In discussions with my more liberal (and often Emergent) Christian friends about contentious topics like abortion, gay marriage, and war and peace, I’ve noticed an interesting trend: They keep trying to confine the discussion to the words of Jesus alone. They don’t like Paul (misogynist!) or the Old Testament (violent!) and instead prefer “just Jesus.”
There’s no doubt this is an alluring concept — and one in keeping with an increasing trend to reject even the word “Christian” in favor of phrases like “follower of Jesus” or “Christ-follower.” After all, if one can transform the Holy Bible into Christ’s Pamphlet, it is much, much easier to deal with the thorny issues of life by referring to your own conscience and preferences. Jesus addressed very few moral issues with specificity, he delivered sweeping but sometimes vague commands, and His parables are subject to varying interpretations by context. In discussions with leftist Christians over sexual morality issues, for example, how many times have you heard: “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.”
While there are multiple problems with this Bible-shrinking approach, I’ll focus on three.
First, it ignores Christ’s own clear reverence for Hebrew scriptures. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew often reads like an argument for Christ’s divinity based on the very scriptures that many Christians now minimize and ignore. (Unless, of course, they nonsensically have a high view of those parts of Isaiah that prophesy Christ and a low view of those parts that prophesy, say, Israel’s looming tribulations and God’s judgment).
Second, it confines Christ’s recorded work and words to a discrete time period and ignores His work throughout history. John 1 of course begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That means Christ was there — as part of the Triune God — for the creation, for the flood, for the Exodus, for the conquest of the promised land — for all the allegedly nasty parts of the Old Testament that modern Christians too often reject, minimize, or otherwise explain away.
Third, it’s arrogant. It never fails to amaze me how we Protestants (and of course some Catholics) decide that we can basically “reinvent” church or “reinvent” the faith to engage our time and our culture. What special insight do we possess that allows us to reject so much of the biblical canon and to ignore almost two thousand years of church practice and church teaching?
Several weeks ago, I posted a piece called “Homosexuality, Morality, and Talladega Nights Theology” in which I lamented the common practice of worshipping the Jesus we want rather than the Jesus who is. By shrinking the Bible we enable this simplistic, almost infinitely flexible “theology.” All of the scriptures reveal Jesus to us, not merely the red letter words, and by limiting our study to the red letters, we’re quite simply limiting our study of Christ.