Monday, July 16, 2007

The Doctrine of Scripture

In an earlier post, I stated my reasons for rejecting the two popularly held beliefs about the Bible: first, that the Bible is just a human book with no connection to the divine; and second, that the Bible as the Word of God is the “user’s manual of life.” In fact, there is a nugget of truth in each. That the Bible was produced by humans is self-evident on even a cursory reading. Whatever else one may believe, it is clear that the style of writing and the personality of each biblical author was not short-circuited when the Bible was written. On the other hand, literally billions of people have approached the Bible as the Word of God and have felt the Bible become a divine catalyst to connect them to God.

It is noteworthy that the early Christian creeds attempt to sum up the teachings of the scriptures but they do not include a doctrine of scriptures themselves. A few weeks ago I posted a quote from Clark Pinnock who argued that the most important purpose of the Bible is “to present a sound and reliable testimony to who [God] is and what God has done for us.” The Bible does not call attention to itself, but instead acts as a giant pointer to Jesus Christ and the gospel. It is far more important what you believe about what the Bible says than what you believe about the Bible itself. Jesus Christ, not the Bible, is the object of our faith.

Through His death, Jesus offers us the opportunity to enter into covenant with God (Mark 14.24). Ephesians 2.12-13 reminds us that we, as gentiles, “were [once] separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus [we] who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Entering into covenant with God requires that we understand the terms of the covenant that God has made with us, and this is the best way for us to understand the doctrine of scripture.

In The Last Word, N.T. Wright argues at length that “‘authority of scripture’ is shorthand for ‘God’s authority exercised through scripture” (p.23). The Bible functions as the covenant document between God and His people. Based on no other evidence but the cumulative experiences of Christians through history (including my own), it is entirely plausible that the covenant presented in the New Testament is a true covenant offered by God.

Thus the doctrine of scripture is best understood covenantally. It helps us unpack what it means to follow Jesus and live in obedience to our covenant God. A covenantal view avoids the problem of trying to defend the kind of bumper sticker faith that boldly asserts, “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it,” but cannot stand up to rigorous cross-examination from those who are not so trusting. But the covenantal approach also allows us to open our eyes to legitimate difficulties in the text without collapsing into total skepticism.

Tomorrow I will make some observations that follow from this covenantal doctrine of scripture. As always, I invite your comments. I am still working this all out, so I am not sure I am consistent yet.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I really like the covenantal look at Scripture, but I'm not so sure that I can see what difference it makes, practically speaking. I do think there's a lot more to covenant in our relationship to God than we, as American individualists, realize.