Stop Submitting the Bible to a “Higher Authority”

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Christians often feel pressured to give scientific answers as authority for what they believe. Those who argue against a Christian stance will often say something to the effect of “Well, statistics show…”  Since statistics are scientific, they are authoritative, and Science has the final say.

(Note: when I say “Science” in this post, I’m mostly referring to Naturalism, but no one in normal conversation uses that word.  When people appeal to Science as an authority, they’re assuming Naturalism).

I even saw one debate on Facebook (I know, I know) in which a person demanded that the Christians he was debating prove the authority of a moral question without using the Bible.  I wasn’t surprised to see the demand, but I was surprised that a Christian then took him up on it!  This Christian gave up the authority of the Bible for the authority of Science!! Why would any Christian ever give up the Bible as authoritative? He thought that giving up the Bible as the authority in the conversation would make his argument more “objective,” and therefore more authoritative.  He had so bought in to the scientific narrative of our culture that he assumed Science was authoritative even above God’s word.  Not intentionally, mind you. This Christian was sincerely trying to defend God, yet he was unaware that he’d given up the only Book that could make his argument truly authoritative.  By unwittingly ceding authority on the topic to Science, his argument was doomed from the start.  (Actually, he was doomed the moment he decided to debate someone whose intention was simply to rile Christians up, but that’s a post for another time.)

It seems to me that many Christians have adopted such an exalted view of science that they feel the need to use it as THE apologetic for Christianity.  The fact is that the authority of the Bible doesn’t rest on it’s ability to match the descriptions that our particular society uses for the world.  And make no mistake about it, scientific language is only our way of describing things.  It has been a useful and practical description of the world, but it is still just a description.  Many Christians unwittingly buy into this description as Truth.

Christians will try to defend the Bible scientifically by demonstrating its ability to match up with the geological record, fossils, or by claiming that the Bible had scientific foreknowledge.  I’m not suggesting that the Bible opposes the truth of the world we see around us, or that science can’t corroborate and supplement that truth.  I’m suggesting that the way we currently describe the world around us is not The Truth that is the standard.  Christians, therefore, don’t need to grovel at the feet of a scientist to prove the truth of the Bible.

There’s only one thing we need to be certain of to defend the authority of the Bible: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Bible itself says: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:17).  It’s the only thing Christians need to defend in order to support the claim of the Bible’s authority.

Follow the reasoning with me.  If Jesus was raised, then it means he’s the Son of God.  If Jesus is the Son of God, then he speaks Truth.  Jesus affirmed and approved the New Testament writings through the Spirit.  Jesus affirmed the writings we refer to as the “Old Testament,” when he said “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).  The “Law and Prophets” was the Jewish way of referring to what we call the “Old Testament.”  Jesus affirms the Old and New Testaments, and therefore affirms the truth of the stories therein.

So, why do I believe the Flood happened?  Because it matches a scientific description of the geological record?  No.  I believe the flood happened because Jesus was raised from the dead.  How do I know that the Red Sea was parted?  Because Jesus was raised from the dead.  How do I know that a donkey spoke to Balaam (something that “science” will never corroborate)?  Because Jesus rose from the dead.  You’re getting the point.  Why do I believe the Bible should guide my thoughts on moral issues?  Because Jesus rose from the dead, and if the Son of God approves or disapproves of a moral act, then that is the authoritative word on the subject.

When we focus on trying to make the Bible the Truth by appealing to science or nature alone we end up with things like Ray Comfort trying to prove God’s existence with a banana.  Bananas are not the atheists nightmare.  The resurrection is.  Again, to be clear, science and nature can support Christian arguments (Paul does this), but they cannot be THE authoritative standard, and I’m afraid many Christians get this backwards.

