Sundays With St. Paul: Pliny and Philemon…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

For this week’s post I thought I’d take a break from relaying class discussions and write about something I found in N.T. Wright’s latest Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Not only am I reading an author I thoroughly enjoy, but I’m also knocking another part of homework for my Paul and the Law class.

Anyhow, he opens the first chapter with a discussion about a letter from Pliny the Younger, a Roman senator who lived roughly seventy years after Jesus.[1] Since many probably do not have Wright’s book nor have a copy of Pliny’s letter, I’ve transcribed Wright’s translation of the letter:

You told me you had been angry with a freedman of yours, and no he’s come to see me! He threw himself at my feet and clung on to me as though I were you. He wept a lot, he asked for a lot, thought he kept quiet about a lot too. To sum it up, he made me believe that he was genuinely sorry. I think he is a changed character, because he really does feel that he did wrong.

Yes, I know you are angry; and I know, too, that you have a right to be angry. But mercy earns most praise when anger is fully justified. Once you loved this fellow, and I hope you will love him again; for the moment, it’s enough if you let yourself be placated. You can always be angry again if he deserves it, and you’ll have all the more reason if you’ve been placated now. He’s young, he’s in tears, and you have a kind heart – make all that count. Don’t torture him, and don’t torture yourself either; anger is always torture for a soft heart like yours.

I am afraid it will look as though I’m putting pressure on you, not simply making a request, if I join my prayers to his. But I’m going to do it anyway, and all the more fully and thoroughly because I’ve given him a sharp and severe talking-to, and I’ve warned him clearly that I won’t make such a request again. (This was because he needed a good fright, and I said it to him rather than to you, because it’s just possible that I shall make another request, and receive it too – always supposing it’s an appropriate thing for me to ask and for you to grant.)

Yours sincerely…

My studies in Paul have been rather limited, so finding out that this style of letter-writing was actually fairly common is quite fascinating and N.T. Wright’s next topic was exactly the similar Pauline letter to Philemon (please read if you have a Bible handy). Yet one major difference that Wright points out about Paul is even more fascinating; “Paul is in prison, a fact he mentions not as though it decreases his social standing (which it naturally did) but as though it gives him a higher status rather than a lower one.”[2]

What do you think the significance is of Paul’s imprisonment in comparison to Pliny’s social power? What does this say about our own social statuses and how we use our platforms? What are some other similarities/dissimilarities between Pliny’s letter and Philemon that you think are significant?

[1] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013), 3

[2] Wright, 6


Jesus’ Transfiguration and Our Misinterpretation…

Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36) has always been a part in the gospel stories where I see God holding himself back, in a way. He’s too bright, too magnificent, too much for us to handle, so he has to tone it down a bit by appearing in human form. And the aspect of this story that I would always reference was how Jesus’ disciples fell to the ground. But what I didn’t realize until tonight – while reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus – was that this story isn’t about how awesome Jesus is (though it could be implied). In fact, my whole way of viewing Scripture (and I think the same goes for a good portion of Christians) was slightly wrong.

Okay, “slightly” is an understatement. And no, I’m not talking about inerrancy or any other of an endless number of doctrines, systematic theologies, or dogmas. I’m talking about the Western society in which I was raised and how it tainted the way I ought to approach Scripture. All of this comes from Wright’s book, of course, which might make one wonder if Wright wasn’t somehow sneaking his own agenda by me without me noticing. I find that is not at all his intent. He, like me, is out for a deeper understanding of God. Such an understanding, though, is rendered impossible when Scripture is treated as a proof-text to validate or invalidate our previously-conceived beliefs.

An example would be saying the Bible is true then going through said Bible and finding all the verses where it says the Bible is true. This is an extremely vague example, but you see my point? We take passages like Jesus’ transfiguration and make creedal statements about his divinity and how it works and what it looks like. Like I said above, I took this passage as a way of viewing God as too much for me to handle – God in his nature and me in mine, that is. I’m not saying Jesus isn’t divine; I’m saying, as Wright says, that proving or disproving Jesus’ divinity – or any other doctrine we may believe – is not the purpose of Scripture. Scripture is meant to be one giant megaphone announcing God’s existence, presence, and intentions with each of us. Scripture announces how we might be able to be our true selves.

