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Friday, February 24, 2006

Red Letter Error

Have you ever had a discussion with someone who replies to you, "Well, I choose to focus on the words of Jesus"? It sounds great. It sounds quite pious. Who better to focus on that the Perfect Son of God? While I am all for studying the life and teaching of Christ (Obviously. Our youth group is walking through Luke now, and loving it), I think an over emphasis on the gospels, to the neglect of the rest of the Scriptures, is a dangerous practice.

In the Scot McKnight article I've referred to previously, he states that the Emergent Movement has typically focused on the gospels for doctrine and focus. He encourages that they will eventually need to address Paul's views of government (as one example) if they are really going to grow in wisdom and application. I would even argue that they will need to approach other passages even for clarification on many of the initial doctrinal issues to face.

Here are some reasons that it's important to not put too much emphasis on the gospels alone:

1. Jesus intended for his ministry to be covert. (Yikes, that's the most NT Wright-like statement I've probably made.) When Jesus was questioned by the disciples about His usage of parables, He explained Himself by saying, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." (Luke 8:9-10) In God's sovereign wisdom, He knew that the misson and teachings of Jesus would need to veiled for Him to accomplish His purposes. That's why passages like the Sermon on the Mount are some of the most difficult to understand in all of Scripture. (In many ways, I think a focus on the more difficult passages of Scripture tickle the ears of the proclaimed postmodern. Rather than working from clear Scriptures to the more difficult, it's more fun to start with the difficult and excuse the idea of discerning specific application.)

2. We don't have much of Jesus' personal training with the disciples. John 21:25 reminds us that the teachings and actions of Jesus recorded in Scripture are only a small fraction of His ministry. Take a look at most of His teachings. Almost all that we have recorded were public events (with some exception, like John 13-17). Even when addressing His own disciples, often the audience is much larger. Again, we must consider that many of those texts are intended for most of the audience to miss the meaning.

3. The Epistles are meant to explain what we see happening in the gospels. If one were to base their soteriology strictly from the gospels we would find Luke 18:18-27 quite perplexing. However, we have passages like Romans 1-4 to help explain to us what Jesus was doing. Without clarification, we may think that Jesus was saying the man simply needed to obey the Ten Commandments. But with clarification, we realize Jesus was exposing the man's sin to himself...he couldn't live the Ten Commandments. Generally, the gospels record the actions and teachings of Jesus (similarly, Acts primarily records the actions and teachings of the apostles); the epistles explain those events and teachings to us.

4. Other Scriptures are devalued. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us that all Scripture is inspired by God. Understanding the doctrine of inspiration means that every writing is from God, regardless of the author. We do not more highly value an educated king over an uneducated farmer. The Holy Spirit carries along the authors so that they record the Word of God as He intended in it's original form. When we think words in Scripture are more important because they are Jesus' words, we underestimate God's ability to work in other authors' lives.

There's nothing wrong with a red-letter Bible, and certainly it is highly beneficial to study the words of Jesus. However, if we think those red words are more inspired than others, we are short-changing God's Word. And if we are strictly defining our doctrine and practice out of the gospels without examining the rest of Scripture, we highly run the risk of improper exegesis.

I hope for the EM's sake, they continue to strive to live like Jesus, but they examine more of the words of Paul (and others) to see how to do that.


  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger marissa finch said…

    ok so i am talking to this guy who says he would seriously consider Christianity if he could find someone who would show him scientific evidence that the Bible is legitmate and believable. I know it is out there, but i could use some help...this kid is solid and i get really nervous talking to him about this kind of stuff so i need to make sure i get my facts straight before i talk to him again. He is interrested in what i have to say, so i just need something to say that can be backed up by more than just faith

  • At 7:16 AM, Blogger ~d said…

    marissa - i highly recommend The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. if he is really, really ambitious, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

    and, would you beieve it, we have all three books right here at home?:)

  • At 4:35 PM, Anonymous tom burns said…

    marissa, you don't know me, but it may help to understand that this young man is a person of deep faith. The individual who requires a scientific answer to every question is putting an amazing amount of faith in science, for there are many things that science will never answer. Like, why I love my wife, or why I prefer one type of music to another, or even why we should treat each other with kindness. Unfortunately our culture would lead you to think otherwise, that science can explain everything. Be sure of this, whoever he is, this young man is also a person who is backing up his beliefs with faith.


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