Christians should beware as they debate the current issues not to get sucked into the trap of giving up the authority of the Bible.  When someone says you can’t use the Bible because it’s “only your view,” we must realize that that’s a view.  They are claiming that the Bible is subjective, while Science is objective.  Science, to them, isn’t a view.  It’s truth.  However, they have no resurrection with which to back up their claims.  Everyone appeals to an authority in their debates, it’s just a matter of which authority they’re appealing to.  If you’re a Christian discussing any topic, be sure not to cede the Bible’s authority in order to appease an alternative “authority.”

The Nebuchadnezzar Complex

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Only God stands outside of the world and looks at it as it truly is: “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isa. 40:22).  The Bible affirms that God is the only truly objective being.

The story of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 shows us what happens when we remove God from being the only one who is completely objective.  Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man in the most powerful nation of his day.  In other words, he was the “highest” human.  In verse 29-30, Nebuchadnezzar “was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’”  Notice that he’s standing on a roof, which is an “objective” place to stand.  He thinks he stands outside of creation looking down on it, but what he fails to realize is that he’s part of creation.  He is not objectively exalted above it, no matter how high the roof.  This exalted position makes him think he is God.  He has created.  He has built the city through his power, and it is all to his glory.

So God helps Nebuchadnezzar realize that he’s not above creation, but part of it.  “While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle… until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes’” (v.31-32).  Nebuchadnezzar’s self-exaltation has turned him into a beast.

Nebuchadnezzar Beast

In the name of Science (note the capital “S”), mankind has perched itself atop creation without God.  In doing so, what have we found?  We are primates.  The theory of evolution has not exalted humans, but lowered them to the status of animal, and our popular culture has absorbed that.  We look down at the “world” we’ve created with technology and ask “Is this not a great world, which we have built with our power, and to our glory?”  Yet our “objectivity” has turned us into beasts.

Once Nebuchadnezzar is able to recognize that he’s not an objective observer, he’s able to regain his ability to reason: “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever” (v.34).  Notice, that instead of looking down from his self-made perch, he’s now looking up toward heaven.  Reason returns after humility.

Our reasoning abilities are very powerful.  Reasoning is part of our image from God.  However, if we exalt our reason to complete objective status, it is bound to demonstrate that we’re only part of a creation we can’t stand outside of.  We actually lose the ability to reason something that should be so obvious: we’re not animals.  Only when we raise our eyes toward heaven can we use science and reason appropriately, and be exalted to the great status God has given man.

It is important, therefore, not to pit science against Christianity, but to put it in its proper place.  It should be no surprise that the key to being raised to the exalted place God has for humans is to be humble; to look up instead of down.  The key to better science is not to find a better telescope or theory, but to humble ourselves toward the Creator.

The Problem with “Objective” Science

I’d like to talk about how king Nebuchadnezzar can help us understand man’s relationship to science, but before I get to that story, I feel it will be helpful to discuss the way we think about science.

One of the children that the “Age of Reason” has given to us is the word “objective.”  An objective observer is someone who has no bias, no “dog in the fight,”  so they’re able to report just “bare facts,” while those with a rooting interest will necessarily skew what they see to fit their agenda.  Objective observers stand “outside” of the situation.  In the realm of objectivity, science appears to be king.  We’re told that science produces only objective facts. Scientists are simply standing outside of the world and observing it.  Since science is objective, it’s more reliable than people’s thoughts, which are subjective, and always at the mercy of bias.

The claim to objectivity brings up several questions.  Aren’t scientists subject to bias like everyone else?  How can a creature that’s part of the world ever claim to stand outside of it? What if, instead of looking through a microscope at an objective reality, the microscope is simply reflecting what we want to see back to us?  Also, what one person sees in the microscope may be different than what another person sees.  No one would describe what they see in exactly the same way.  Who’s giving a completely “objective” description? Scientists do have checks against allowing subjective bias to intrude, but it can never fully be eliminated.

Complete objectivity is impossible.  If everyone has a subjective lens through which they see things, then every “fact” itself is subject to interpretation.  Science isn’t so much the objective, neutral naming of things as it is a description that we subjectively give.  We can’t fully “stand outside” of a system that we’re a part of.

