Is the Bible Really Enough for Christian Theology? No (and the Bible Says So)

In chapter 11 of his book Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of ScriptureKent Sparks tackles the question of whether our Christian theology should be limited to the Bible. In the opening paragraph (p. 118) Sparks says “no,” that we must “move beyond Scripture’s discourse” and attend to other “voices”–four in all:

Spirit, Cosmos, Tradition, Experience

I realize some will quickly chime in, “No, no. Only the Bible! There is no other foundation upon which to base Christian theology.”

Sparks points out, however, is that these other voices, ironically, have biblical precedent–at least the first three on the list do. I would also add that I’ve never know anyone to “stick to the Bible” in some pure sense. We all move Beyond the Bible more quickly that even “purists” realize.

The Voice of the Spirit–The Spirit of God is active in the life of the church and the world today, has always been, and his voice cannot be reduced to “the Bible.” Sparks refers to Acts 15, where the apostles made a decision that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) that the gentiles be included without placing on them the burden of getting circumcised and obeying the Law of Moses (v. 5, which is what the Bible required of gentiles). This decision was made in dialogue with Scripture (vv. 16-18 citing creatively Amos 9:11-12) but not with Scripture as giving a clear command.

The Spirit was needed for that and the Spirit “pushed” the early church to move in a certain direction beyond what the Bible says and what the current cultural situation dictated. The Spirit is not bound by the Bible, in part because if that were the case, the Spirit could be controlled by exegesis, which is the temptation for all Christian demagogues.

The Voice of the Cosmos–According to Psalm 19:1-4, “the heavens declare the glory of God….” The implication for Sparks is that every area of human inquiry “may provide vital resources for theological reflection” (v. 122). He then applies this to the on-going debate among some Christians over evolution. Pitting science “against” Scripture misunderstands a vital truth: Scripture is not prepared to provide every type of knowledge all by itself.

The Voice of Tradition–The New Testament itself speaks of tradition that is passed down and taught to later generations (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2). Our own understanding of “tradition” today, Sparks argues, should be a broad, catholic, understanding, where “tradition” is not one small authoritarian voice of a particular denomination or sliver of theological tradition, but “a family of closely related traditions that have different but overlapping judgments about Scripture, theology, and Christian practice” (p. 127).

The Voice of Experience–Sparks is using the word “experience” in the broadest sense to include religious experience (sometimes associated with mysticism) and experience of everyday life, whether of the world around us or perceiving our own thoughts and ideas. “Experience” understood this way clearly brings into the picture the active work of the Spirit in our lives, mentioned above. Experience is a way of talking about who we are and where we’ve been, the sum total of our conscious being. Our theological reflections are never divorced from who we are.

Some of you will no doubt recognize in Sparks’s list some overlap with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, reason, experience) and the Episcopalian three-legged stool (Scripture, reason, tradition). We see in the larger Christian tradition models waiting for us that understand the inevitability and wisdom of “going beyond the Bible” in our quest to live lives of Christian wholeness.

[This post is part of an on-going series discussing Scared Word Broken Word.

The first post in the series can be found here.]

  • Tim

    In Richard Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament, he cites the Wesleyan Quadrilateral all as valid resources for ethics. However, he asserts that scripture is the ‘trump card’. I am open to using others forms of knowledge for theology and ethics. Furthermore, we must distinguish between ethics within Christian community and in relation to the world (something that Hays does so well). Nevertheless, revelation (Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-3) and Scripture have been traditionally understood to be reliable resources of revelation.

    If we embrace evolution, it can be because we understand that the genre of Genesis 1-11 is not to be understood as telling us how God created the world. Rather, it is a theological myth in conversation with other pagan myths of the time – Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish, etc.

    Furthermore, however debates over sexuality swing, the result must be demonstrated by a clear reading of scripture, not with experience or reason trumping scripture. That will never do. Again, see Hays’ Moral Vision and his chapter on homosexuality as an example.

