Creating the Bible in Our Image of God (or vice-versa?)

I suppose that title is a bit confusing. What I mean is this: what we think of God can be seen in what we expect of the Bible as God’s Word.

Here is one example.

If your vision of God is primarily (not exclusively) of a sovereign king, enthroned above, who communicates to his subjects through written decrees mediated to inspired men borne along by God’s spirit to insure the accuracy of the divine oracles, you will likely describe the Bible as necessarily: historically accurate, logically consistant, self-evidently divine, inerrant, fully and absolutely authoritative in all it teaches.

Yes, certainly, people who tend toward this view also use other descriptors for God and the Bible, but the view above exhibits functional priority–especially when doctrinal disagreements arise.

Data (either biblical or extra-biblical) that seem to challenge this description tend to be interpreted in such a way as to support the description, regardless. After all, since God is what he is, his word will be consistent with that description. Contrary “data” are are contrary only because humans perceive them through their sinful minds and rebellious hearts.

Hence, disparate historical accounts and divergent theologies are only alleged to be so, and so are harmonized. More compliant passages of Scripture are given priority and assigned prescriptive value for determining the “nature of Scripture.” Other passages, such as 2 Tim 3:16, are elevated as a super-authoritative standard that trumps any alleged “evidence” to the contrary.

Particularly difficult challenges are either tabled until such a time as adequate counterarguments can be mustered or marginalized by means of rhetoric. The primary task in such cases is to defend the biblical doctrine of Scripture.

Having said all this, my suspicion–and this is only my suspicion–is that it is not the view of God that yields the expectation of Scripture. Rather, it is the theological need for a certain type of Scripture that produces a particular view of God.

I want to think about that a bit more, so in the meantime I will simply say that our view of God and our view of the Bible go hand in hand–paying attention to the one will always tell you something about the other.



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  • leanne

    Thinking about Jesus. Did the church relay who Jesus was or is? Or did the church create who Jesus was or is?

  • I think it is the enduring and very human quest for certainty in a world that does not readily produce certainty that leads men to subject themselves and others to that which they believe to be of divine origin. Authority is the name of the game and the West is infatuated with it. The most obvious symptoms are bondage to certain ways of thinking about the Bible, the Church, and God. It seems to me that such bondage rarely if ever produces joy and peace an happiness. Jesus, on the other hand tells us that we ‘shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.” And elsewhere in scripture is the verse, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

    I have to ask, where is this liberty and freedom which bring peace and joy among those who claim to have an absolute earthly authority? Is it not obvious that that which characterizes them are rules, regulations and a certain kill-joy attitude? A straw man? Perhaps, but often all too true. Freedom is seen as freedom to be bound by the rules and live by them; to be static; to move through life as a train moves along a track bound to it and guided by it.

    Ones view of authority is, in my opinion, born out of a basic fear of abandonment by God. Either one succumbs to that fear and finds ‘divine’ guidance in concrete forms which are then elevated to infallible status, to be transgressed at ones own peril, or one overcomes that fear, throws away the fig leaves and says, Here I am in all my sinful brokenness, deal with me, God as you will, and I will trust you. One looks to an authority outside of God that supposedly has God’s divine stamp of approval, the other looks to God himself and rests in Him.

    I do not think there is any absolute authority in this world and to assert that there is is to snuff out the liberty that belongs to the children of God and ensnare them to bondage. God has written His law on our hearts. We have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and we know right from wrong. It’s part of being human to know these things.

    While I love the Bible and believe it is the meta-narrative of Salvation I no longer believe it to be a book intended to tell us right from wrong as if we didn’t already know. It is the story of how God has provided for us in Christ through sinful people who, knowing right and wrong, did both anyway. It is the story of how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. It is a story designed to provoke faith, not guilt. It is a call to trust, not a judgment against us. It is a story of Resurrection and the restoration of all things, not of how bad things really are.

  • John Shelby Spong has a quote along these lines. From Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism:

    Both the sacred Scriptures and the creeds of the Christian church can point to but they can never finally capture eternal truth. The attempt to make either Bible or tradition “infallible” is an attempt to shore up ecclesiastical power and control. It is never an attempt to preserve truth. Indeed, those who would freeze truth in any words, concepts, or creed will guarantee a time warp that will finally doom that truth to extinction. Only truth that is freed from its captivity to time and words and allowed to float in the sea of relativity will survive the ravages of subjectivity. Only truth that can constantly call out new words capable of lifting yesterday’s experience into today’s mind-set will finally survive.

