Sunday, November 25, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 5

My first hermeneutical bias is to privilege Jesus over all else in Scripture.

I guess I can't take for granted that a bias is a good thing. Because some of you are thinking, "Doesn't it say somewhere that 'All Scripture is God-breathed...'" Yes it does.

But Jesus (again I'm privileging him anyway) says in Matthew 23:23, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former." Other translations translate the underlined portion as "weightier matters."

And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."

Apparently, Scripture is not a flat text. There are more important and less important matters, though all of Scripture is God-breathed.

Now, privileging Jesus seems like an obvious move, but as I argued in post 4, I'm amazed at how many people don't practice this bias.

Bear with me as I spit some Christology...

Hebrews 1:1-3 is one of the most important sections of Scripture for me. In verse 3, God says that Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God's being. That's a huge statement! In ages past, God spoke through the prophets. But in Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself in human form.

And here's the scandal of the incarnation: It's not just that Jesus is like God; it's that God is like Jesus. If that's not scandalous enough, then listen to this: If it can't be said of Jesus, it can't possibly be true of God.

For all of you mathematicians, here's the equation:

God = Jesus; Jesus = God

Now, that statement has implications. Because it's one thing to use God as a standard of judgment, but to use a 1st-century Jewish man as a standard of measurement against which we understand God is a whole different level altogether. But that's what the text says. "Jesus is the exact representation of God's being."

Wow! If that's true, then there are certainties I now have about God.

On the other hand, there are some tensions I now have to deal with if I hold that statement to be true. Because to be honest, there are parts of Scripture describing God that don't seem to be things that Jesus would do or command.

For instance, I have a hard time with passages like 1 Samuel 15:3 where God commands the Israelites to completely destroy (including women, children, and infants) the Amalekites. I can't imagine those words coming out of Jesus' mouth. How is it possible to square those words with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48, a passage commanding his followers to nonviolence and love of enemies? (I know there are people who have tried to square those words, but I believe it is impossible.)

That passage might not be the point of tension for you. But I'm guessing there's a point of tension somewhere in Scripture that makes it hard to square descriptions of God with Jesus, who is the exact representation of God.

Marcion certainly felt the tension. Marcion was an early Christian bishop who rejected the deity described in the Old Testament as inferior to the God of the New Testament. That's certainly one way to deal with this tension, but it's a route that will get you branded as a heretic (just like Marcion was).

Now, if I'm going to privilege Jesus and his words in my reading of Scripture, there's another issue.

Which Jesus are you going to privilege?

Education Jesus?
Charismatic Jesus?
Social justice Jesus?
Hippie Jesus?
Bible thumpin' Jesus?
Hipster Jesus?
Psychology Jesus?
Rambo Jesus?
Republican Jesus?
Democrat Jesus?

George Bernard Shaw once said, "God created man in His image and then man returned the favor."

Have you ever noticed that Jesus just happens to agree with you...about everything?
-He would heal the people you think he should.
-He would vote like you.
-He would spend money like you do.
-He would would root for the same sports teams that you do.

Anne Lamott once said, "You know you've created Jesus in your image when he hates all the same people you do."

There are many counterfeit Jesuses out there to choose from. We do it all the time.

But if we truly want to privilege Jesus, then we need to form a clear understanding of who Jesus truly is. And the only way to do that is to drink deeply in the gospels.

And that's why I preached through the Gospel of Mark for 6 months soon after I arrived at Littleton. It's also why we spent all year in the Sermon on the Mount as a congregation.

If we are going to be Jesus' followers, we had better know exactly who we are following.

And that's why any time I am studying with a seeker, I'm not going to take them through a 5-lesson study about justification in the Book of Romans. Instead, we are going to spend time in a gospel getting to know Jesus.

Because the last thing I want is for someone to become a Christian and be unclear about who Christ is.

So, my first bias is to hand Jesus the trump card. If there's anything in Scripture that conflicts with the teaching and life of Jesus, I'm consciously choosing to superimpose Jesus over those texts.

What implications would this bias have if you were to take it on? Thoughts?


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