    • peteenns

      The problem, though, with Scripture as a trump card is that reading Scripture is a hermeneutical exercise that involves us in things like experiences, tradition, reason, etc.

    • Dan

      But what is a “clear reading of Scripture,” may be radically different from one interpreter to another, depending on the particular reading they see in the text and the hermaneutical principles they employ.

    • Christina Johnson

      What is a clear reading of scripture on the topic of homosexuality, though? Are we going to infer what Paul might mean when he refers to it? And consider the ramifications of sexuality as we view it today (as in, not considering women property)? Or are we going to say that all homosexual sexual contact is sinful? Honestly, I think that given the experience of HIV/AIDS and how well ex-gay therapies don’t work, it would be best to encourage GLBT people to live openly in the light of day, and share relationships with people based on mutual love and trust rather than being forced to pretend to be a cis-gender heterosexual and sneak around their spouses backs for sexual encounters. This leads to a falsified sense of self, and it can be harmful for the individual who is hiding the fact that they are GLBT as well as the families they help build to try to hide that from others.

      • Jeff


        I don’t know what “the experience of HIV/AIDS” means. And just because therapies do not work does not make it wrong. Think of those who are pre-disposed to sexual attraction to children.

        Also some loving relationships are wrong as well (i.e. incest, polygamy). Just because you love someone does not make the relationship right.

        All of creation has been affected by our rebellion against God in not wanting to be his image bearers to the world. This means that we are sometimes born with things that we have to continue to fight our whole lives. I want to emphasize “whole lives” because some therapies out there claim to get rid of the urges, but that is not realistic as I understand from those who were actively living that lifestyle but are now not

  • Don Johnson

    I like the ideas in this.

    On the Sprit, I am charismatic with sign gifts and we are to test every supposed prophecy (or tongue with interpretation) against the canon of Scripture. In the vast majority of cases I have seen, a prophecy is simply a repeating of Scripture, in effect a Scripture text for that day; only in a few cases have I seen more than that, such as directive prophecy for someone, an insight that could not be known otherwise, or some limited kind of foretelling of what to expect in the future (the woo hoo stuff). Of course, that means one needs to be able to interpret the Bible as God intended in order to judge-assess to see if a prophecy is aligned with it. But that is supposed to be the way it works.

    So while I agree that the Sprit is not contrained BY Scripture, the Spirit IS constrained to be consistent with Scripture with the caveats that we need to interpret it properly, which of course is where debates arise. For example, Scripture consistently presents God as a keeper of God’s covenants in Scripture; if a supposed prophecy today would claim otherwise, it should be rejected as inconsistent with Scripture.

    • peteenns

      Ah, and what is “consistent with Scripture”? There is the rub.

      • Don Johnson

        I know that the way it works in practice is that “consistent with Scripture” is really “consistent with X’s interpretation of Scripture, for various X.

        Where I am right now is that all of us need to try our best to use the “Historical-Grammatical-Literary” method of trying to figure out what it meant to the original reader, at least that is a filter to discard wrong possibilities. And we also need to be diligent to learn things that might shed more light on this and as we learn more we tweak our understanding, very much like a scientific process, which involves being humble and admitting there are things that are obscure.

        • Dan

          If only the historical-grammatical approach, then any reading that sees Christ prefigured in the OT prophets is wrong, and huge amounts of the church fathers are wrong, because they used other approaches.
          An even bigger problem is that even using the historical-grammatical approach, that is the same “rules of engagement,” different interpreters still come to radically different and contradictory interpretations. (What I am saying is that Sola Scriptura doesn’t work practically)

          • Dan

            I believe this comment should have started out “If only the historical-grammatical approach is legitimate…”
            There I go leaving out parts of sentences, I must be getting old.

