Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More Bible, Please.

I am in the middle of reading a book about sin. (It's in preparation for a short series right before Easter. I figure that the folk at church will understand better what the resurrection is about if they understand better the problems it came to solve.) Anyway, I just finished the first chapter. This is where the author defines sin and distinguishes it from things that are not sin. And as you can appreciate, this is an important chapter. It establishes the foundation for the rest of the book. You can't talk about sin unless it's clear what you're talking about. Definitions. 

However, as I read it I found myself disturbed. There was so little Scripture. There was one reference to Psalm 51 in the text and another Scriptural reference in a footnote. Now, I'm not expecting that the author would have a long list of all the verses that talk about sin and consider his work done - though I would have thought that a comment about 'sin is lawlessness' from 1 John would have shown up somewhere. That really does sound like at least part of the definition of sin. I also understand that there is to be theological reasoning and not just verse quoting. It's as we do that sort of thing that we find patterns and themes in the Scriptures. How else would the Church have established the doctrine of the Trinity? Theological reasoning. I'm fine with that. But it's supposed to be reasoning that is based on the text of the Bible. It's reasoning that looks at key verses, that looks at the words, works to understand them and then apply them to the question at hand: 'What is sin?' I didn't see this in the chapter. And it's not that the author is some amateur theologian. He has a PhD and is a former president of a seminary in the reformed and evangelical tradition.

Now, it may be that the rest of the book is overflowing with Bible verses. I'll find out as I read it. (I took a quick peek, but didn't see much Bible.) But even if there is, I don't think that that would remove my concern. Definitions of what is sin and related issues were established in that first chapter. Those are the definitions that will be assumed in the rest of the book. And if those definitions are off, then the thinking of the rest of the book will be affected. After all, what we really want isn't the author's thinking about sin. We want to know how he understands God's thinking about sin - something to be found in the Bible.

My concern about all of this isn't produced in a vacuum. I was alarmed at what I found in the book because of  finding similar sorts of things in the Church at large. There is less and less interaction with the text of Scripture. There is less and less rooting ideas about life in what the words of the Bible are saying. We need to be careful to examine the words. It is the words of the Bible that tell the stories, express the concepts and explain both stories and concepts. We need look carefully at the words and teach based on what the words are saying.

More and more I'm seeing that for some, teaching on topics related to Christian living is done as philosophy. Certain basic definitions and/or assumptions are established. This is the foundation. Then the superstructure is built on that foundation. 'Here are my definitions and some of my assumptions. With that as a base let me explain how to think about the topic at hand.' This reminds me of those philosophers that I read in college. This is how they did, and still do, philosophy. I fear that this is how the book I'm reading is going to be.

For others, teaching on topics related to Christian living is done in terms of familiar Christian concepts. This includes things like love, mission, grace, hope. Some concept or other functions as the foundation and the superstructure is built on that. And this 'works' because, for example, 'we all know what it means to love'. But if these concepts are not rooted in the text of Scripture, the words, then the concept will be defined according to some prevailing notion of what it's supposed to mean. So, love can become this sentimental niceness that never crosses a person's will or a stringent attitude that is intent on doing good to a person no matter how much it hurts him. But is that what the text of Scripture means by love? Is that what God means?

The Church is losing the Bible. And that's because we aren't using it, not the way that it's supposed to be used. Appealing to the text of Scripture, dealing with the words, is being done less and less. If this isn't changed, we will lose the Gospel itself. It may take a generation or two, but it will happen. Consider mainline Protestant denominations today. They weren't always so devoid of the Scriptural Gospel. At one time they were places where a very pure Gospel was being preached and applied and believed. No longer. If evangelical churches aren't careful the same thing will happen to us too.