles that might help in relation to the things Greg mentioned about the types of literature and the fact that the Hebrews could mix fact and metaphor freely. I am struggling to get a handle on this and scripture is so central to a Christian life.
    How can you tell the difference in a text between metaphor and historical fact. I appreciate that they both represent ‘truth’. But for example, how do I know that resurrection is not metaphor , given this way of writing?
    Does it matter? I think it does because I want to know the kinds of things God does and does not do in real life.
    So I am hungry for more light on this topic.

  7. Jered says:

    The first time I ever met Greg was in Theology 101 at Bethel College. This dude comes in with a cup of Starbucks and writes on the board, “LIfe is Christ, NOTHING else matters.” I was like-who is this guy?? He rocked everything I thought I knew and understood about God..Thank you Greg for your voice, keep up the great work…Those words he wrote, continue to echo to this day……

  8. Paul Eddy says:

    Hey Paul,

    I just wanted to respond to your question about how to discern between historical and metaphorical truth in the Bible, etc. At Woodland Hills, we believe that this sort of distinction is very important. To use your example of Jesus’ resurrection: this is clearly an historical claim in the New Testament, and the apostle Paul himself says that if Jesus wasn’t actually raised from the dead, then, as Christians, our faith is “worthless” (I Cor 15:16-17). Probably the most important key to discerning historical claims from metaphorical claims in the Bible is to determine what literary genre you are dealing with in any particular passage (e.g., historical narrative vs. poetry, etc.).

    A couple of very helpful introductory books on biblical interpretation that we recommend a lot around Woodland Hills are:

    (1) Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (a great source on how to interpret the various genre of the Bible);
    (2) Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
    (3) John Walton, et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament


  9. Robin Parry says:

    Spot on! Really helpful. Thanks

  10. Mark J says:

    This was a good message indeed.

    The only thing I wasn’t quite on board with was the idea of putting your faith and trust in Jesus alone, and not the scriptures- even the Gospels.

    The Gospels is the only place I get my revelation of Jesus. Therefore I don’t see the ability to separate the two. For as my view of the accuracy of the Gospels go so does that of my view of Jesus.

    I know as good Christians we’re all supposed to have stories and testimonies of when Jesus has made himself “known” to ourselves. Well, I don’t put my foundation of my faith in those memories. My foundation has to be on the Bible. So if we start to chip away at that foundation how will my faith stand?

    I can just see someone saying, “No, you need to put your foundation in your faith in Jesus.” Yeah, but all my Jesus stuff comes from the Bible. Do you get the problem here?

  11. Ryan Post says:


    Good thoughts. I don’t think Greg’s point was that we should slightly de-value (for lack of a better word) the Bible in comparison to Jesus. The point was that Jesus is simply the ultimate embodiment of what the entire Bible points to, so he should be the lens by which we interpret all of Scripture.

  12. Paul Eddy says:

    Hi Mark,

    You raise an important question about where our ultimate trust should rest — Jesus or the biblical data about Jesus. Greg and I have wrestled with this question together, and here is where we’ve come to on it: The New Testament term for “faith” (Greek = pisitis) is best understood in the context of covenant relationship — it means to have trust in one’s covenant partner (it can also mean to be trustworthy toward your covenant partner). And so it is a very relational term. Ultimately, then, our highest level of faith — covenant trust — must be placed in Jesus, since he is the only completely trustworhy/faithful covenant partner. We can’t have a covenant relationship with the Bible, because it isn’t a personal being. But we can have a covenant relationship with the God who inspired the Bible! But your point about having confidence in the Bible’s portrait of Jesus is a very important one. For those of us who live two thousand years after Jesus’ time on earth, the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus become a vital path to knowing who Jesus is and that we can trust him (along with the testomony of others and the Holy Spirit within us). In this sense, Greg would very much agree with you. In fact, Greg and I have written two books together that present the evidence for why we can trust the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus. And we believe a very strong case can be made for this. If you are interested in our take on it, see Eddy & Boyd, _The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition_ (Baker Academic, 2007); or Boyd & Eddy, _Lord or Legend? Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma_ (Wipf & Stock, 2010).


