Saturday, March 8, 2008

Bible Believers vs. Red Letter Deniers

Bible Believers vs. Red Letter Deniers

A recent post on CT's Liveblog reminded me of a thread I've been wanting to sound off on since Tony Campolo defended the concept of Red Letter Christians. . . .

Rigid Biblians and Red Letter Christians (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

I've been frustrated over the years with Christians who are unwilling to see any truth outside of scripture or who prefer to explain away rather than grapple with the Bible's internal diversity. Even pillars of the church like Martin "Sola Scriptura" Luther felt the freedom to call the book of James "a right strawy epistle" because of its teachings on works.

I may disagree with Luther about James—love James—but I also love Luther's freedom in his approach to the canon. I also love N.T. Wright's assertion regarding scriptural diversity, for example, that accounts of Christ's death and resurrection that differ in details but affirm essentials are evidence of the veracity of those essentials because in real life, multiple witnesses tend to have diversity in their testimonies—while Da Vinci Code-type conspiracies get their stories straight with rigid uniformity. Expand that concept to the whole of scripture, and you've got a diversity of authors with some very real differences that, taken as a whole, form a narrative that has integrity in essentials. We may struggle to understand the diversity at times, but we need not feel threatened by it or explain it away.

I am first and foremost a Christian. I worship, follow, and seek to imitate Christ. I am not a Biblian. I do not worship the Bible, even though it is a reliable and authoritative witness to the person of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. It is not a question of choosing one over and against the other, but a question of priority, emphasis, and ultimate allegiance.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the web editor for Sojourners

Kent Comments (in red here, to keep the "red letter Christians" happy):

This is the kind of muddle-headed thinking that will destroy the Christian faith. The problems here are many. Let's take them in the order they appear.

First, the suggestion that Christians who have a high view of the Bible are unwilling to see any truth outside scripture is nothing more than a "red letter" red herring. The claim that all the claims of the Bible are true tells us nothing about claims outside the Bible. That is nothing more than faulty categorical logic. But, as their writings reveal, "red letter" Christians are not strong on logic.

Second, if we have "freedom" in approaching the canon, the historical Christian faith is out the door. Once we take it upon ourselves to decide that a book of the Bible should be tossed out, or even downgraded in some way, based on what we "love" or any other subjective criterion, then we begin to make the Christian faith over in our own image. Show me a Christian who rejects some section of the Bible and I will show you an illicit motive in that Christian. Martin Luther's attempt to "downgrade" the Letter of James because he was unsure how to understand it in the context of justification by faith proves nothing, other than that even the greats sometimes make mistakes.

Third, it is true that the fact of obvious differences in regard to what details are delivered in the various canonical gospels does lend credibility to their testimony. But the diversity vs. essentials dichotomy is more than unhealthy for the faith - it is dangerous. The key question is whether or not the claims we find in thegospels are true. That is, do they describe reality accurately? If they do, then the fact that different gospels relate different details is interesting but irrelevant. If the gospels are not true, then we need some sure-fire way to know what parts are false, or else we know nothing from the gospels and the historical Christian faith evaporates.

Finally, this talk of the Bible being a "reliable and authoritative witness to the person of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God" can be a problem for the faith, in spite of the fact that it sounds rather pious. If only the person of Jesus is the Word of God, then the Bible is not. The historical Christian faith holds that the Bible is the word of God written. The "witness to" view expressed here is neo-orthodoxy, not Christianity. And those two are decidedly different, in spite of some good things Karl Barth has to say.

If you "worship, follow, and seek to imitate Christ " then you will follow what He said in John 16 - He had more to say to the Apostles. He would say it via the Holy Spirit Who would guide the Apostles into the truth. In addition, during his ministry Jesus often equated what we call the Old Testament with the word of God. If this make one a "Biblian" then perhaps we should all adopt that title!

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