has God spoken?

LZ Granderson, a member of Rob Bell’s church and a regular contributor to CNN and ESPN, wrote a column today for CNN.com which illustrates the problem that I try to correct in the first two chapters of Christ Alone.

There is a lot that I could say about Granderson’s piece, but I’ll focus on this paragraph:

“One of the biggest problems with religion in general, and evangelical Christianity in particular, is the claim of having definitive answers about an infinite being. But true faith does not require us to have all of the answers.”

Did you notice the leap from “having definitive answers” to having “all of the answers”? I don’t know anyone who claims to “have all of the answers” when it comes to God. I agree with Granderson’s later statement that “If we could figure God out, he wouldn’t be that impressive.”

But why should humbly claiming that we don’t “have all of the answers” cause us to concede that we don’t have any “definitive answers about an infinite being”? If the Bible is God’s revelation, then we do possess accurate—though not comprehensive—knowledge of who God is and what he has done. To claim that we don’t is not humility but actually arrogance.

It is arrogant to come to the Bible with our minds already made up about what a loving God must do, and then seek to dismiss or question away those biblical passages which don’t fit our preconceived notions. For all of their protests about the arrogance of conservatives, it is actually theological liberals who lead the way in cramming God into their finite boxes. Contra Granderson, it is a problem to question the existence of heaven and hell, not because we need them as “the only reason to seek [God’s] face,” but because God has told us about them in Scripture. To pretend otherwise is not exactly what God would call humility.

I agree with Granderson that God is mysterious, but I am thankful that God has not left us in the dark. Unlike Granderson, who claims that “it is within the bosom of doubt that my faith in God is nourished,” I find that my faith is nourished when it feeds upon God’s revelation. I’m not dismissing the benefits of doubt, but only insisting that the whole point of doubt and asking questions is to drive us to God’s revelation.

So let’s agree to humbly submit to God’s revelation, and believe whatever the Bible says about “heaven, hell, and the fate of everyone who has ever lived.”

Update:  I was talking to a member of the “secular” media a few hours ago, and after the interview we were talking about these issues some more, and he asked the penetrating question, “How do you know it’s true?” I briefly described the self-authenticating nature of Scripture and our dependence on the Spirit’s witness, and I realized again how utterly inadequate we are to discuss these matters. We both agreed that the foundational dividing line is between those who believe the Bible is God’s revelation and those who don’t.

11 Comments

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  1. Mike,

    I’ve read your post and I agree with your tenor, with what your trying to communicate, wholeheartedly! I’m a little underwhelmed by the phrases:

    “It is arrogant… to seek to dismiss or question away those biblical passages which don’t fit our preconceived notions.”

    And again:

    “It is a problem to question the existence of heaven and hell… because God has told us about them in Scripture. To pretend otherwise is not exactly what God would call humility.”

    I am underwhelmed by the simplicity of these ideas. They seem to assume a sort of “common sense” hermeneutic. A “God said it; therefore this is how it is.” Now I know you are not trying to push that sort of thing, but how would you address the different theories of interpretation. For starters, you assume the bible is a coherent narrative, with no dissenting voices at all. You assume that doctrines like that of heaven and hell can come right from the text. Would it be wiser to suggest that we do come to the text with preconceive notions and biases, but this is all part of the interpretative process God bestowed upon us a creation, and therefore very good? Of course I am referring to Jamie Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation. I am not suggesting that if we see interpretation as part of our pre-fallen nature then we will naturally view the scriptures with an “anything goes” mentality. Rather we also leave a little room for hermeneutical mystery as well? Does that make sense?

  2. Eric:

    Hermeneutics is extremely important, but don’t let it blind you from what is obvious. Are you suggesting that the Bible isn’t clear about the major facts of heaven and hell? I will gladly own my hermeneutical biases, but at the end of the day there are only so many ways to read a text. If reading a book is as difficult as you seem to imply, then few people would have access to God’s revelation, or be able to communicate with anyone else.

  3. Eric,

    Why can’t “God said it; therefore this is how it is” be okay? It’s a pretty plain statement that the truth of God as revealed in the Bible is, in fact, truth and all of our lives, thoughts, and theology should conform to that truth. Once we decide that the Bible is God’s truth, then it’s up to us to conform ourselves to that truth and recognize we are in error when we see “conflicting” or “dissenting” voices.

    Mike,

    It’s very interesting to me that the attender of Mars Hill that CNN picked is an openly gay man (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=granderson/070207). Could that have anything to do with his comments about “doubt” and “unknowability”? I’m assuming that he would say we can’t be sure the Biblical prohibitions on homosexuality are actually meant for us today. When we doubt what God has revealed in His Word about anything, it becomes easy to doubt what God has revealed in His Word about everything.

