Saturday, July 7, 2012

$#*! Christians Say

I love a good conversation.

I have many fond memories during my Bible college years of late-night, often very animated discussions about theology, relationships, and life in general. Lots of spirited debate, spiced with laughter, and grounded in mutual respect. Same goes for current coffeehouse conversations that I'm privileged to be a part of.

That isn't always the case. Sometimes, an otherwise promising and enjoyable conversation is abruptly derailed by jargon-filled slogans. You may have over-heard some of these phrases from time to time:
  • "don't touch the Lord's anointed"
  • "self-appointed doctrine/revival police"
  • "Don't be so religious." (This one takes the cake: it's perfectly meaningless, yet somehow profoundly effective in shutting people up.)
They're the conversational equivalent of throwing a monkey wrench into a gearbox. All dialogue immediately grinds to a halt. Any contrary opinions are neatly circumvented. In short, it's the verbal power trip of censorship.

This slogan-based censorship could also be filed under: "$#*! Christians Say". Here's two examples that seem to be making the rounds recently:

1. "The Bible never calls itself the 'word of God'; Jesus is the Word of God."

A natural rejoinder might be: "And your point is...?" But regardless of whatever their point might be, this little tidbit of censorship doesn't hold up.
Here's another example:

2. "Jesus didn't come to start a religion." (Can you hear the conversational gears grinding?)

'Jesus didn't come to start a religion'. Well, thanks for the info, but we already knew that. God the Father had already started a religion: it was called Judaism. Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah, in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies found in the Jewish Scriptures. The 'good news' was that the Messiah had come, and His name was Jesus!

And the 'mystery of the Kingdom' mentioned in Paul's epistles was simply this: Gentiles were included in the salvation brought by this Jewish Messiah (Ephesians 3:6). Which, speaking as a Gentile, I'd consider 'good news'!

The disciples of Jesus were known as a 'sect' called The Way, according to the book of Acts (Acts 9:1-2, 19:8-10, 24:14-16). Gentile converts were first called 'Christians' by other Gentiles in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:19-26).

No, Jesus didn't come to start a religion -- He came to fulfill the one His Father had already started.

But seriously, folks, I'm glad that people are using these conversation-killing slogans. I don't endorse their use as censorship, of course, but I do think they provide a wonderful challenge:

To be knowledgeable enough about what the Bible actually says, that these slogans utterly fail as censorship.


  1. Hi Rob,

    I love a good conversation as well. And I have been one to say, or at least write both of these statements. However I don't believe I've used them to halt a conversation. My motives for pushing these thoughts are these:

    1) Yes Jesus in those passages you list Jesus and others refer to God speaking as the Word of God. But I think it is a fair question to ask: Did Jesus or the writers of Scripture ever say "these 66 books, some of which haven't been written yet, should be called the word of God"?

    So yes, there is an element of truth in calling the Bible the Word of God because God does speak through it, and all those red letter parts are God's words... However we should admit we did not learn to call it the Word of God from reading the Bible. It is Christian tradition that handed us this canon and has given it this title. On the other hand the Bible frequently uses the term "Word of God" to refer to Jesus, or a message of God. So I think it is fair to consider what the Bible teaches and not just tradition on this.

    And why does this matter to me? I actually find it refreshing to view Jesus as the Word of God. As N.T. Wright points out... the Scripture teaches us that God is the final authority... not the other way around. And I find it refreshing to know that this God still desires to communicate in fresh new ways with me.

    2) Anything discussion on the topic of religion unfortunately needs a definition of the term.

    If religion means visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeping oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27) - then a case can be made that Jesus was all for religion.

    If religion means something about established systems of beliefs and the institutions that maintain them... then I believe a case can be made that Jesus was not into this.

    I know it is cliche, but (considering the later definition of religion), there is a difference between a relationship and this type of religion. I think Jesus came to restore relationships... not necessarily restore a religion.

    But don't stop the conversations on account of me. :)

    God bless brother. I love reading your stuff, even when we may not see eye to eye.

  2. Hey Jon,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    I'm glad that you found it refreshing to view Jesus as the Word of God. But what I'm wondering is, how is that any different from what evangelicals have been teaching for years? Nobody who calls the Bible 'the Word of God' has ever suggested that Jesus wasn't the Word of God. Or that God wasn't the final authority.

    Normally, I'd just scratch my head and wonder what kind of 'victory' people were expecting to have by this argument. However, what I've noticed a lot recently, is that people who want to introduce sketchy if not completely unbiblical ideas, usually start with playing semantic games with people's understanding of the Bible. Or at least with their ability to understand it. Or that it has any kind of authority.

    So, I guess for me, the question is two-fold:

    1. Since Christians who view the Bible as the Word of God have also always believed that Jesus is the Word of God, and that God is the ultimate authority, why is this even being said?

    2. Since it's not new information, is there an agenda behind the slogan? (My guess would be: yes.)

    Let's keep the conversation going! :)

  3. P.S. my two-fold questions are directed at the popular writers/speakers that we've probably both read/heard, not at you personally. :)

  4. I have found that in some evangelical circles Biblical authority or biblical worldview is emphasized more than the authority of the Holy Spirit. Too much emphasis on following the book, or somebody else's interpretation of the book, creates legalism. Yet Jesus didn't say he was going to leave a book for us to follow, He said he was going to leave the Holy Spirit to guide us.

    The Last Word by N.T. Wright was a good read on this topic. I did a short review here:

    My question back would be: Since the collection of 66 books we have doesn't call itself the Word of God, is there an agenda behind calling it such? I also suspect yes.

    The church in history possessed this book that God wrote, and held the keys to interpreting it. By calling it the Word of God, and preaching "the Word", there was some power at play. So there is a freedom that comes from recognizing God wants to communicate with me personally.

  5. Okay, this feels like a good conversation. :)

    "Too much emphasis on following the book, or somebody else's interpretation of the book, creates legalism." Not necessarily. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for NOT following the book. And they were legalistic.

    "So there is a freedom that comes from recognizing God wants to communicate with me personally."

    AMEN! But what happens when somebody has a 'revelation' that contradicts the Bible? What carries greater weight (authority) then?

  6. Yes thanks for the dialog. :)

    Did He rebuke them for not following the book, or for not following the heart of what God was asking? From my understanding of if they took the commands of God, added to them over the years, and tried to guilt people into following the laws instead of following their God. I think we can see similar things today.

    Yes, I don't believe the Holy Spirit will contradict what God has said to us through Jesus and other men of God in the past. There needs to be an understanding that God speaks to others too, and what He has spoken to others in the past should be considered. What He tells me shouldn't be too different than what He tells you, or the writers of Scripture. Of course He may tell one of us to go serve people here in one way, and another to go serve elsewhere in a different way. I also sense He is more gracious and forgiving than we are when people get it wrong... just look at church History - I think Christians have judged each others bad theology more than God has. I think God tends to work with His children even when they don't listen well.

    So my answer to your question has to be "God carries the final authority". There will be differences in interpretations of the Bible, and there will be differences in hearing God's voice... we need to seek God's will as we try to understand what He is saying to us directly and through our Brothers and sisters (now and in the past). And maybe worry less about what He is saying to others when we disagree.

    Thanks for the dialog.

    I know this is a hot topic. So to try to put some people at ease I've written two posts explaining why I love the Bible.

    God Bless!