What is actually going on with Jesus’ transfiguration, then? As N.T. Wright says, it’s a foreshadow of what’s to come – of what kind of people we will be made into. “It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world,” (Simply Jesus, 144). He also points out that, “Moses and Elijah were ‘transfigured’ too,” which seems to indicate what our future natures will be (perhaps this was the “new creation” Paul was talking about in Galatians 6:15?). So instead of this being a passage about how overwhelming God’s nature is compared to ours; it’s a memo from God saying this is the kind of nature he’s adorning us in. He’s telling us who we will be.

It wasn’t just that my interpretation of Scripture was a little wrong for this story; it was that my entire mindset was flawed – my internal need to “prove” my view with this passage of Jesus’ divinity. Such a mindset is difficult to overcome when we have books with titles like Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe and countless books on apologetics, systematic theology, and so on. Some of our most outspoken church leaders have attained their notoriety due to their ability to defend Christianity. Mention Rob Bell’s name next time at church and wait for someone to say they think he’s “biblically unsound” or that he has a flawed theology (not that Rob Bell is considered an apologist; he’s usually the one receiving flack from prominent Christian leaders). These buzz words and phrases cause us to view Scripture in terms of doctrine and theology – not in terms of what Scripture might actually be trying to tell us.

“My problem with ‘proofs of divinity’ is that all too often, when people have spoken or written like that, it isn’t entirely clear that they have the right “God” in mind. What seems to be “proved” is a semi-Deist type of Christianity – the type of thing a lot of Christians in the eighteenth century, and many since then, have thought they should be defending. In this sort of Christianity, “God” is in heaven and sends his divine second self, his ‘Son,’ to ‘demonstrate his divinity,’ so that people would worship him, be saved by his cross, and return with him to heaven. But in first-century Christianity, what mattered was not people going from earth into God’s kingdom in heaven. What mattered, and what Jesus taught his followers to pray, was that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.” – Wright, Simply Jesus, 148

Even the workbook some members of my church and I have been going through, The Tangible Kingdom Primer, gets at this idea – that God’s kingdom has invaded not to destroy earth and bring everyone back to heaven, but to bring heaven (God’s kingdom) to and through earth, to give it a permanent residence within God’s creation. Not only should this change how we live, but it changes how we approach Scripture. Can you imagine how undivided the Church – the global, catholic church (not just the RCC) – might be if we focused on how we lived instead of how we defined certain terms in our belief statements?

One more big quote from N.T. Wright:

“It has been all too possible to use the doctrine of the incarnation or even the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture as a way of protecting oneself and one’s worldview and political agenda against having to face the far greater challenge of God taking charge, of God becoming king, on earth as in heaven. But that is what the stories in the Bible are all about. That’s what the story of Jesus was, and is, all about. That is the real challenge, and skeptics aren’t the only ones who find clever ways to avoid it,” – 149 (emphasis mine)

I don’t know if my interpretation of Jesus’ transfiguration was a clever way of avoiding the challenge of God taking charge, but I hope you see his point. Much of our Christian society is defined by what we believe, which denomination we’re a part of, and so on – not whom do we believe in or which kingdom we’re a part of. What my earlier interpretation failed to acknowledge was what actually caused Jesus’ disciples to fall at his feet:

“[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.'” – Matthew 17:5-7

God’s voice is too much for us to handle. And yet we attempt to put him in these neatly-packaged theological boxes and define our involvement within church or within Christianity in general by these belief packages. We don’t realize our error because we have prominent leaders affirming what we do – even teaching us how to do them better! But, as Wright says, maybe the bigger thing for us to do is to let go. Maybe God doesn’t want us becoming great apologists; maybe he just wants us to love others as he has loved us?

God bless.

P.S. Two things: 1. I would never discourage theological conversations; we must love God and each other with all our minds and 2. Defending beliefs has moments of importance, but should never be the defining factor to one’s faith; that is the point of this blog.

Drinking the Water of Christ…

(This is the 3rd message of the Galatians series I’m doing for the high school group at Calvary Fellowship. However, no one showed up yesterday, so this will actually be next week’s message. I thought I’d post it anyway. Hope you enjoy!)

Although it seems really odd to us today, circumcision was a major part of Judaism in Paul’s time. It was a way to separate Jew from Gentile – Israelite from Greek. But what Paul often describes in his letters was how circumcision became a form of slavery in the spiritual sense.

“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek,” Galatians 2:3

This verse alludes to the heart of the issue: Embracing the freedom of the gospel or seek the acceptance of the dominant religious elite by keeping the traditions of old.

We touched on this the first week by talking about where we place identity; is it with those who seek the acceptance of society or with someone else? But this week we’re looking at what is truly liberating about the gospel of Jesus.