        • Ron Harrison

          Just an observation: historical-grammatical-literary hermeneutics proposes to be the means of understanding Scripture. However, “theological” must be added to paradigm in order to understand the passages in context. While some in my educational background have stated that HGL (“literal” in those circles) provides an objective means of understanding what was written, I have found that it is crucial NOT to leave out theology in interpretation. In fact, interpretation that does not include Biblical theological understanding is incomplete, maybe even erroneous.

    • Justin Boulmay

      “… Scripture consistently presents God as a keeper of God’s covenants in Scripture; if a supposed prophecy today would claim otherwise, it should be rejected as inconsistent with Scripture.”
      When I read this, I was reminded of what Pete pointed out in his article: the Jerusalem Council issued a verdict that contradicted what the Bible required of Gentiles. So it seems that there are times where it is acceptable to contradict what is in the Bible, in part because not everything in the Bible was meant to be timeless in the first place.

      • Don Johnson

        I do not see Acts 15 as contradicting Scripture. What Acts 15 did was specify minimum requirements for believing gentile deference to believing Jewish sensitivities, things that grossed Jews out, so that both could sit at table fellowship. This was an agreement in Paul’s mission’s favor.

        • peteenns

          But, Don, isn’t it the case that gentiles could now cvlim Yahweh as their God as gentiles, i.e., without circumcision or obeying the Law Moses? It’s hard to read the Pentateuch or prophets as being easy on those things for gentiles. I know you don’t want to “protestantize” Jesus and Paul, and I agree, but there was most certainly a major shift in expectations re: gentiles. That;s the whole reason why there was such misgiving about the gentile mission!! As for the 4 stipulations of Acts 15, these were, as you rightly say, a “wisdom” move, not a concession to the Law.

          • Don Johnson

            Gentiles could claim YHVH as their God since Abraham, this is why Paul uses him as an example in Romans, such gentiles are called God fearers in the NT. The first gentile believer in Jesus was a God fearer in Acts 10, such people were allowed in synagogues and even the temple up to the court of gentiles (to limit them there was actually a human tradition not in Torah and actually contradicting Torah, Paul refers to this human tradition coming down, the wall of separation). Since God-fearing gentiles interacted with Jews, they knew the Jewish sensitivities, but Paul was bringing pagan gentiles to Christ, this was a whole ‘nother thing.

          • peteenns

            I certainly see the point about god fearers, but you’re mistaken on how the OT looks on gentiles as becoming part of the Israelite crowd. That point is hammered home pretty consistently.You’re not collapsing Gen 12:1-3 with Second Temple period, are you?

  • David Fields

    In his epistemology class at Regent College, John Stackhouse Jr. offers a critique and “update” to the quadrilateral. His argument is that scripture, reason, experience and tradition are in interpretative conversation – thus he dubs the model a “tetralectic” (dialogue of four partners). Though scripture is the final authority, it must be admitted that even our understanding of the scriptures is influenced by our reason, tradition and experience. The question is then; “so where is our foundation? How can we know anything?” Nicolas Wolterstorff’s (spelling???) “Reason within the Bounds of Religion” critiques the very notion of “foundationalism” in science and then applies it to theology as well. It’s a humbling read in many ways. So how do we “know”? Well, with great humility! We can offer our “graduated assent” – I am “x” confident about such and such issue (based on the current level of understanding I have and recognizing my own biases), but I have greater confidence on this other issue – we have more information about it…the Bible is more clear about this issue as well, etc. The problem (or beauty, depending on your views) is that we don’t know how high the “knowledge” goes – only God knows that. Like a graduated cylinder (an example for the chemists!), we can state our confidence on certain issues at differing levels, but the cylinder goes through the ceiling, and we don’t even know how far. That’s why humility matters in issues of epistemology.
    I guess this approach doesn’t say, “there is no truth to be known”, but it recognizes that what is known – even our understanding of the Bible – is mediated through our fallen and finite minds…through our own experiences, through our own grid of tradition. I think this is what Paul taps into when he says, “we see as through a mirror dimly.” We do see – thank God! – but it’s dim.

