Is the Bible just 2,000 year-old letters? Should Christians stop using the Bible to avoid becoming irrelevant?
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Hello and welcome to Unapologetic, a podcast about how we can defend and not apologize for our Christian convictions. Today’s topic: the Bible. How should Christians think about the Bible? Is it just a collection of 2,000 year old letters, as some would say? Or is it authoritative for everyone? Is it authoritative only for the Christian? Is it authoritative for the non-Christian? What if someone doesn’t recognize the authority of the Bible? Is what the bible said just true back then and not true today? Well these are the questions that we’re going to analyze today on Unapologetic.
(0:35) Recently, Rob Bell was asked when the church would get on board with affirming homosexuality. Here’s what he said: “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense when you have in front of you flesh and blood people, who are your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and coworkers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”
Well, that’s very persuasive, and in fact, many people that are a part of the Reformation project, which is a group of homosexuals who claim to be Christians, who are lobbying and appealing to Christians at large to accept homosexuality and same-sex marriage. What they’ve said is that it’s generally not the logical argument or the scriptural argument that convinces someone to be on their side. It is an emotional appeal; they know someone, a family member, a coworker, a good friend, that’s generally how someone is convinced to come to the viewpoint that homosexuality is ok or even good.
(1:45) So Rob Bell’s definitely onto something there in how he speaks with his rhetoric. However, what about his view that the bible is just a collection of 2,000 year old letters? Well this view has some grave implications. First, it implies that culture decides and determines what is right and what is wrong. So if the majority of people are on the same page, well then whatever they agree on is moral and whatever they disagree on is immoral. Such a view is extremely dangerous though.
Consider Martin Luther King. At a time when the majority said blacks were not valuable, Martin Luther King went against that and said, ‘No, whites, blacks, everyone has the same innate worth and dignity, and everyone’s worthy of respect in that regard.’ Well, he went against the cultural view of the day. That would make him immoral. And what about societies where everyone’s on board with persecuting a certain group of people? That would make that persecution correct.
If we flip the Martin Luther King analogy around, it would make mistreating black people correct at such a time when the majority agreed on it, but that view is preposterously horrible! So I hope you see that this ‘majority makes morality’ view is a very bad view.
(3:07) The second problem is that it puts us in a very precarious place with what Scripture actually is, because Scripture makes the following claim: in 2 Timothy 3:16, it says that,
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work.”
That’s either true or false. Either scripture is literally God-breathed or it’s not. But what we determine about that claim will have far reaching implications.
(3:45) So, later on we’re going to talk about how this group generally that is in in favor of homosexuality or having a lower view of Scripture, where maybe it was just culturally relevant, they want to say that we should just love everyone. Well how do you support love apart from the Bible? And when the Bible says we should love everyone and God is love and all of these things, well is that true? Well why are those claims true? And the claims and statements about homosexuality, why are they false?
Paul’s very clear: he says that homosexuals, passive homosexual partners, adulterers – and there’s this long list in 1 Corinthians – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. You can’t be a Christian and participate in habitual, unrepentant sin. It doesn’t matter what the sin is, you just can’t do it. Now that doesn’t mean that all Christians are without sin, but it means that there’s a heart change that takes place. You can’t continue on in prideful, unrepentant sin and call yourself a Christian.
(4:44) Well the question is, was Paul only saying something that was culturally relevant, or was God speaking to something that is far reaching in its implications? Do the claims of the Bible back then still apply today? Well, if we’re supposed to love everyone, why doesn’t that only apply back then and not today? With what standard do we pick and choose parts of the Bible that we’re going to say are authoritative? Do we only choose the parts that culture agrees with?
If that’s the case, then what we’ve actually arrived at is not a biblical morality, it’s a cultural majority morality, and we just tacked the Bible on for a little added spice or pizzaz or something. So the Bible doesn’t actually do any work, it’s not actually authoritative on that system, and it certainly isn’t God-breathed. And here’s the thing, Scripture is an expression of God, it’s His words breathed out to us, and morality is grounded in God’s character, which is unchanging. So if something were wrong 2,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago, it’s wrong today.
(5:51) The third problem with such a view is there’s no Gospel without the Bible, there’s no Good News. And so, by what standard (once again, we’re seeing that you need to be consistent with how you approach Scripture), by what standard do you say that Jesus dieing for everyone, well that’s real, that happened, that’s not just some part of a letter? But this whole thing about homosexuals not inheriting the Kingdom of God, nope, that’s just part of a letter. By what standard? Well there isn’t a standard. There is no consistent objective standard, people just pick and choose the parts of scripture they like. Well if that’s what you’re doing, you’re not understanding what God has to say, you’ve just arrived at what you have to say. So that’s the third problem with this view.
(6:38) Let’s analyze some related statements to get to the heart of this, though. Some people have said that you can’t impose biblical standards on someone who doesn’t believe that the bible is sacred. Well this gets back to whether Scripture is true or not. If when God says homosexuality is wrong He’s being truthful, and that’s actually correct, then shouldn’t we tell other people that? We were created by God to live in harmony with Him, and sin separates us from Him.
