My theology is messed up. “What’s new with that,” you say? I’m glad you asked.
To be more specific, my theology is about to be messed up. I’ve just had the biggest paradigm shifting moment I’ve had in years. Call me weird, but I love to have my paradigms challenged.
It all started with a discussion on TheologyOnline.com. We were discussing Jn. 1:1 and the definition of LOGOS (the Word), including the possible Hellenistic influences on this the last of the four Gospels, when one of the posters wrote this about whether Revelation should even be in the bible:
“As I already told you – Revelation was debated for a very long time, much longer than the gospel of John. Those who accepted John rejected Revelation. There was also another apocalypse on the table that was considered scripture by many: the Apocalypse of Peter! If the early church was skeptical of these writings I see no reason why I shouldn’t be as well.”
A light went off in my dim, formerly pot-stricken mind.
Us Protestants seem to be no better than the Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses who just accept something because some person or group in history came up with a definitive statement about it. There really is no difference between a Catholic accepting a doctrine because some supposed authoritative body or Pope made up our minds about it and a Protestant who accepts without question the canon of scripture. It’s just plain laziness on both occasions and I must say I have been guilty as sin of the latter.
It seems we have the same problem as Catholics and resolve the issue the same way. A Catholic believes God would not just let all these Christians loose on the theological gym floor to come up with their own doctrines. Bedlam would ensue and a quick read of church history seems to bear this out. Such a sight leads to insecurity so they reason God must have provided us with an authority to keep us on the straight and narrow. Hence, the Mother Church, the Defender of the Faith. Ditto for the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who looked at all the denominations caused by everyone thinking for themselves and concluded God could never have authored such a mess, hence the need for latter day prophets to straighten us all out. Interestingly, Muslims reason the same way.
Our problem as Protestants is that if we are going to rely on scriptures alone, adhere to Sola Scriptura, and not on some institution or latter day prophet to keep us in line then we need God to do essentially the same thing: God must provide us with a complete, authoritative list of books to include in that canon with no quibbling or second guessing among us as to which books are authentic, inspired or credible. If God hadn’t done this, we would never be able to go about the business of determining just what is biblical and what isn’t, so they reason.
This is a problem, for me at least. Some church council in the 4th century is telling me which books are inspired, authoritative, or to be considered the Word of God. Who were these people? Were they chosen by God for this task? Do they somehow have more of the Holy Spirit than I do? Are we not elevating them to the same level of inspiration as we believe the authors of the bible had? That’s a bit of irony that escapes the average Evangelical.
After reading about one church council of a few decades prior to this which anathematized (damned to hell) anyone who does not proclaim publicly that Mary is the “Mother of God,” I have my doubts. After reading some church history from this era showing the carnal self-serving nature of the leaders who forgot to follow Christ’s example of servant leadership, I really don’t want them making these kinds of decisions on my behalf. Some group of faithful leaders who put their lives on the line to serve Christ in the 2nd century maybe but not this bunch about 80 years after Christianity became legal in the early 4th century.
Evangelicals will have a really hard time with where I am going. It’s hard enough for them to accept that some parts of scripture may not be inerrant. They reason if we accept the idea that part of it may have errors, how will we know that a really important passage dealing with our salvation isn’t an error and thus we are believing the wrong things and might not even be saved! Surely God would not allow that and therefore must have given us a 100% reliable text to follow. Scriptures cannot be authoritative if they are not reliable. If they are not authoritative us Protestants might as well throw in the towel, stop “protesting,” and be Catholics. Rome would welcome us with open arms.
That makes sense, but funny thing, Evangelical scholars who reason this way also recognize that it was only the original manuscripts written by the apostles that were inerrant, and unfortunately we don’t have those. Or fortunately given man’s propensity for idolatry – Shroud of Turin, anyone? What we do have, they admit, does have errors because there exists no perfect translation based on perfect manuscripts that have no corruptions.
The originals were inerrant, we surmise. We don’t have the originals. So what difference does it make if the originals had errors or not? The whole idea of “verbal plenary inspiration,” of the original writings which, by the way, is a required belief to be a member of Bethel Church in Richland and probably several others in town, even if nobody knows what it means, is an argument based on insecurity. It’s the old “slippery slope” analogy. Don’t step foot off the trail because if you slip and fall you may never be able to get back up to the trail.
For some reason arguments based on insecurity don’t have much appeal to me. Probably because I am secure in Christ. Not only do I know what I believe and why I believe it, but also I know whom I believe, Jesus Christ the Son of God. My faith in him is secure. It’s rock solid. That gives me the security to explore, to think outside the box, to see what’s down that path that leads who-knows-where.
I don’t know where this is going to take me but I feel like a kid who’s just been offered a free bore job for his hot rod to boost his power by 50 horses. He doesn’t know the long term effects of the bore job on the integrity of his cylinders – and doesn’t want to know. He’s just looking forward to the ride.
Some will say, “What keeps you from picking and choosing which scriptures you want to accept and not coming up with your own Jefferson Bible? Well what kept the early Christians from doing the same thing or simply tossing scriptures that didn’t fit their preconceived theologies? Again, I would rather put my trust in the Holy Spirit whom I know than these church leaders whom I do not know.
Somehow, the Christian Church survived nearly 400 years without them. I submit God was big enough for them so he’ll be big enough for me, and anyone else who chooses to go down this faith walk.
Note – This was written in 2010. It’s been a fun ride since then. I haven’t really tried to come up with my own personal biblical canon, I’m still too lazy for that exercise.