    Paul Eddy
    Teaching Pastor

  13. Laura says:

    This was wonderful… I’m a skeptical type who decided to ‘marry’ Jesus despite my questions and doubts and I find people like Greg very helpful in my spiritual walk. I also appreciate the level of humility (which seems to come from being Jesus centered) in his writings and teachings… it makes him easy and non-threatening to listen to and be challenged by. Thanks!

  14. Chris says:

    Thank you so much Greg. This series, this message comes across like the morning dew. Thanks for being a teaching voice, as i learn to build the Kingdom 🙂

  15. mark whittaker says:

    While I appreciate Greg’s honesty here, I would suggest that the science of the Bible is couched in terms the ancients could understand.

    The earth is indeed held up by non literal pillars. However, the ancients did not have a word for gravity. In our language, we say the earth is held in its course by gravity (also inertia, etc.)

    The earth is surrounded by water. Much of it is humidity, but some is stored in clouds. Some of it is waiting for dust particles to latch on to, in order to form clouds.

    When the clouds “decide” to rain, what better way for the ancients to describe this than to say a window is opened in the clouds?

    Concerning the sun being created on the fourth day, you could take it to mean that it became more visible from earth on that day. Its light could have been blocked by something that had destroyed the earth previously (darkness was over the face of the earth). Volcanoes could have erupted previously, sending ash skyward. (Meteors?) (This view requires the belief that the seven days of creation were more about refashioning the earth to make it habitable again. Look up gap theory if interested.)

    Concerning the problems with reconciling numbers in the Bible, assume that copyists simply could not read the originals well enough to copy them accurately. This leads to the understanding that the originals were more accurate than the copies. Greg’s example (500,000 verses 470,000) is not a rounding error. Rounding up is not an error, it is simply rounding up.

    Love your stuff Greg, but your examples are not that difficult to work out.

    (A difficult example is reconciling the 2 genealogies of Jesus; Luke 3 and Matthew 1. The typical answers given to reconcile these accounts are unlikely at best, if you allow yourself the probing honesty which Greg is good at.)

    Christ is to be worshiped more than the bible, yet God has spoken through the bible and knew what He was doing when he spoke through it.

    Love the Greg anyway.

  16. mark whittaker says:

    Greg, I would like to comment upon your comments concerning the firmament, but it would be a lot of writing because this gets rather complex. It seems that your view has some merit concerning this topic, but it does not go far enough to establish the trueness in the bible. If I knew that you would be reading this, it would be worth it to write it. So, it is similar to your understanding, but it does not end there. And I have to take back my comment that your examples are easy to work out. It is not when it comes to this issue.

    Just a couple comments…I think God has allowed some numerical inaccuracies in the bible for good reasons. The one that lifts my heart is to know that, while numbers for example are not terribly important when it comes to knowing God, he speaks through the inaccuracies of the bible.

    And He is saying, I could have decreed that all copies of the bible remained as accurate as the originals, but I am not a perfectionist. I accept and delight in my work of the Word, even though it has not remained perfectly accurate. Just as I accept my people, imperfect.

    For I am perfect, and as such am able to accept the most imperfect because it is the work of my hands. I do not look down on imperfection; rather imperfection is my joy because through it I am able to do many things.

    If I have heralded my Word, which has been imprinted with humanness, will I not herald my children, imprinted with humanness also? Will I not decree, that each of my children is like truth, because each in their own time will become my little truths, all coming together as One as My Truth, in the days to come when True Immortality will be revealed in you?

    Because each of my children will proclaim their knowledge of the truth as it expands in hereafter, and they will together be Truth to Me. And I will herald My people as more precious than even My word, because I did not die for my Word, except that it be implanted within you.

    For I do not glorify my Word absolutely, but with a reservation. For the letter kills, but the spirit is life, 2 Cor. 3:6. The word is not my bride.

    But in you I will have no reservations, no holding back if you have completely come to Me. My word contains truth, but my people will be called Truth. And the truth is sprinkled in love.


    The other thing I get from the inaccuracies is that there may be some symbolism even in these inaccurate numbers. But I do not wish to go further with this now except to mention 616 and 666 in Rev. 13:18.

    Boyd, you there?

    From a Boydian truth monger.

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