Judaism, especially ancient Judaism, is a rather legalistic religion. If you ever get a chance, just breeze through Leviticus 11-15 – I know, not a very exciting book to read, but these chapters describe the purity laws of Judaism. If you were a Jew, you held these laws no matter what. But at the time of Jesus and Paul there was another set of laws which the priests and religious elite held their fellow Jews to.

Even though it was written down a couple hundred years after Christ’s death, the Mishnah (which is a part of what’s called the Talmud) represents the kind of oral traditions that were prevalent in Jesus’ time. These oral laws were as equally authoritative in that time period as the rest of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

An example comes from Mark 2:23-28:

“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’

And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’

And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Notice the key word in this passage, “lawful.” Judaism in Jesus’ time had become a very systematic religion that was mostly void of any authentic faith in God. People were more concerned about keeping accordance with what their religious leaders were telling them than actually seeking out a personal relationship with God. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he had to deal with this problem head on.

The systematic nature of ancient Judaism is a nature that has permeated every religion of our day. Groups of leaders come together to set up these codes of conduct that they want all their followers to abide by. No doubt some have a good intent behind it; they want to make sure they’re obeying God rather than man. But what always gets overlooked is how their own commandments and laws become more authoritative than the commandments and laws of God. This was the issue with the Galatian churches; Jewish-Christians were coming forward appearing to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, but still clinging to the traditions of old – and requiring everyone else to do the same.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” – Matthew 15:7-9 

What is the gospel? It is the good news that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. These religious systems attempt to enable all followers to attain a certain level of spirituality by what they do. If they obey, then their lives are going to be great. If they don’t obey, then they’re lives are going to be hell. Paul’s words to the Galatians meant this: It is not by what you do or what you believe in; it is by whom you believe in that saves you – not just from hell or condemnation, but from the legalistic systems of this world.

Followers of the Way, which was a way of describing followers of Christ back in antiquity, were hated not because they were annoying people with funeral protests and Koran burnings; they annoyed people because they believed in Jesus – a God-man who broke their system to pieces.

Obviously the system still pervades in our day. We have countless books about systematic theology (the title alone should be a warning) and what Christians should believe. But Paul repeatedly argues that what we really need to believe in is the fact that we are loved so much by our God He died for us so we may live with Him in eternity.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” Galatians 1:3-4

This week’s encouragement is to think about why we show up to church. Is it because we’re trying to please that false god of religious legalism? Is it because we’re trying to fit in with the rest of the Christian crowd? Is it because we’re trying to look good to the elites of our society? Or is it because we thirst for something beyond the system?

“People who have been starved of water for a long time will drink anything, even if it is polluted,” NT Wright, Simply Christian

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” – Jesus, John 4:13-14

Which well are you drinking from?

Modern Idolatry and Monotheism…

Paganism has been a recurring subject in my readings this summer. Of course, I’ve been reading a lot of Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright who both attempt to understand the New Testament in its correct context: A Greco-Roman pagan world. What’s fascinating to me, though, is how common it was back then to believe in multiple – perhaps even countless – gods. It’s much easier for us to believe in one God since we’ve been raised in a predominantly “Christian” nation. But in the time that the NT was produced, it was ridiculous to think that there was just one.

Most of you may know that the word “Christian” was originally used as a derogatory term towards those idiotic Jesus freaks because they believed in one God. I don’t know why it’s so striking to me, but it is. And, actually, I think it simplifies the whole process. Instead of waking up and making a sacrifice to the mini-fridge god who keeps my food cold during the night and then going out into the world to make more sacrifices to more local gods to appease them so that things might go well for me, I just pray to Jesus. It really narrows down the email directory.

I’ve been thinking about it some more, though, and I’ve been wondering what other kinds of gods we’ve created in our world, even though we claim to be of a monotheistic faith? Well, as I discovered today, there’s the god of TV, the god gambling, the god alcohol, the god of movies, the god of Facebook, the god of Twitter, the god of WordPress… and on and on they go. In the ancient pagan world, we could justify all these different “gods” by adding some kind of ritual to them and giving some kind of reason as to why we must sacrifice to them (i.e. I must check Facebook 20 times a day so that I can get 20 more friends each week). But what Christians appear to have said in those days is that each of these must be de-deified. There is one true God whom we must all worship above any other.