Of course, we have to have some amount of objectivity if any communication is possible.  If every word I speak can be subjectively interpreted by the listener, then when I say “I’m hungry,” someone could interpret that as “elephants are pink.”  We have to assume the words we’re speaking are to some extent “outside of” both people in a conversation.  Words are an objective bridge to communication.  Without some grounding in objectivity, no conversation is possible.

The Postmodern movement emphasizes subjectivity, which is a necessary corrective to the mythical “objectivity” of the Age of Reason, but it goes to too far.  If everything is subjective, then how can I know whether anything I’m doing is real?  How can I know that I’m not plugged into a software program somewhere that’s simulating a reality?  We must have a middle ground where we’re able to acknowledge subjective bias, but have something objective to check ourselves against.

The Christian can find middle ground by realizing that we’re made in the image of God. Being made in God’s image means that we have the ability to stand above the rest of creation.  We have the ability to be objective, but never completely.  We’re above creation, but part of it at the same time.  That’s the story the Bible tells: “What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psa. 8:4-6).  Being made in God’s image, however, isn’t to be confused with being God himself.  Complete objectivity is grounded in God alone.

So why does any of this matter for Christians to think about?  We’ll begin to discuss the implications in subsequent posts.

 

Live Like You Were Dying

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In 2004, Tim McGraw released the popular song “Live Like You were Dying,” which, in all honesty I personally don’t care for that much.  I can’t entirely put my finger on it, but it just “feels” too commercial for my taste, I suppose.  In spite of my musical palate, however, the song deals with an important perspective that hits everyone in different ways and times: the perspective of death.  The song begins:

He said I was in my early forties with a lot of life before me
When a moment came that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays
Talking bout the options and talking bout sweet time
I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end
How’s it hit ‘cha when you get that kind of news?
Man, what’d ya do?

Staring at a negative prognosis, the character in the song is confronted with the question of how he’s going to live his life given the news.  How does the perspective of death change his life?

I went skydiving, I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper, And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’
And he said, Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’
He said, I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend a friend would like to have
And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
Well I, I finally read the good book
And I took a good long hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again

If this song is stuck in your head for the rest of your day… you’re welcome.  This song, to put it succinctly, is about making a better narrative out of your life.  It encourages people to “take the bull by the horns” (maybe literally), and live life to the fullest, because our time is limited.

There are certainly biblical elements in these lyrics.  Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells about the helpful perspective death brings to our lives: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.”  Also, the lyrics point out that our relationships with others are paramount.  The Bible says that the way we treat other people reflects our relationship with God himself: “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).

A more complete perspective on death from a Christian standpoint would introduce the conquering of death by Christ, which means that our lives aren’t made void at death, and we don’t have to seek meaning in this life alone.  We don’t have to anxiously race against the clock trying to write better chapters about skydiving and rock climbing before our biography ends.  The biography of a person who doesn’t have Christ ends at death, whereas the Christian’s biography is merely a prelude to a greater, richer, eternal story.

However, I’m not trying to criticize Tim McGraw for not cramming deeper Christian perspective into his song.  I’m just satisfied that a pop song broached the topic at all.  Kudos to this song for drawing attention to a sobering perspective that helps us to take stock of the life we’re living.  Thank God that death doesn’t have the final say.

The Master Story

At the most basic level, we interpret our lives through stories.  When we tell people about ourselves, we are either telling a story, or assuming a larger story in which to describe ourselves.  Story creates context.  Context creates meaning.  Even when I’m teaching a child that 1+1=2, I’m assuming that this will be helpful because it will have meaning.  1+1=2 is meaningless in and of itself.  There must be a story to give it meaning.  So I teach 1+1=2 so that my child’s trip to the grocery store will make sense eventually.  Or, I teach them so that they can expand their mind and learn how to think.  Why do I care about this?  Because the ability to critically think will benefit their life.  In other words, I want their life to be a success story.  We even have larger stories about the world that will give us a context in which to define what a successful life story will look like.

