You’ve heard the line: “Evangelicals worship God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Bible”.
The joke means to imply that some Christians are in danger of having too high a view of Holy Scripture; they are in danger of reading the Bible not as a means to something (or someone) better, but as an end and idol unto itself.
It is possible to read the Bible frequently, carefully and reverently and yet to miss the point entirely. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in his day saying:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40 ESV)
Therefore while it would be foolish to deny that some people in every generation have managed to revere the Bible without reverencing its ultimate focus and object, I fear this joke has too often been used to justify an essentially sub-Christian view of Scripture. Christians have generally understood that because of human sin and historical distance we have no access to the person and work of Christ apart from the pages of the Bible. George Whitefield said:
“Look, therefore, always for Christ in Scripture. He is the treasure hid in the field, both of the Old and New Testaments. In the Old you will find Him under the prophecies, types, sacrifices, and shadows; in the New, manifested in the flesh, to become a propitiation for our sins as a priest, and as a prophet to reveal the whole will of his heavenly Father.”
Christians properly revere the written word because it alone brings us into contact with the incarnate Word. It is in the Bible that we see the Word of God made flesh. It is in the Bible that we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures testify of him! In Jesus’ last message to the disciples before his ascension the Bible says that:
“beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27 ESV)
The Bible is about Jesus! The Bible is where Jesus told the disciples to look for him so as to know and love him – why then this supposed conflict between a love for the Scriptures and a love for Christ? J.I. Packer spoke about this in his book Fundamentalism And The Word Of God:
“Others tell us the final authority for Christians is not Scripture, but Christ, whom we must regard as standing apart from Scripture and above it. He is its Judge; and we, as His disciples, must judge Scripture by Him, receiving only what is in harmony with His life and teaching and rejecting all that is not. But who is this Christ, the Judge of Scripture? Not the Christ of the New Testament and of history. That Christ does not judge Scripture; he obeys it and fulfills it. Certainly, He is the final authority of the whole of it. Certainly, He is the final authority for Christians; that is precisely why Christians are bound to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Christ teaches them to do so.”
I recently had a pastoral colleague say to me that he is not sure that he can believe in the conquest as written up in Scripture because it does not seem to reconcile with the character of Christ. The Bible must be read through the lens of Christ, he told me. But what Christ is it, I wonder, that would deny what Scripture says? Not the Christ of John 10:35:
Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35 ESV)
And not the Christ of Revelation 19:13-18 either; of that Christ the Scriptures say:
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19:13–18 ESV)
This Jesus seems very much akin to the God of the supposedly questionable conquest.
So which Jesus is it who judges Holy Scripture?
Is it not the Jesus of contemporary culture? Is it not the Jesus of our imagination?
This is the very reason why Evangelicals so reverence the Scriptures. We reverence the Scriptures because:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
We lie to ourselves about ourselves and about God.
Our hearts are idol factories.
If it were not for the Bible and the ministry of Illumination we would know nothing true, reliable or saving about Jesus.
We revere the Bible because it gives us Jesus Christ.
One day we won’t need it for we will see him face to face. But until that day we heed the advice of St. Augustine who told us to “treat the Scripture of God as the face of God.”
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.