I don’t think that the ancient pagans would worship random objects around the house; I think there was a little more to it than that. But my point is clear: We could very easily create a whole new set of gods within our own rooms that distract us from seeking the one God who we believe was responsible for raising Jesus from the grave. And it may not even be something you spend most of your time with, either; it could be something that you long for more than you long for God. Personally speaking, I think I have often exalted the idea of marriage. I’ve often craved a wife more than I’ve craved God. No, finding a wife isn’t a bad thing, but it could easily become a bad thing if I want one more than I want a relationship with God.

Modern idolatry appears to be much more subtle than we care to acknowledge. It’s not idolatry to watch TV for six hours of the day or play video games all through the night, we might say. But when you look at the idolatry in the NT – or in the Bible as a whole – there is one key similarity that cannot be ignored: Instead of our hearts being rendered to God, we render them to created things.

It’s tough to break these idols, too. Israel clearly had a problem with it in the OT. But there’s yet another benefiting to believing in one God (beyond a shorter contact list): No matter what you’re doing or where you’re at, God is there with you. It’s the same God who was with you when you woke up, when you ate breakfast, when you honked your horn at the old lady driving the opposite way on a one-way, when you got to work, when you went to the store, and when you opened a bottle beer to watch TV with your friends or family. Why is it a big deal that it’s one God who’s with us everywhere we go? Because no matter what or where, we know that it’s something God put together for us to enjoy. We know that it may not always be there, so we can thank God for the act of giving it to us. We can worship this one God, Yahweh, in every small detail of our lives.

I think that’s something worth being crazy about.

God bless.

Dancing Through the Day to Day…

Like Harold Camping, I had a failed prediction this weekend. On Tuesday I talked about “breathing deeply” on Sunday morning – this morning. But when I woke up, my sinuses were clogged and my asthma had kicked in; my allergy season as finally set in. I didn’t do much deep breathing this morning; I had to take what I could get.

In all seriousness, though, I’ve been thinking about what happens now after Camping’s second failed prediction. Is he thinking, “Third times the charm,” or is has his faith in God been rattled, if not destroyed altogether? Groups like the one Camping has led are terribly destructive; psychologically, spiritually, and even pragmatically. There was one man who had spent his entire life savings of $140,000 to pay for more advertising with May 21st. How’s he feeling this morning? That’s where my concern is now. What about Camping’s victims – even Camping himself?

My hope is that this weekend brought about the spiritual slap in the face they needed – as we all need from time to time. What I mean by this is that there is the human inclination, the human tendency, to slip into a pattern of piety and ritual; where we take the “simplicity” of the faith to the extreme – so much so that we hinder ourselves from experiencing the heart of God. Removing ourselves from this form of religion can be devastating to our faith. But if we’re spiritually slapped in the faith – rebuked in such a way that we’re compelled to step back and reevaluate everything – we begin to realize it wasn’t our faith that was devastated; it was our understanding of our faith.

Harold Camping and I believe in the proclamations of Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the crucified and yet risen Lord, and that He will one day return to make things right. What separates us, though, is how we understand these beliefs. What my hope today is that Camping is realizing the Bible can’t be a tool by which he gains national and international attention because of his deductive calculations. I hope he is beginning to realize that Jesus is more about grace than He is about wrath and condemnation. And I hope he has seen quite clearly that no one will ever genuinely come to believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit by fear and intimidation.

I hope the same exact thing for all his followers. I hope that their eyes would be opened as well as their minds and hearts to the real Jesus; the Jesus that is leading and guiding us in the Way to true life. Does it mean being ready for when He comes? Yes, but this is far from the focal point. What is? This morning, breaking from my routine of Proverbs in the morning and Psalms in the evening, I read Psalm 19. As usual, my mind wasn’t really engaging the text until I came to verse 14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

I love the depth to this verse; that it isn’t about any outward show, but an inward intent. And from here I went back through the Psalm to see just what was defined as “acceptable,” or, as the NIV has it, “pleasing” to God. What I found aligns with what Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

In Psalm 19, there is a long passage discussing the laws, rules, fear, precepts, and commandments of God and also the effect of all these:

“The law of the LORD is perfect (or blameless),

reviving the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure,

making wise the simple;

the precepts of the LORD are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is prue,

enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the LORD is clean,

enduring forever;

the rules of the LORD are true,

and righteous altogether.” – vv. 7-9

Jesus wants us to live out the law of God not because He wants our habitual devotion, our aggressive advertising, or our surface-level piety; He wants us to live it out so that He can give us something – true life.