Ultimately, every story ultimately finds its fulfillment in Christ.  When the New Testament authors speak of Christ fulfilling all things, they are not only talking about direct prophecies.  Matthew’s gospel illustrates this point.  The story of Jesus’ birth and subsequent ministry can be quickly recognized as the story of Moses’ birth and ministry.  Both lived under a leader who made an edict to kill male children, but were spared.  Both went through the wilderness.  Both delivered the words of God from a mountain.  Jesus’ story, however, is not just analogous or parallel to the story of Moses.  Jesus’ story is the fulfillment of that story.  It is the genuine version that Moses’ story was only a shadow of.

Not only does Jesus’ story fulfill Moses’ story, but also the story of the nation of Israel.  Jesus was born in the promised land, just as the nation of Israel began in the promised land with the birth of Isaac.  Afterwards, both Jesus and the nation of Israel were in Egypt, before being called back to the promised land.  Jesus also spent 40 days in the wilderness, just as the nation of Israel spent 40 years wandering.  Matthew is showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s story.  In fact, Jesus’ story is what the real story is supposed to look like.  Whereas the nation of Israel wandered for 40 years and failed the tests to remain faithful to God, Jesus wandered for 40 days and maintained his trust in God.  His story is the one God originally wanted to tell, but because of sin and unfaithfulness, the story was broken.  Only in Christ was it fulfilled.

We could go on with more examples, but I think the point is sufficiently made.  The difference between the way the early Christians read the Scriptures versus the Jews was that Christians saw every story in the Scriptures as a “Jesus story,” and Jesus’ story was their story.

This is helpful to understand for two reasons.  First, it helps Christians look into the Old Testament, not just for specific prophecies that speak of Jesus, but for stories that are ultimately about him.  Some stories are easier to spot than others, such as a man named Joshua (the same name as Jesus in Hebrew) leading God’s people into their promised land, just as Jesus has opened the door to heaven and already begun to usher Christians in.  The question is not whether or not a story has its fulfillment in Jesus, but whether or not we can figure out how Jesus fulfills it.

Secondly, this practice of looking for Jesus in the OT should translate to the stories Christians tell about themselves.  Every story we tell about ourselves or the world is a story that can be found in the Bible.  Every story we’re involved in is a story that Jesus fulfills.  The goal of a Christian is to first know these stories, and then to see their life in terms of these stories.  By knowing the stories of the Bible, the Christian can then strive to make their story play out just as Jesus’ story did.  Since Christians have the genuine version of all stories in Jesus, they can fulfill the Scriptures with Christ through their lives.

This is why the stories we read, listen to, and watch make a difference.  Every story we take in tells us how to interpret our lives and the world, whether we’re conscious of it or not.  Every story teaches us how to create meaning.  The question is not whether we will use stories to interpret our lives, since all humans interpret their lives through stories.  It is rather a question of which stories a person will interpret them through.  Which story will create meaning for our lives: the genuine story of Christ, or a perverted version of it?

The purpose of this blog

This blog is a place for analysis and expression from a Christian worldview.  I hope to interact with the culture and stories that are being told in our society and think about how they compare to the stories in the Bible.  In the opinion of this blog every story is a biblical story.  More specifically, every story is either true to a biblical story or a perversion of one. We’re all just “plagiarizing,” so to speak.  That’s not to say that humans are unoriginal, but that the fundamental capacity for originality starts with God and his word.  Our Creator is truly original, and our creativity is derived from him.  My goal, therefore, is not to find out whether a story copies or perverts the Bible, but how it does that.  The Christian worldview is a complete worldview with God at the center, and this blog makes no apologies for starting with the assumption of biblical truth.  That the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an historical reality and thus confirms the truth and inspiration of the Bible is taken for granted, although I reserve the right to explain or defend that fact as I see fit.