    • Dan

      I appreciate this approach for one main reason, it is consistent. At one point I held to something of this approach. However, if one accepts this approach, it is inevitable that widespread schism and heterodoxy/heresy will result. Unity will not be present in the Church unless one considers unity to be a purely “spiritual” (i.e. non-visible) reality.
      I am far more convinced by a Catholic approach that believes in both a written (Sacred Scipture) and an oral (Sacred Tradition, like creeds, etc.) version of Apostolic Tradition (2. Thess. 2:15 “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” ESV), and (especially) holds that the Spirit guides the living community of the church and it’s living tradition, exercising that guidance through the authority of the church (authority is the big hang-up for Protestants, as it was for me.).
      While some are unable to accept this Catholic position, it is at least consistent, and to me seems like the only consistent position that does not accept schism and non-orthodox beliefs as inevitable.

      Also, I agree with another commenter that Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible is a great book; I highly recommend it.

  • David Clark

    It seems there have been a whole slew of similar books recently. I would add The Bible Made Impossible to the mix of this genre of books, the genre being a general critique of how Evangelicals read the Bible with suggestions for better interpretation/hermeneutics.

    My question is this: How much difference is this going to make in the long run do you think? Books like this seem to be addressing the error of fundamentalists having converted sola scriptura into solo scriptura around the time of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy. This is part of the gradual transformation of fundamentalism into a more culturally engaged Evangelicalism that has been taking place over the last two generations.

    My worries about this are two-fold. The first is that these books all seem to suggest some variation on the theme of recovering more ancient strategies for reading scripture. Suggestions range from the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, the Anglican three legged stool, a more Catholic hermeneutic drawing on tradition, to a recovery of the interpretive stance of the Church Fathers. All have their fine points, all are demonstrably Christian, yet so many people see this recovery of older forms of Christianity as antithetical to Christianity!

    But secondly, I see this as yet another phase in the fundamentalist/modernist war (though admittedly having travelled very far from the original positions in that war). In that war, the middle ground has always seemed to be unstable, with people not being able to stay there very long, and in the end joining up with one of the two sides. I really want to see that middle ground become stable, because I wonder how much good all of this does if people make a shift towards positions that historically have not been able to sustain Christian beliefs or practice, as in the case of the mainlines which seem to be dying at a very rapid pace.

    • Dan

      David, I have seen this same problem of a shifting middle ground as well. Having grown up on the conservative/Evangelical side of things, I eventually realized that many of these approaches to the Bible simply don’t work and aren’t believable. So I ended up in that middle ground that is so hard to describe (post-Evangelical, NT Wright-ian, Enns-ian, Emergent-ish, Anabaptist-esque, kinda-liberal-but-not-a-real-liberal). The problem was that I had no idea where I would fit into any sort of real Christian tradition outside of the very small emerging/ent congregation I went to. But I also saw the other end of things (true Protestant liberal, the mainlines) as giving up too much of historical, orthodox Christian belief (a historical resurrection, any sense of inspiration of the scriptures, many elements of Christian morality, etc.) Somehow in the middle of that, I stumbled my way into discovering and exploring the Catholic tradition (partially through Christian Smith’s book: “How to go from being a good evangelical to a committed catholic…”). What I found is a consistent, believable way to handle these issues of Scripture, authority, tradition, theology, Church, and the interaction of these various issues. It turns out that this has been one of the greatest things in my faith and I am continually amazed at the beauty and consistency of Catholic teaching and practice (and yes, it’s failings too). I realize that this has kinda ended up sounding like an infomercial for Catholicism (“if you order in the next ten minutes, you get not one, but two free indulgences!!”), but I just wanted to share how I related to your concern about finding stability in the middle ground, and how it worked out in my experience.

