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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Faith is in Christ NOT in doctrines

Theopneustos [god-breathed] is a metaphor and therefore lacks any specificity. It is picturesque speech. What does it literally mean? No one knows though plenty claim they do.

I think the best we can say is that God is a spirit and as such he does not breath air. So this word is not referring to the breath of god. God does not have a breath except as we might speak anthropomorphically. So perhaps it is an anthropomorphic statement and if so then it is an analogy. Either way -- be it an analogy or a metaphor -- both linguistic functions are indirect linguistic constructs that do not make direct reference to a specific meaning. Both constructs function by leaving the clarity to the imagination of the hearer. That is how analogies and metaphors work.

Now speaking anthropomorphically, scripture is not the only thing god-breathed. The universe was "spoken" into existence, God said and it was so. The very nature of mankind is also god-breathed. Genesis 2:7 "the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

So according to scripture there are three things that we can regard as God breathed, scripture, the universe, and human beings.

Do you want to know god-breathed truth? Then you had better accept the authority of biology, physics and the study of all things scientific. You should consider the various theories proposed to explain human behavior, be a student of sociology, psychology, philosophy , anthropology, political theory and economics. Then also include the phenomenon of scripture itself.

All three god-breathed items are self revealing and cannot be paid attention to without supplying one's own powers of observation, biases, conclusions and capacities. In other words, in spite of the supply of scientific data, human beings, and scripture you can never have any understanding of any of them without resorting to having your own personal opinion.

God can reveal these things to our perception but once revealed we can only perceive them and we alone make sense of them according to our capacity for making sense. Truth revealed is NOT synonymous with truth understood. That is the error and arrogance of fundamentalism. As useful and as authoritative and as credible as these god-breathed things are, there is still no room for a fundamentalist certainty about any of it.

We walk by faith. Not faith in a teaching or a fundamental assertion, but faith in the person of God whether understood or misunderstood we place our faith in HIM. We place our faith in the cross, not in the doctrine of the atonement, but in the event itself. It is what it is understood or misunderstood. I do not place my faith in the event of the cross as I understand it I simply place my faith in the event itself and let God worry about its "proper" understanding.

Christianity is not and never was a Gnostic reality of academic asserted truths. Christianity has always been the authenticity of the person of Jesus himself and the events of his life as they happened historically. And this is without regard to how one does or does not accurately make sense of it.


  1. Your distinction between general revelation and specific revelation is confusing and misguided on its face. This post needs to be reworked, because one could argue that you are saying that doctrines are in of themselves evil.

  2. Brian, doctrines are not evil they are personal opinions.

    How did the culture that gave us the scriptures regard differences in generalities and specificity? Did it differ from the way our culture makes the distinction? Can we have a credible theology or doctrine that does not consider such a question? The study of comparative linguistics shows us that different cultures can use similar linguistic forms to serve different purposes. As it turns out there is a huge difference.

    According to many linguistic anthropologists, Western cultures from ancient days up to the present used specificity to describe things in order that we might understand those things more accurately. As a result, care is taken in those languages to make certain that the specifics are clear except when the function of the speech is to manipulate of deceive. Information is focused on the specifics because it serves us in making decisions - especially decisions based on the question, "OK, so how do things work."

    But in biblical cultures specificity was used to give perspective to connections. The focus was to assist a person in knowing how to relate to the things specifically described. As such, the focus was not on accuracy but on relevance, its goal was connection. The biblical culture was no where near as technical as ours and specific speech served a function primarily other than to accurately describe.

    Theology is an interesting thing to consider, but theology was not the goal of the biblical text. In what way and to what degree does this alter the way we interpret the text? My answer is, "We do not really know." But we do know that the text was the result of holy men of old being "moved." That describes an authentic connection not a specific process. The text functions as largely relational not academic. In fact, a careful reading of the New Testament indicates that the word "doctrine" is used most often NOT to describe our academic theological opinions but rather to focus upon what our behavior and lifestyle implies about God, how He relates to us and how we relate to Him. Such conclusions are very general, subjective and inferred rather than certain.

    Doctrines are not evil, they are opinions. They can even be enjoyable, interesting useful opinions. They don't become evil until we insist they are God's opinion.

  3. But is referring to doctrine as an "opinion" healthy for the Christian church? Paul warns Timothy about doctrines of demons, so obviously some teachings are plainly false and must be guarded against. The issue I take is that when doctrine becomes ambiguous or treated as man's opinion, then you begin to attack actual truth, actual knowledge. I don't think calling doctrine mere "opinions" is a safe teaching to promote. Deal with a doctrine directly...certainly some beliefs must be addressed on a case by case basis, but if all doctrine is mere opinion, then there is no certainty, there is no Christ, and there is no salvation.

  4. Brian, I deeply appreciate your respectful tone and I think you express concerns that are very common and I feel I owe you a response. Thank you for your comment.

    In my opinion, Yes. It is very healthy. And scriptural; let God be true and EVERY MAN a liar. Sure it complicates the various schools of theological thought. It hinders their ability to lord it over others and prevail through sheer authoritative declarations requiring conformity. But that is not a problem.

    Have you ever noticed that when Paul deals with false teachings he usually points out how the logic of those teachings amounts to a denial of the death, burial resurrection event? Or amounts to a denial of our salvation by grace through faith. He does not counter false teachings with an in depth dissertation on the details of a thorough more proper understanding. He offers only a few snippets of concepts based on his apostolic office and simply argues based on the significant events themselves such as the cross, the indwelling Christ, our freedom, etc. He relies more on the reality of those events than on the theological and metaphysical explanations for them.

