"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, June 23, 2008

Christ and Scripture

The Evangelical Theological Society began with one doctrine to affirm: the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Since the Modernist-Fundamentalist debates of the early 20th Century, it is nearly indisputable that the defining characteristic and center focus of Evangelicalism in America is Bibliology. The evidence is hard to miss. Look at the first doctrine of most churches. Look at the signs and symbols of many Evangelical seminaries (like here and here) and institutions and can even dominate the images and signs of churches. I even saw on the back of a Christian catalog this phrase: “The Bible alone is the Word of God”

And what else would we expect? Isn’t the Bible the Word of God and the basis of our knowledge of God? I would like to suggest such a formulation, and especially that phrase I quoted from the back of the catalog, is insufficient and under-developed. The Christian faith certainly centers around the Word of God, but the Word of God is not primarily defined as a book...I would also like to contend, that this American Bible-central focus is not healthy and not, at heart, Reformed.

One may get the impression that Reformed theology deserves some credit for this Bible focus. Take a look at the major Reformed Confessions, and you will see the first Article is usually one on Scripture. This is wholly appropriate. For the foundation of our particulars of our theology of God is based on written Scripture.

Scripture itself, however, does not testify to itself as the pinicle and end of faith. For Muslims, the Koran is the perfect Word of God and the means of salvation. We are not Muslims, and the Bible is not merely the Christian Koran. Jesus Christ tells the Pharisees that this was their great sin. John 5:39 puts it beautifully: “You search the Scriptures, for you think in them you have everlasting life. And they are the ones witnessing concerning Me.”

At minimum, we should see the Scriptures do not claim themselves as the center of our faith, but are our sure and faithful guide to our true center: God, especially revealed in the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ.

I say nothing new here, in fact I say things very old. Perhaps so old we have forgotten them. And perhaps we would readily agree that the Scriptures point to Christ. Would we go further and admit that we have sometimes neglected to assign to Christ a title given to Him by those Scriptures: Word of God?

But of course, Christ is the Word of God in John 1, and so the Word of God incarnate. The Scriptures on the other hand are the Word of God written, a totally different discussion. They need not be thought of in the same thought, let alone the same class, day, month or even year.

This seemingly valid distinction has unfortunately become a division. If we trace the language of “Word of God” in the Early Church, we find not a division, but a union so tightly knit together that it confuses the modern reader. Take for instance Clement of Alexandria. When quoting Scripture, Clement often used phraseology like: “The Logos has proclaimed this loudly through Moses…” Clement uses Logos, not as an inanimate noun, but as a Personality that proclaims. The Word of God incarnate was so closely associated with the Word of God written, the two occupied the same thought and breath so intricately that to speak of Scripture proclaiming something was to see the words as imputed to Christ Himself. The starting point of faith was in the Personality rather than the written word. The inspiration of Scripture was based on the divine nature of the Logos as God rather than any internal structure. Our Bibliology requires a foundation in our Christiology, as part of the work of Christ:

Our reading of the Scriptures lack this close association. Read Hebrews 4:12. Does this immediately first make you think of Christ or Scripture? I have yet to find an early church father that took this as pointing to Scripture, all see Christ. From the entirety of the canon, this interpretation follows the Biblical usage, as this phraseology is actually used of Christ first in Luke 2. Is the Bible a piercing sword? Yes. Is Christ a piercing sword? Yes. Because the Word of God is a piercing sword.

But again, I claim no new teaching in this regard. Pelikan summed up the mind of the early church on this matter thusly:

'Word of God' was, of course, one of the most important technical terms for Jesus Christ in his relation to the Father; and when 'the gospel' or 'Scripture' was equated with the 'word of God,' the presence of Christ in this means of grace was seen as in some way analogous to his presence in the flesh...Christ was the preaching of God." (Christian Tradition Vol 1 - pg 161)

But also importantly for us, this is not merely the teaching of the early Church. Dutch Reformed theologican Herman Bavinck writes:

He [Christ] is the Logos in an utterly unique sense, revealer and revelation alike. In him, all revelations of God, all words of God, in nature and history, in creation and re-creation, under the Old and New Testaments, have their ground, their unity and center. He is the sun; the particular words of God are its rays. The word of God in nature, in Israel, in the New Testament, in Scripture may not for a moment be detached or thought about apart from Him. God’s revelation exists only because He is the Logos. He is the principium cognoscendi [the principle of knowing], in the general sense of all knowledge, in the special sense, as logos ensarkos [the word infleshed], of all knowledge of God, of religion and theology, Matt 11:27. (Reformed Dogmatics - Vol 1, pg 402)

So I stand by my original blog post: Christ is the center of our faith. Even as the Scriptures are our text to understand our faith, even as our Christian epistemology may wonder if our Scriptures are the only true basis for our knowing - ultimately Christ is the basis of our knowing.

The important question we have to ask is: have we allowed the "Word of God" merely to mean God's commands or instructions in a book? Or does "Word of God" mean a Person who pierces us to our soul and look for this Person in our Scriptures. Muslims believe in the Word of God as revealed writings, but we are Christians and we believe in the Word of God made flesh. This does not lessen our view of Scripture, instead the Scriptures gain more power when we realize that in reading them, we are not ruled by a book, but by the Lord Christ that book reveals, and Whose words they are.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Great post. That stained glass with the cross over the Bible is perfect.