      • Mark Chenoweth


        I wish I would have checked back here sooner. Our stories are SOOOO similar. I couldn’t figure out where the heck to go to church either! McLaren and others in the emergent camp drove me absolutely nuts, yet I couldn’t do the reformed thing either. I ended up in an Anglican church for a while, but it was too reformed. After finally moving to the point where I was ok with Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, I RAN to Eastern Orthodoxy. And like you, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. I always had lot of trouble growing spiritually because I had too many questions that I was asking before I could just sit down and pray. Orthodoxy has provided the foundation for me to get past the theology and actually be in Christ’s Church for the purpose of worship.

        Now if you’d just give up Papal Inallibility, and universal jurisdiction, we would be on the same for pretty much everything. : ) Anyways, you guys are doing far more than us Orthodox in reaching out. Our love has grown cold and there’s a lot more we could be doing to try to work things things out with you.

        Anyways, see ya around!

        • Mark Chenoweth

          Also, you mentioned Wright. I was actually reading through John Piper’s response to him on justification and because of Piper’s desire to REALLY represent what Wright was saying, I became convinced that Wright was right (I’m sure that’s been the title of an article or two) through reading Piper. Sort of crazy. But Wright’s understanding and his constant pointing out of the judgment scenes in Matthew and Revelation made it so patently obvious to me our works play SOME part in our salvation, and in a way that didn’t sit well with most Protestant formulations.

          I’m just curious how many people have ended up in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions due to N.T. Wright, which I’m sure wasn’t his intenton. Hahaha. But I’m aware of a few others as well.

  • Judy S-N

    I believe it was B. Lonergan who introduced the idea of a triangle for theological reflection consisting of Faith Tradition (which includes the Bible, theology, worship practice, hymnody, prayer practices, etc.), Faith experience (both individual and communal), and Culture (which includes reason). I find this helpful since it recognizes that scripture is part of the tradition of the church, not separate from it, and that what counts as “reason” is not a universally agreed upon standard across all ages and places but is culturally defined. It also has the advantage of being a triangle rather than a square, so each element interacts with the other two.

  • Craig Vick

    This is where popular (in Evangelical circles) world view talk breaks down. Our world view is supposed to come from the Bible. Yet it’s through our world view that we see and understand everything in the world including the Bible. How do we pull that off? Clearly, our world view is at best not from but in dialog with the Bible.

  • Eric

    I have long viewed the word of God not as identical with the Bible. Many or most evangelicals use “word of God’ and Bible” interchangeably. My view is Platonic. I view the word of God something like a Platonic Form, such that no physical or material object just is that Form. Rather physical or material objects might approximate or in some other way be an imperfect representation of that Form. In that way, Biblical authors were attempting to approximate the Form “Word of God.” Here too, I should add, I am taking “Word of God” identical to “the message God wants to convey to humans.” Understood as a Platonic Form, no attempt to express, replicate, or instantiate the Form is the Form itself; they are all, to varying degrees, approximations—some more approximate, some less approximate. So even creation, the Spirit, tradition, experience, maybe even Jesus are all less than complete and identical representations of the word or message from God.

    As a parallel example, take the Form “Bicycle.” Do the wooden “coffee bikes” (do a google search) approximate the Form “Bicycle?” Yes. Is, say, a Trek Madone (do a google search) more approximate? Probably.

    Applied back to the Form “Word of God,” is the Bible approximate to the Form? Yes. Does it perfectly replicate the Form? No. Is it more approximate than my beliefs and claims about the Form? Almost certainly. Might the creation, or tradition, or the Spirit, or experience provide knowledge about the message of God that is clearer or more approximate than what the Bible does? Certainly it is possible, and in some cases almost certainly is the case (like when the writer of Leviticus portrays Yahweh as saying that some small rodent like animal–most translations have “rabbit”–is unclean because it is a ruminant; one would think that if anyone knew that rodents aren’t ruminants, Yahweh would).

    Finally, on the view I hold, I can take the advice I get from friends, the preaching I hear form pastors, the words I read from theologians, biblical scholars and other folks as often or sometimes showing me something of the Form “Word of God.”