  4. I almost want to read those books. Almost because I have an extensive reading list at the moment.

  5. Chris,

    How do we decide that the Bible is God’s truth/revelation? Isn’t coming to that question and process extremely important? I do believe the Bible is God’s revelation, but I did not get there by just simply obeying that simplistic statement.

    It actually makes me more scared that there are people out there who use words like “pretty plan” and say things like “we are in error when we see “conflicting” or “dissenting” voices.” What about all those humble and Godly Christians who disagree with not just that statement, but Christians throughout the centuries who have had different opinions. I am not able to say they are all wrong because they did not come to the same conclusions as I did. Truth is more complex than black and white categories, isn’t it?

    Mike,

    I think philosophical and theological hermeneutics are extremely important in the service of the community and tradition. We need to begin by filling the gap of communal interpretation/tradition with the surplus of individualistic interpretation. Remember the oldest churches in the world (Orthodox and Catholic) do not hold to “faith alone” but a “faith and tradition” alone (of course this is simplified). This is why correctly reading a book is very difficult and requires not only good hermeneutical methods and tools, but a profound knowledge of the tradition in which we find ourselves in, our situatedness. If interpretation goes “all the way down” as Gadamer says so, then the difficultly of correctly interpretation the scriptures cannot be a democratic thing unfortunately. It would require a great deal of study not accessible to the majority of the laity. This is why in some traditions the priest acts as this buffer because some do not have the mind, or the spirit for such a task. Stanly Hauerwas has said roughly the same thing in Unleashing the Scriptures. You can’t just give any new Christian a bible and expect him to read it correctly.

  6. Why yes we need a priestly caste and tradition encrusted decoder ring – or that Book written by farmers and fishermen and a few religious leaders would be way beyond our ken.
    Of course Smith, much like Derrida, can be understood from those outside their hermeneutical circles – or can they?
    How tight is that circle? Can I understand Gadamer or must I just assume that my pomo profs have the approved view?

    This stuff drives me crazy. Eric you completely missed the point that Mike was saying. Saying you know in part is neither saying you knowing everything – Mike’s accurate rebuttal of the CNN report – and it is not saying that you know nothing – the Apostle Paul’s point. In fact as Mike alludes to – it is even more arrogant for the pomo preener to say that they are certain that no one knows anything! So one says “I am certain that I know nothing with certainty (the pomo/emergent posture of supposed humility)” but this is always matched with “And I quite certain that you know nothing as well”. I grant your epistemic failure as a pomo – when you start with a self-referential incoherency it is impossible that you will straighten that out within the system – but what gives you the God’s eye view on what someone else knows or doesn’t know?
    Either Jesus died for me and was raised again or he wasn’t. There is no middle ground option. The apostles (champions of Heideggarian jedi mind games all) said this is what they heard and saw. Which part of that is too difficult to understand?

  7. “You can’t just give any new Christian a bible and expect him to read it correctly.”

    What? A new believer, who has the Holy Spirit residing within them, Christ in them the hope of glory, cannot be expected to read the Bible correctly? The ultimate Author of the whole book is with them and walking through life alongside them.

    If God is not capable of leading even the most junior believer to a right understanding of His own Word then we are all doomed. No amount of human learning can be expected to replace what God has already said about Himself. The Bible says what it says, not what I want or wish it to say.

    Frankly I am thankful the God is bigger than the box we all want to put Him in and that He can and does assist us with understanding His truth in the Scriptures of the Bible, regardless of our knowledge of Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek, Theology, Church History, or tradition. While they may be helpful, they are not necessary to bring one to saving faith or living a God honoring life.

  8. Sweet fancy Moses, I can’t wait to read this book!!

  9. Isn’t the claim that God is an infinite being a definitive statement?

    We (evangelical Christianity eschewed by media) desperately need training in philosophy and rhetoric before we can win a hearing with the secular ear. Apologetics, apologetics, apologetics.

  10. Of course the first thing you have to do is take into consideration that there are now over 30,000 different Christian denominations, sects and sub-sects.
    Which obviously means that there are thousands of ways of interpreting the Bible, and that there is wide-spread disagreements and contradictions a-plenty.

    Why should yours be the only “correct” interpretation/response?

    Did you ever meet Jesus up close and personal as a living-breathing-feeling human being?
    And thus receive his personal instructions as to how to live the Spirit-Breathing Spiritual Way of Life that he taught and demonstrated while he was alive.

  11. There are numerous ways people choose to treat women – some love them, some rape them, some beat them, some murder them to save the family honor and so on – so I guess the reality of multiple views means that we cannot know the proper or correct interpretation or understanding…
    whew – I thought I was going to have to make a moral choice or something. I stand relieved.

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