So if we were created to be in a harmonious fellowship, communal relationship with the God of the universe, and there are things that separate people from that, wouldn’t it be loving to point those out to them? To tell them that there’s Good News, they don’t have to be separated from God? Yes, I think so. And the other thing is, all laws legislate morality; the question is: who’s morality? Wouldn’t we want God’s morality legislated if we had to choose?
(7:36) Now here’s the thing: there were a group of people in the Bible that did not have the law, they didn’t have God’s divine revelation to them: they are the Gentiles. In Romans 2, Paul says that the Gentiles didn’t have the law, but they knew right from wrong because the law was written on their hearts. And so God held them accountable. Everyone has an innate knowledge of good and evil.
(8:06) Now what about the claim that “we believe the Bible is sacred and it transforms our lives, and others are transformed by our transformation, that’s how it works”? And what aobut this statement – we’ll attack both at the same time – “it doesn’t work that we quote Scripture at people who don’t care anything about Scripture.” Well, does Scripture support those views? Well here is what Hebrews 4:12 says:
“For the Word of God is living and active, and sharper than any double edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit and joints from marrow. It is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart and no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must render an account.”
Scripture is living, its active, it works today. The words of Scripture, along with the work of the Holy Spirit, are what transform lives. Not you and I. It’s not that I live some good, moral life and transform other people in any way that matters. Now certainly we can set good moral examples and maybe others will follow. But good morality means nothing at the end. The Bible says that ‘our righteousness is as filthy rags’ before God. What we really need is Christ’s righteousness, and people don’t get that by just watching us live good lives. This whole idea that we should ‘share the Gospel at all times and use words if necessary’, it’s junk!
The only way people can get saved is by the words of the Gospel. Our goal shouldn’t be to get people to simply do more moral deeds, our goal should be to get people to hear the Gospel, that Christ died, according to the Scriptures, for our sins. That He was raised three days later, according to the Scriptures. That hundreds saw Him after His death and that He is God reigning at the right hand of the Father. That’s the Gospel, that’s what people need to hear. And they’re not going to hear that from our actions.
Our actions can certainly give credibility to our words, but our words are what are important. And more importantly, the words of the Bible. Romans 10:14 says, “How are they to call on one they have not believed in, and how are they to believe in one they have not heard of, and how are they to hear without someone preaching to them, and how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘how timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the Good News.’ But not all have obeyed the Good News. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ Consequently (and this is key), faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.”
If we want to transform lives, the first step is realize we can’t do it and that only God can, and the second step is to realize that we need to use the Bible. God has chosen to work through the means of His word and that requires us to speak it and boldly proclaim it to people who need to hear it, even if they currently now do not ascribe any authority to the Bible.
(11:04) Now, maybe you shared the Gospel with someone and they don’t believe it. What do you do? Well, that’s where defending the faith comes in, that’s where you need to be able to show why Scripture is trustworthy. And in future episodes, we’ll get to that. But there are ways to do this and people have been convinced. They’ve started with a, “there’s no God, the Bible’s a false viewpoint” and arrived at being a Christian, a Bible-believing Christian.
(11:28) So what about another claim, that the power of the Bible is to change your life, not someone else’s? That’s not true. Matthew 28:19 says,
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you; and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The imperative given to us by Jesus is to go and share, share the Gopel, make disciples, teach the truth. And as Paul said in Romans, faith, that initial step in the disciple-making process, comes trhough what is heard. Scripture exists, not to make us better people, but to bring us to a knowledge of who God is, so that, as Romans 8:28 and following says, “we will be conformed to the image of His Son.”
(12:22) Now, what about the claim that “it’s time for the Church to stop circling the wagons and just live lives of radical love”? Well that sounds great. And I think radical love is an awesome idea. However, the Bible is replete, it is full of warnings, to be on the lookout for false teachers. And what do you do when you see a wolf prowling around the sheep? You circle the wagons around the sheep!
There are wolves out there, there are people saying things that sound good to the ear. They might appease a thirsty soul. But they aren’t true. There is a type of statement and teaching that leads to satisfaction, but is ultimately deceptive. And this whole claim that we should just live lives of radical love – we shouldn’t criticize other people, we shouldn’t circle the wagons – this is self-defeating.
What we’ve seen is that Rob Bell made this statement about the Bible being a collection of 2,000 year old letters, which is a very pejorative thing to say about Scripture, and people have criticized him; on Twitter, on Facebook, on social media. And people have actually said, “Rob Bell’s getting crucified.” Really? Crucified on Twitter? It takes a lot more than 140 characters to make a cross.