    I am sure some theologian somewhere has already articulated this view much more clearly and coherently than I have.

  • Mark Chenoweth

    I just see an issue with seeing the Holy Spirit as guiding the church from a Protestant point of view. Because any time there is disagreement between two denominations, someone can just say, “well it looks like the Holy Spirit sees fit to allow for many different views on homosexuality/spiritual gifts/the atonement/justification/Calvinism/Arminianism/Open theism” all the way down to the incarnation and trinity itself (William Lane Craig doesn’t see anything wrong with monothelitism and has called into question the eternal generation of the son in his “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview”). Same thing with the canon of scripture. Catholics and Orthodox have more books, “so it looks like the Holy Spirit was fine with letting some denominations have more books than others.”

    Why can’t Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others be included in this definition of the church then? Afterall, couldn’t someone just say, “well it looks like the Holy Spirit doesn’t mind that some denominations deny the trinity or the incarnation, so He must not see those things as important for the gospel.”

    Since a protestants definition of the church is up to the individual, it seems very arbitrary to me where someone can draw the line and say, “well the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow things to get THAT diverse.”

    I know the Catholic or Orthodox definition of the Church is very exclusive and off-putting but it seems to be the only one that makes sense. I’m not calling into question anyone’s salvation here or saying the Holy Spirit isn’t at work in Protestant denominations. I’m calling into question the Protestant definition of the Church. I don’t believe someone has to be VISIBLY part of the Church to be IN the Church, but I do believe the Church itself needs to be visible.

    It was always very hard for me to see the church as “the pillar and ground of truth” as a Protestant, because it didn’t seem like anyone could agree on what “the truth” was.

    I hope that didn’t get too polemical. Being the token non-Protestant on this blog, it’s inevitable that I’m going to strongly disagree with certain things from time to time.

    • Dan

      A fellow non-Protestant? how nice.

      • Mark Chenoweth

        Eastern Orthodox. You? I’m here because I find Enns’ incarnational understanding VERY compatible with EO and his use of critical scholarship is the most similar to what you would find at Orthodox seminaries like St. Vlads, etc.

        • peteenns

          Do I have to grow a beard now?

          • Dan

            Yes, please. It makes you holier.

        • Dan

          Catholic. I find Enns and the incarnational analogy pretty consistent with Catholicism as well. I actually found it interesting that (I don’t know the exact reference) in one of the documents from the 2nd Vatican council on the Church, it uses the incarnational analogy for the Church itself, both divine (spiritual/invisible) and human (visible/hierarchical), meaning that it can neither be fully understood as just visible (the hierarchy/structure) or just invisible (a spiritual communion that has no visible manifestation).

          • Dan F.

            I’m not sure how I missed this thread but here’s another Catholic. Dr. Enns did say something in another thread about a stop in Canterbury on the way across the Tiber.

  • ryan stark

    I would prefer to use the term “intuition” instead of “reason” w/respect to the legs on that stool in the diagram above. Christian intuition trumps reason, especially if the notion of reason is tied to some form of Enlightenment rationality, which I think it often is in evangelical circles, wittingly or unwittingly. People often proclaim “reason” in an effort to get to the cult of objectivity, new empiricism, and other pillars of modernity.

  • Nathan

    ‘Reason’ is not a separate category that can be drawn upon for our usage…as though it existed ‘objectively’ somewhere…all of us use ‘reason’ when we use other ‘authorities’ (note the small ‘a’) to help formulate our theology/values etc…Newbigin brings this out pretty clearly in “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”.