    The formulations of today or tomorrow will be no more eternal than the formulations of first-century people. This is not a plea to give up inadequate ancient words for ultimately inadequate modern words. It is to force upon us the realization that all words are, in the last analysis, inadequate. Truth is never finally found in words. Truth is always beyond words. Yet there can be no truth for human beings unless we use words first to understand it and second to convey it. So we mortals live with our subjective truth in the constant anxiety of relativity. That is all we can do and that realization strikes a mortal blow at the traditional excessive claims of all religious systems.

    Religion almost inevitably tries to take our anxiety away from us by claiming that which religion can never deliver — absolute certainty. If religious systems succeed in giving us certainty, they surely have become idolatrous, for the ultimate mystery and wonder of God cannot be reduced to a particular language or captured in the concepts of any human being. (169-170)

  • I think Kenton Sparks’ book, God’s Word in Human Words, which I am currently reviewing on my blog, gets at some of this. God is A, so if God does something in this world, it must be 100% inerrantly in line with A. But God, in his grace, decided to communicate about himself in this amazing team projects with human beings, fallen as we are. God in fleshly word, Jesus, did not come in all his ‘God-ness’, but came very sufficiently to reveal the Father. God in written word, Scripture, did not come in all its ‘God-ness’ but came very sufficiently to reveal the Father and his plan.

  • Don Johnson

    I think one’s understanding of church is also involved. Often we WANT some authority to tell us what to do, we have a bewildering array of choices, we need some way to put some sense into making them. And, by the way, each of us has a selfish side looking out for me, me, me.

    On the other hand if there is no authority of any sort, how does anything stick to the wall?

    So I see God in God’s mercy helping us with Scripture, church, and Holy Spirit. How did Paul know in 1 Cor to excommunicate the person who was having sex with his father’s wife? The church in this case was not doing it and causing disrepute to be applied to the church. My take is that Paul knew because of the Holy Spirit and Scripture, so he could rebuke the church in this case.

  • brett cost…or swamp wretch

    mr. enns is intelligent enough that he knows he is at odds with historic Christianity. the wares he’s peddling are perfect for today’s milieu, being gobbled up by multitudes – poisoned sugar goes down sweet.
    apart from any debate, discussion or friendly discourse – and knowing i represent everything he despises in the realm of spirituality, i can only adopt this simple posture…
    i say he is a wonderful snapshot of Acts 20:29-30, and would simply (albeit kindly) share with him, “one of us, my friend, is wrong. i’ll see you at the judgment seat”.

    • peteenns

      Dear Brett, Please. This is a bit over the top, isn’t it. Some thoughts for you to ponder.

      1. Do you really think you are doing God’s work with this kind of rhetoric?
      2. Your picture of “historic Christianity” seems limited. Have you read the any of the Church Fathers?
      3. You seem to think of the church masses as highly gullible. I have much more faith in them than you seem to. They can see through nonsense when they see it, including yours.
      4. I do not despise what you represent, I just think it is misguided and indefensible.
      5. I don’t think our differences here need to be settled at the judgment seat. What you say here is ugly and reprehensible.

  • Bev Mitchell

    “….it is not the view of God that yields the expectation of Scripture. Rather, it is the theological need for a certain type of Scripture that produces a particular view of God.”

    Well said! This can mesh well with the general idea that suggests if we want to move toward an accurate understanding of God, we should begin with the Incarnation.

    Addressing the same set of problems from a different perspective, Polkinghorne contrasts the top-down and the bottom-up approaches to truth seeking, in both science and theology. We need the ‘nudge of nature’ or the ‘touch of the experience of the divine’. Our belief must be ‘motivated belief’. Our interpretations/explanations are then attempts to make sense of the experience. Bloesch and Torrance say essentially the same thing. We must explain the thing as it is, not as we imagine it to be. In theology, the more open, cooperative views appear to do a better job of explaining our encounter with the reality of God, because they begin with our experience.  We are simply not smart enough to get very far using the top-down approach.

    Importantly, it’s not that folks who lean strongly to the top-down approach lack the necessary experience of the divine. Rather, it seems, they don’t feel it’s kosher to start from experience in their attempts to describe God and his works. However, “The writers of the New Testament were driven to use both human and divine categories as they sought to express their experiences of the risen Christ…….” Alternatively, we might reflect on the Apostle Paul. As Saul, his top-down approach came to a crashing end on the road to Damascus. From that moment on, Paul sought to listen to the Spirit and then to explain his experiences, from the ground up.

    Reference: Polkinghorne, John “Theology in the Context of Science”