I think any claim of crucifixion in today’s culture ultimately makes a mockery out of what Jesus actually did on the cross. But more than that, if you’re going to be a public figure and you’re going to put ideas out there, you should be prepared to have people disagree with you. And if you teach something that a certain group considers false, that would make you a false teacher. That’s not a hateful term. However, if we say that we shouldn’t criticize other people, and we shouldn’t circle the wagons, well, what’s interesting is people have been circling the wagons around Rob Bell.
That’s kind of a self-defeating point: “don’t circle the wagons – We’re circling the wagons.” “Don’t criticize other people – We’re criticizing you for criticizing.” They’re doing the same thing they’re telling us not to. Now I don’t actually think it’s wrong to criticize. There are appropriate ways to criticize. Matthew 7 says, “don’t judge.” And then says a lot more words. It simply does not end at “don’t judge for any reason.”
The passage talks about not judging hypocritically. ‘Don’t call your brother out, don’t judge your brother, for the speck in his eye when you have a plank in yours.’ It doesn’t stop there. ‘Take care of the plank in your eye so you can address the speck in your brother’s.’ Don’t judge hypocritically. Matthew 7 also contains a lot of other interesting and applicable passages for our discussion today.
In Matthew 7:13, Jesus says, “the gate is narrow that leads to salvation.” What does that mean? Jesus is the judge, He’s set up some standards. He will ultimately judge who is in and who is out. Matthew 7:15 says, “watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are voracious wolves.” That’s a very vivid picture: a voracious wolf in a sheep’s clothing. Well I think that’s what Rob Bell is. Rob Bell is a false teacher, he’s a wolf that has come to lead people astray with a false gospel that will ultimately damage their soul. And the BIble tells us to be on the lookout for such people.
Now maybe you think I’m wrong about Rob Bell, but you can’t say I’m wrong for, just in principle, calling someone out a false teacher, because it is replete, it is full, it happens all the time throughout the New Testament. We’re told to be on the lookout for such people.
(16:00) Matthew 7:21 says, “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven.” So “it’s time for the Church to stop circling the wagons and live lives of radical love?” I agree, let’s live lives of radical love, but let’s define what love is. How can you support that we should actually live lives of radical love without the Bible? You can’t! If you don’t appeal to Scripture to say we should be loving toward other people, well then that’s just your opinion. And we don’t base our lives on other people’s opinions, we base our lives on authority sources.
So, is the Bible an authority? If it is, then yes, we should live lives of radical love, and yes, we should criticize false teachers and call them out for the protection of the Church at large. And yes, homosexuality is wrong if the BIble is an authority. But if the Bible is not an authority, radical love, that phrase, has no foundation.
(16:56) So, do you want to say that God cares about the weak and the poor and the needy and the disenfranchised, and other social justice initiatives and claims? Well you need Scripture to do that or it’s just your opinion. If you don’t use Scripture, it’s not the words of the Almighty God on your side, it’s just your thoughts. And what about saying that ‘Jesus loves me, this I know?’ How do you know that? ‘For the Bible tells me so.’ We know the truths of our faith because Scripture tells us.
How do we know the moral teachings of Jesus? Because the Bible tells us. It’s common today to hear, “I’m a Jesus follower”, and a lot of times, people want to redefine that, to where it just means ‘I follow the moral teachings of Jesus.’ Well, Jesus addressed marriage, He said it’s between one man and one woman. But they don’t want to follow that moral teaching. But more than that, by what standard would you only follow what Jesus has to say at the exclusion of the other documents in the New Testament? You want to say that God is love, how do you know? The Bible tells you.
You want to say that God is just and is against hate and evil. How do you know? The Bible tells you. How do we know that we should look out for false teaching? The Bible tells us. And most importantly, how do we know that the Resurrection happened? How do we know that there’s a hope of glory one day when we die? The Bible tells us. All of these claims are either true or false, they can’t just be true back then. The Resurrection can’t be just true in the First Century and not today. What would that even mean? That’s nonsense. The Bible is either true today just as much as it was true 2,000 years ago, or it’s not.
(18:40) And lastly, the apostles, all but one of them, did not die for something they knew was a lie. They did not die for 2,000 year old letters. I’ve written some letters in my day and if I were to write a letter today, you probably wouldn’t be able to read it, but I’m not going to die for any of those letters! I’m not going to die for any document I’ve written. Why did the apostles – the writers of the New Testament – die for their claims? Because they knew they were true.
You don’t die for something you know is a lie, and they were in the position to know, as eye witnesses, and people who had talked to eye witnesses, and evaluated these claims. They were in a position to know. Today’s Muslim, not in a position to know, when they kill themselves, if Allah is god. It’s a very different situation than your First Century apostle and gospel writer.
These people sat with Jesus, they ate breakfast with Him after His resurrection, but how do we know that? How do we know that Jesus is God and that He rose from the dead? The Bible tells us.
(19:46) Well I hope this episode of Unapologetic has been helpful. It’s a difficult one, it’s never easy to call people out by name, but it is the imperative given to us all as Christians to look out for each other, to guard the sheep from the wolves in sheep’s clothing.