As a recovering evangelical, I could be accused of bias, but I nonetheless accuse most of American Evangelicalsim of losing its first love (Rev. 2:4). The tricky thing is, it has done so in a religious manner. Here’s an example of what I’m getting at:
I was in Sunday School this past weekend and the person leading it didn’t teach or facilitate – he indoctrinated the class as he offered an introduction to this new class on “spiritual formation.” His thesis statement was that the word of God is truth and he set this up by writing the question on the marker board “what is truth?” Now, he is defining the word of God as the Bible and the Bible is his starting place. That’s common, especially in evangelical churches, but it’s loaded with problems. Let’s start with the question.
What is truth? The question we actually ask when we form the words presupposes a type of answer. Most people have been conditioned to think of truth ideologically, so we expect a philosophical answer to the question. However, there is a problem with this approach to the question. In Christianity, the question is not posed as “what” is truth, but “who” is truth, for Christ declared himself as “The Truth” in John 14:6 and the very same Gospel defines Christ as “The Word” who “became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Not once in this particular Sunday School class were either of these verses quoted at all, much less used as a thesis for the presentation.
I do not dispute that scripture is God-breathed, nor do I dispute the Bible’s value as our connection point in meeting God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit, but it is vital that we keep our focus on Christ as our starting point.
The Bible is not the Word made flesh; it is not God incarnate – Christ is. Christ is our atonement; Christ is our savior; Christ is our redeemer; Christ is these things and so much more – the Bible is not. It is of infinite worth as our connection point – our window – but it cannot be our foundation.
When we do not start with Christ, we have replaced him as our starting point, regardless of what we have replaced him with and no matter how holy that person or thing may be. Whether it’s the church itself, the church’s tradition or the Bible – none of those things are Christ, no matter how holy and valuable they are. So, when we transition to the Bible as our starting point, we have taken our eyes off of Christ. This indicates we are less captivated by his extravagant love and beauty than we could be and have, therefore, lost our first love.
It’s my theory that the question “what is truth” is Greco-Roman in nature, for it presupposes a philosophical answer. Truth is seen as ideological. So, in pursuit of identifying ideas and sets of ideas that are true, we turn to the Bible. That is great, but here’s the problem: We are following the lead of Greco-Roman philosophy instead of Christ by posing the question as we do. Now, we can use the question as a way of meeting the world where it is and steering it toward Christ, but when we start with the Bible and buy into the presuppositions embedded in the question, we don’t steer back to Christ – we add him as an addendum after building a foundation on the Bible itself as the word of God.
Though very subtle, this is a transition away from Christ that allows for manipulation, because now we can read our doctrine into the scripture and make the Bible appear to teach anything we want it to. There isn’t as much room for that manipulation in Christ. So, if we start with him by beginning in the Gospels, we won’t have as much opportunity to convince people to buy into the entire religious system we are indoctrinating them with. This indicates we use the Bible as our starting point because we are most concerned with our entire doctrinal system and who the Father is as represented by Christ (Col. 1:15) is just one of the components.
In and of itself, indoctrination isn’t bad. Parents and teachers indoctrinate children, for example. We all have to get a foundation of knowledge to work with. Then, we mature as we engage the process of forming that raw material, but we all receive that raw material from outside ourselves. In the church, this means the Bible is a necessary source of information we will never depart from on this side of heaven. Nonetheless, it is not Christ. The scripture is our connection point; it is where the Spirit breathes on us and forms us as we commune with Christ in community, but we must keep our focus on Christ by looking at him through the scripture. When we look at the scripture, we have taken our eyes off of him and, most of the time, we don’t realize it. When we are chiefly concerned with our system of religious doctrine, it’s easy to do.