The law of God revives the soul, makes the simple wise, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and is true and righteous altogether. Jesus wants us to follow this law in order to receive that which He wants to give us. We fail in receiving it when we apply our man-made philosophies of religion back onto the way, law, and heart of God.

God’s kingdom did not arrive yesterday. Why not? Because it’s already here. In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Jesus’ resurrection, as NT Wright says, inaugurated God’s kingdom making its invasion on the earth. In this pit of darkness a light is beginning to break through. We can choose to be a part of this light – a part of this Life – if we simply enact the heart of God in the day to day.

Harold Camping failed to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence in his own Bible that God is not in some distant galaxy waiting for one specific moment, one specific date, one specific hour to make His landing; He’s already here. He’s already within us. And if we love God and love others as Jesus commanded, we will experience that kingdom; we will feel Him at work within us. Future is not something we are supposed to just dream about and not strive for; it’s something we can choose to live today.

I hope and pray that Camping and all of his followers begin to see this reality – even if it means forsaking all of what they formerly believed to be true.

And may we all take part in this dance that is the Kingdom of God.

God bless.

Investigating Christology…

A question that has been rattling around my mind for the past couple of days deals with Christ’s divinity. A friend of mine from both my religious studies classes wrote his Early Christianity paper about Paul’s Christology; investigating whether or not Paul regarded Christ as God (second Person in the Trinity) or as an agent of God (one through whom God brought about His kingdom). I forget the details of his argument because I only heard his presentation and haven’t been able to read his paper on it, but I recall it stirring my mind a little. On Friday, I had coffee with my friend and he essentially told me the boat he was in: He has a difficult question to deal with (especially in rooting this back into his faith) and very few people are willing to even hear his questions.

Later on in the afternoon, I watched a video posted on Near Emmaus with NT Wright discussing Christology in terms of John’s Gospel. One thing Wright mentioned was that the “I am” statements of Jesus weren’t necessarily claims to be God, second Person of the Trinity. Instead, they could very well have been Messianic claims.

Trying to figure out the difference between a claim to be the source of divinity as opposed to a source is an interesting investigation. This is the heart of the question I’ve had: Which was Jesus; God or agent of God? And I know that plenty of other theologians and scholars throughout history have taken up the study of Paul’s Christology or Christology in general, so I’ll have several hands full of resources to glean from. But as of right now, I’ve had an interesting idea in mind: Study through the seven authentic Pauline letters (as well as the others, too, though wary that they may not have been penned by Paul) and see what the evidence actually says. (Those seven, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.)

What I think will be the most challenging thing for me is figuring out how it fits into my faith. All my Christian life I’ve been taught to treat Christ as God and now to even question the possibility might shake my faith. But yet I don’t know; just because Christ may not have been God doesn’t mean He wasn’t the Messiah proclaimed about in the Prophetic books. It will simply challenge my 21st century, indoctrinated way of thinking about Jesus, God, and the Bible. These doctrines have, thus far, been foundational to the way I’ve approached Scripture and God; but does that mean I have been correct in doing so? Is it in fact wrong to think of Jesus as God? Or are we actually incidentally right?

There are plenty of questions that could emerge from this study, so I must be careful to keep the central one in focus: Is Jesus the source of the divine or a source of the divine? What my heart leads me to believe may not be what the evidence suggests, so this could be a challenge journey. But it’s one I feel compelled to take. Anyone who is willing to study this idea as well is welcome to comment on the blogs I post or start up posts of their own. For reading I’ve opened up Romans and taken note of all the times Paul seems to make a Christological claim (one that either equate Him to God or defines Him as God’s agent).

Christ taught His early followers to seek things out and to love God with all their minds. I aim to do so with this study and would greatly appreciate anyone else willing to ask these questions and to share answers/opinions along the way (especially anyone from Near Emmaus, which I believe there was at least one person kind of investigating Christology).

To those who might not want to read what I read, but rather what I write, I hope to make these posts informative and inviting. I’d encourage any readers to do readings on their own about these questions, but it’s not a requirement. I just desire an honest investigation.

Inerrancy and Its Irrelevance to Me…

Throughout the last couple of years, many have questioned my beliefs about the Bible. Since I, at the very least, am at odds with the doctrine of inerrancy, many believe that I’m on the border of becoming a heretic. Disliking the feeling of being rejected by fellow Christians for my version of the Christian faith, I’ve had it on my heart for some time to write out what I believe and why. I apologize in advance to all those who dislike church politics, but sometimes certain things arise that need to be set in order. This is one of them.

