The fate of evangelicalism in America hinges on this:
Do we look to JESUS in developing our conception of God, or do we look to the BIBLE in developing our conception of God?
I know what many are thinking. I know that we’ve been taught to harmonize the teachings of Jesus with the rest of the Bible and that we’ve created over-arching “systematic theologies” that explain the various covenants and laws and actions of God throughout history. From this perspective Jesus marks a radical change in how God deals with mankind. God “used to” demand sacrifices and uphold holiness codes in the Old Covenant, but now in Jesus these things are being replaced with grace, mercy and forgiveness (for some). He “used to” empower His chosen people in their killing of enemies, but now His people are called to renounce violence and love their enemies. He “used to” reward the righteous with good weather, good harvests, health and wealth, and curse the wicked with plagues and famine, but now He shines the sun and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Well I am now convinced that this BIBLICAL doctrine of a changing God is complete rubbish. God never changes. WE CHANGE.
The BIBLE is the chronicle of a people experiencing an evolving and progressive understanding of God. We used to think that God demands sacrifices and upholds holiness codes but now because of Jesus we know this conception of God has always been FALSE. We used to think that God empowers the “good guys” to kill the “bad guys” but now because of Jesus we know that this too NEVER happened. We used to think that earthly prosperity was a reward for holiness, and that calamity or poverty was God’s judgment on the wicked, but now because of Jesus we know that God NEVER worked this way.
This is what it means to take Jesus seriously. This is what it means to truly be a Christian.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and TRUTH came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
He 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.”
Don’t let the theologians with their legalisms and covenants and systematic theologies confuse the issue by trying to “harmonize” Jesus with the Bible!
Just trust Jesus.
To turn away from Him towards any of these man-made schemes is to miss the perfection of the Word of God in human flesh!
Jesus came to HEAL our false conceptions of God that were rooted in imperfect BIBLICAL conceptions of the nature of God. It is either Jesus OR the Bible. We can no longer deceive ourselves by trying to harmonize both revelations or give them equal weight. We must give our allegiance to one or the other, and either read the Bible through Jesus, or re-interpret Jesus through the Bible. If we choose wrong our foundation will be built on shifting sand.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
This is the house of evangelicalism in America today… a house collapsing in the face of the winds of change. Yet Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Are you willing to put Jesus FIRST, even if it means asking tough questions about the Bible?
If you ARE sincerely willing to dig deeper then I have a few resources that I’d like to suggest:
Brad Jersak has written an excellent brief essay on how to read the Bible while putting Jesus first. See “ONE STORY, TWO REVELATIONS, FOUR VOICES: READING BIBLICAL NARRATIVE CHRISTOCENTRICALLY” at http://www.clarion-journal.com/files/one-story-1.pdf. He offers some good insight that can lead into a healthy and positive deconstruction that remains faithful to Jesus.
Andre Rabe has written a series of blogs on this subject including the essay, “When God Disagrees With Scripture.” Check them all out here: http://alwaysloved.net/category/articles/the-scriptures-series/, and also check out his Mimesis Academy, a year-long online school. My wife and I have been greatly blessed by the ministry of Andre and his wife Mary-Anne!
Brian Zahnd is the pastor of a church in Missouri and I consider him to be one of the most important prophetic voices of our time. Read any of his books and follow him on social media and through his blog at https://brianzahnd.com/. His upcoming book is Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God and I know it will be amazing!
Greg Boyd is the pastor of a church in Minnesota and I’ve been following his thoughts for years. Recently he published a two-volume study that grapples with the tension between God as revealed by Jesus and the violent God described in the Old Testament. It’s a very deep theological work so I suggest instead that readers check out the three-part review of his work from Rob Grayson over at faithmeetsworld.com. The title of Boyd’s book is The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, and what Boyd proposes is that the bad idea that God was ever an angry and violent punisher was itself crucified with Jesus on the Cross. Boyd suggests not only a christocentric reading of Scripture but also a crucicentric reading, with the Cross being the interpretive key allowing us to test and interpret everything else in Scripture.
Jeremy Myers is a bible scholar and author based in Oregon and he has written one of the best books on the subject of the atonement that I have ever read: The Atonement of God – Building Your Theology on a Crucivision of God. Like Boyd, Myers places the Cross at the center of his theology and doesn’t back away from the greater implications that flow from that. If we can get the meaning of the Cross right, then we can find it much easier to accept the more radical teachings of Jesus that mainstream religion can never embrace. I think this easy-to-read little book is a great introduction to the Spirit-led deconstruction that is sweeping the evangelical world today! Follow Jeremy at https://redeeminggod.com.
Michael Hardin is a bible scholar, author, mentor, and director of Preaching Peace, a non-profit organization dedicated to the radical non-violent ethic of Jesus. His book The Jesus Driven Life is a tour de force of evangelical deconstruction that has massively impacted a ton of people! This book is not for the faint-of-heart or for the rigid dogmatists out there, and Hardin is known for his irascible style on facebook that can sometimes rub people the wrong way. Yet his perspective carries a lot of weight and I’ve been greatly blessed and encouraged by his insights. Before you dive into Hardin’s world I suggest the multi-part review of JDL, “The Jesus Driven Reading of God,” offered by blogger William Adriano. Here’s an excerpt from the review:
I had never noticed a key element of Jesus’ preaching, his doctrine of God. Jesus didn’t take his doctrine of God from the Torah, but rather from himself. Instead of pointing to the Torah and saying “God is like that“, he would point to himself and say “God is like this.“ Jesus redefined God according to himself. As the writer of the gospel of John says, Jesus is the Word, not the Torah and not the New Testament. After all, it was neither to Moses (representing the Law) nor to Elijah (representing the Prophets) that the voice from the clouds (Luke 9:35) told the disciples to listen to, it was to Jesus (The Gospel). Jesus living and breathing is God speaking. He is the inerrant Word of God, and that is something no text can ever be regardless of how many times we label it Holy.
In addition to Preaching Peace, Michael Hardin has also established the online School of Peace Theology, and he is hosting a big Peace Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in early November, which my wife and I plan to attend. It will be a great time to listen and learn and connect with friends from all over the world!
These are just a few voices and resources out there that I believe are leading the way for us to truly see God for who He is, allowing us to model Him in this world as beings made in His image, faithfully imitating Christ as sons and daughters of a loving God. For me, this is what the “end times” are all about. Romans 8:19. The manifestation (apocalpyse!) of the true children of God to a world that is groaning with anticipation. The Spirit of God is on the move and His children are responding!
Aloha from Kailua, Hawaii
May 20, 2017