Getting off the Roman road

I missed this post last year when Howard Snyder wrote it, but found it thanks to this little number about ways we distort the gospel.

In the older post, Snyder takes aim at the over-importance we often place on Romans.

“All roads lead to Romans”? Not really. The Bible is a complex landscape with many roads, paths, trails, byways, and a few tunnels. We don’t know the Bible until we understand this. The more we do, the more we will see that all roads in the Bible lead to Jesus Christ, and the road he walked. Prioritizing Romans runs the danger of prioritizing Paul over Jesus; the epistles over the gospels; dogmatics over the very person of Jesus Christ and of the church as his body.

The post also includes an illuminating discussion of John Wesley’s canon within the canon.

Luc and the mute spirit #LukeActs2014

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. (Luke 11:14, NIV)

My son, Luc, is on the autism spectrum. His mother and I are also convinced he has a condition called apraxia of speech. Basically, his brain and the muscles that produce speech do not connect in the way they do for most of us. In Jesus’ day, he would have been called mute.

In Luke, the word here that is translated “mute” is used in two other places.

The angel Gabriel strikes Zechariah mute in Luke 1 because he does not believe the good news of the impending birth of his son. In Luke 7, Jesus tells John’s disciples to report what they see of Jesus’ healing as testimony to who Jesus is. In this second example the word is translated “deaf” rather than “mute,” reminding me that in the Bible there are a whole collection of words that have overlapping meanings and the careful distinctions we make in our medical language were not important.

For these and other reasons, contemporary theology advises us not to connect medical problems with spirits or demons. As a child of the 20th century, I am inclined to go along with that advice.

But I’d be lying to say I do not feel at times that my son is under attack from an evil spirit that robs him of his voice. And what I am struck with in those times is how remarkably resilient he is. As I’ve said to many people, if I had to cope with the challenges he does, I’d be angry all the time. He is a model of contentment, peace, and joy nearly all the time.

I confess to not know what to make of Scripture passages such as the one above or how they relate to my son. I am conscious, though, of the impulse to read past them. In 2014, in America, we often want to ignore talk of spirit and demons and devils — especially when they are connected to matters our medical science explains. But Luc keeps me from doing that. Indeed, he makes those verses stand out in sharp relief. He forces me to see what I would not otherwise see, even if I do not yet understand.

Why the Bible is inspired

As sacred canon (or authoritative standard) for the church, we believe the Bible is not primarily inspired for us to know things (epistemology). We learn quite a lot from the Bible, of course. But this is not its primary function in and for the church. Instead, the Bible is inspired and given by God to the church in order for Christians to know God through personal and corporate salvation (soteriology).

– Bill Arnold, “A Response to Adam Hamilton’s 3 Buckets Approach to Scripture

Faith > Bible?

Something Adam Hamilton wrote recently about the Bible reminded me of William J. Abraham’s counsel at the end of his little book The Bible: Beyond the Impasse.

At the outset let me say this categorically. If losing your current understanding of scripture will lead you to abandon your faith, then I would insist that you should absolutely hold on to the vision of scripture you currently embrace. From a Christian point of view, nothing is more disastrous than the loss of faith. So if your theory of the Bible is integral to your having faith in the first place, then stick to your theory.

And he goes the other way as well.

I would say equally categorically that if holding to the inerrancy of scripture leads you to lose your faith, then you should not hesitate to stick with your faith and look for a much better way to think of its nature and use.  … What matters is coming to know and love God; theories of scripture are secondary and should be treated accordingly. So if your theory of the Bible gets in the way of knowing and loving God, go find a better one.

The canon as corral

Eugene Peterson on the canon in his book Answering God:

The canon (the two testaments of sixty-six books that are authoritative for the Christian faith) is a corral, fencing in all the literary creatures conceived and born out of a common inspiration and that serve a common purpose. (The common inspiration is the Holy Spirit; the common purpose is salvation.) Many of these creatures bear little or no resemblance to each other. Some of them we don’t like at all. Others we become fond of and develop close friendships. But the canonical decision was that our preferences are not determinative in these matters: all the creatures are related in some way or other to all the others, and each in its own way serves the common purpose. Each is necessary, but none is complete in itself. Each must be used (interpreted) in the light of all the others. It is not permitted to take one of the creatures out of the corral, leaving all the others behind, and ride out across the prairies sentimentally into the sunset, search for conditions congenial to sublimity. There is no gate in the corral fence.