The doctrine of inerrancy, as the ESV Study Bible states it, is the belief that “The Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in its original manuscripts,” (2507). What this article in the ESV Study Bible does not discuss is where those original manuscripts are: We don’t have them. Scholars (as usual) have often debated as to whether or not it’s possible to get back to the originals through the manuscripts we have, but no matter what is produced from such a study, it will be subject to the scholars’ varying opinions (even amongst the “conservative” and “liberal” sides).

When it comes to faith in Jesus Christ, though, I find no need of the doctrine of inerrancy itself. Even if it is true, my faith is in the blood of Jesus Christ shed for me and the resurrected life that He has given and is working through me. This is the point in my beliefs where many of my fellow Christians get unsettled. “What, then, do you really believe about the Bible?” some have asked. Answering this question has taken some time, prayer, and difficult conversations with pastors and a favorite professor.

But then, just yesterday, I read a quote from N.T. Wright that encapsulates my view of Scripture. Discussing “Inspiration and ‘the Word of YHWH,’” Wright says, “‘Inspiration’ is a shorthand way of talking about the belief that by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have. … And in and through it all we find the elusive but powerful idea of God’s ‘word,’ not as a synonym for the written scriptures, but as a strange personal presence, creating, judging, healing, recreating,” (Scripture and the Authority of God, 36).

As Dr. Falk, my favorite professor from U of O, once told me, the Spirit of God has been treated (even in the very Scriptures we hold dear to) as the first testament – the supreme authority – to our hearts. It’s the internal revelation we had when we first came to Christ and it’s the internal convictions we’ve had since that have corrected our thinking, speaking, and acting in order to follow God’s commandments and teachings more closely. If this is the same Spirit that inspired the Scriptures, then that means, as Dr. Falk told me, the Scriptures are the second testament to the first: The Holy Spirit, living and breathing within us.

N.T. Wright puts it this way: “When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh.’… Since [this is itself a] ‘scriptural’ [statement], that means that scripture itself points – authoritatively, if it does indeed possess authority! – away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ,” (22).

Jesus is the reason I was baptized. Jesus is the reason I bought a Bible and started reading it. Jesus is the reason I have devoted my life towards something greater than myself. And Jesus is the reason why I have chosen to gather with Calvary-Fellowship instead of any other “sound-doctrine” church.

Some have told me to be careful. Some have told me there are too many “red flags” at Calvary. And some have told me that I’m “walking on a slippery slope.” But an interesting thing about those who’ve warned me against Calvary: They’ve never met my pastor, let alone have a conversation with him about inerrancy and biblical authority. And even if they had, I would much rather follow God onto a slippery slope than follow man’s commandments and doctrines that usually lead to religious bigotry instead of sincere faith.

Of course, sadly, the debates will continue to rage and false rumors will continue to spread. We’re human; we like controversy and gossip. What I would encourage everyone adamant about church politics is to read over Philippians 1:27, specifically where Paul encourages the Philippians to “[stand] firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

At the end of the day, I worship, pray to, and seek Jesus. For any of His teachings and commandments, I refer to and study Scripture. “Wouldn’t that mean you believe it’s inerrant or perfect?” Does it need to be? I have yet to find any indication from Scripture that the doctrine of inerrancy is a prerequisite to being a follower of Christ. If that’s the case, Christians for the first 300 years or so (who had no Bible) cannot be regarded as “real” Christians. (Here is where I’ve been referred to 2 Timothy 3:16 as verification for inerrancy, but, quite frankly, it’s not that simple – and nowhere does Paul say “mandatory” regarding Scripture; it’s either “profitable” or “useful.”)

Think about it for yourself and your own personal faith; have you come to Christ believing the Scriptures were perfect? Do you think they need to be in order to have a genuine faith in Jesus? Or is it sufficient for them to be “reliable” rather than “perfect” (two very different words)? As I always have been, I’m open to discussion – insofar as it’s a discussion. Inerrancy is often a topic that leads to people “correcting” me, which only seems to push me further from the doctrine.

One final thing: If you want to know what my church believes or, more specifically, what my pastor believes, go to him. I can say what I think his beliefs are, but I’d rather let him speak for himself. In many regards, he and I agree, but in some others, we don’t. That’s the beauty of the Christian faith; it allows for different people with different backgrounds, different beliefs, different opinions to come together as one body (the church) for one faith.

May we all seek to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strengths.

God bless.