    One could easily get the impression that false teaching happens when people think they have it figured out and start teaching Christ through a very detailed and specific paradigm of understanding. Paul attacks the paradigm but does not displace it with a competing paradigm. Rather he points out how it is a contradiction to the milestone events of the Christian experience and at times appeals to his apostolic position.

    A common principle of biblical interpretation is to find the first mention of an issue in the scripture. So where do we find the first false teacher?

    The very start of false teaching is found in the Genesis account of the fall. Eve was beguiled by the serpent who asked Eve a question. Eve misquotes what God had said, but the serpent does not. Instead the serpent responds with "You will not surely die."

    If you are familiar with Hebrew you can see in the original a very emphatic construct in use (Hebrew repeats the verb to add an emphatic tone "in dying you will not die" this sentence structure in that language is an emphatic denial that there will actually be any death). The serpent is declaring with emphatic certainty what God's words mean and don't mean. In contrast, Eve merely quotes and actually misquotes.

    The serpent does not say, "Well in my opinion I do not think you would really die." That would not be effective for a false teacher. No, the serpent speaks with certainty and authority and supplies the logic that supports the confident assertion.

    No doubt it was because the serpent actually concedes what God had said but places his explanation into an emphatic tone that it helped serve to beguile Eve. The serpent relied on a somewhat philosophical explanation.

    But All Eve needed - her misquotes notwithstanding - was to understand the simple fact that God had said don't do it. The consequences, the explanation for why, the deeper understanding of how it all works under the hood, though interesting to us theologians, were completely unnecessary and irrelevant to the moment.

    True to form, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists imitate both Eve and the serpent. They quote God's words, sometimes incorrectly and often out of context just like Eve, but speak emphatically just like the serpent.

    Paul warned us that we would be riddled with false teachers. The first clue is that they both represent and misrepresent scripture and the second clue is how absolutely emphatic they are in their assertions.

    (continued below)

  5. Paul even shared with us when we could expect to see the end of false teaching. In Ephesians 4, God gave gifts to the church in the form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. But their purpose was not to teach us the correct sound interpretation of bible verses with perfect understanding. There job was to prepare us for works of service so that the body might be built up in love. Christians were not supposed to be identified in the outside world by their specific creeds, they were supposed to be known by their love modeled after the love of Christ. Most of my neighbors have no idea what I specifically think about a wide number of issues, but they certainly know if I am neighborly. They know if I am approachable. They know if they can safely share their hopes and regrets with me.

    Paul teaches in Ephesians 4 that these gifted servants in the body of Christ have a job to do that one day will be completed. When that day happens, we will ALL - each and every one of us - reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. Each of us will be mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. And according to verse 16 this is accomplished by the power of love NOT our orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the result of this change not the agent of that change; love and the indwelling Christ is the agent of change.

    Now I ask you, Brian, do I strike you as someone who is perfect and fully mature having attained to the full measure of Christ in all knowledge and faith? I hope not or else I could easily manipulate. Please do not be offended, I feel confident that you are a genuine Christian and I do not feel you could have the objections you have if you did not really care about the message of Christ. Nonetheless, I do not see you as having arrived either. Love has not as yet completed its work in either of us.

    But here is the clincher. Paul did not tell us to not be tossed to and fro. Many fundamentalists and not a few evangelicals preach this from Ephesians 4. Paul told us until that day comes when we ALL arrive in the fullness of our redemption and Christ-likeness, we WILL BE be tossed to and fro. Get used to it, fasten your seat belt and prepare for the ride because you can count on it.

    Neither you nor I are exempt from this tossing and there is nothing you and I can do to avoid it. All we can do is grow up in Christ through love and it is the indwelling Christ that in the process will cause this maturity to happen. This is the gift God; it is not by works it is by grace through faith.

    My relationship with Christ is with Him. He is who He is irrespective of how I understand or misunderstand Him. I prefer to seek understanding as silver, to search for knowledge like it were gold, but I also choose to not lean on my understanding, but rather trust God to be God, salvation to be salvation and my destiny to be what eye has not seen nor ear heard.

    I do not need dogma, I need Christ. In my opinion the single most powerful hindrance to maturity in Christ is the false serpent like attitude of Fundamentalism. Their insistence that we have arrived stalls our growth. We are getting there but we are not there yet.

    As Paul said, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." Paul then went on toward making this an analogy between where we are today and where we will be in a day to come that has not yet arrived. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

    Until that day it is absolutely unscriptural to claim that one has arrived at a solid doctrinal understanding. You and I are not Apostles. The degree to which we do get it is sufficient and to believe that we have somehow already attained a standard we can impose on others is to resist the indwelling Christ.

  6. As my friend Mike Hamel says in his book STUMBLING TOWARD HEAVEN: The stars in the sky are real, but constellations are imaginations of our minds. We easily hold to the constellations as being real...but they are not. Only the stars are real. Now, constellations are important, because we all are trying to make sense out of the truth and to do that we need to connect some truths in our minds to try to come to some conclusions. However, we need to hold on to our constellations loosely knowing that they may be in error. Only the stars are for real.

  7. Nicely said, Daniel. Thanks for commenting.