  • Bev Mitchell

    First, it seems we must interpret together – current Christians and what was written by our spiritual ancestors. Secondly, it’s a lot like riding a bicycle – movement is essential. The movement required is a working, living, growing relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures that are fairly easy to interpret (i.e. relatively easy to find broad agreement) but sometimes hard to follow, should be given pride of place. The reason for this is that faithful following based on the relatively easy to interpret stuff brings us closer to Christ, more easily positioned to hear the Spirit’s voice and better prepared to follow/obey.  Pray a lot. Then go back to the group and the saints, check it out, discuss it, pray about it together. Go back to the top, repeat for a lifetime.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Here is the verse I was looking for:

    “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” Luke 16:10a

    We can probably see this as a bootstrap process 

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Doesn’t anyone else besides me see the Christian scriptures as being authoritative over other influences because they ALONE are recognized as having Spirit inspired and therefore prophetic authority? Neither post-Apostolic traditions, reasoning, nor experience can ever bear the weight of that divine authority. No one asserting a gospel, a theological view (however orthodox according to tradition), a reasoned perspective (however close to scripture it may be), a heart-felt experience of the truth, or anything contrary to or going beyond scripture and claiming any validity for those perspectives, should do so unless also having a God GIVEN PROPHETIC AUTHORITY.

    Yes, of course we are all in many ways influenced by our experiences, our reasoned sensibilities, and our traditions (the latter only if we submit to some post-Apostolic tradition?), but do we not first have to acknowledge the primal authority of God in and through his written tradition, as clarified in the New Testament, as the only reliable prophetic one? For me there is a clear interpretive priority of authority implicit in New Covenant prophetic writing; this is another distinction often ignored.

    If you believe you speak the very words of God for us then say so. If not, you would do well to show a very high degree of humility whenever you speak as though for God. In a sense, even asserting what one believes IS said IN the scriptures requires a form of prophetic authority. The rest of us not willing to claim we are God’s true prophets should only engage in humble dialogue. OSISTM

    PS: Aren’t these “traditional” Free Church beliefs? 8>)

  • Bev Mitchell


    Yes, God’s Word is authoritative, but lovingly so. The overwhelming theme of Scripture and of Jesus’ ministry is love. Our interpretation must be done in this spirit, with this perspective. All other approaches, especially those tending to the spirit of power fall short, even fail miserably.

    There is no road from power to love. For that matter there isn’t a road from love to power either, but there is a beautiful passage from love to love. And that is powerful indeed.

    The Church has been very powerful in the past, with mixed to awful results. The loving Church is clearly God’s will, but is a little hard to find.

    The Bride of Christ is more comely as a lover than as a broker of power.

    If death was swallowed up in victory, was power not also swallowed up in love?

    Love creates the loved, power creates the empowered. The asymmetry is painfully obvious.

  • Eliza Wood

    I spent the last three years isolating more than 1300 problematic teachings in the Bible, many of which promote rape, genocide, slavery, subjugation of women, racism, and more. It led me to work on a new edition called The Pacific Bible, to be released January 1

    I am looking forward to this book!!

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      If one views the scriptures through the eyes of Jesus and the trajectory of the teaching of the Apostles one can not understand the Bible to “promote rape, genocide, slavery, subjugation of women, racism, and more.” People may interpret some scriptures to do so, but it is not the texts themselves doing it.

  • Eric Kunkel

    (Jesus) said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’ (Matthew 13:52 NIV)

  • Stephen

    There’s biblical precedent for the voice of “experience” too, though in a way similar to what Sparks discusses in terms of “voice of the Spirit.”

    In Gal 3, Paul’s entire argument turns on the Galatians’ experience — and Paul makes this explicit. Among other things, Paul wants to establish a dissociation between the law and Christ, and thus the law and all God’s eschatological benefits for Christ followers through Christ. Galatians 3 tackles this issue head on, and Paul’s approach starts with the Galatians’ experience: “I desire to learn only this from you. Did you receive the spirit from the works of the law or from the message of faithfulness?” (well, the translation of ἀκοῆς πίστεως is disputed, often appearing as ‘hearing with faith’ in our translations).

    This discussion of the Galatians’ experience is Paul’s trump card and central argumentative point — and he expands upon it in Gal 3.3-5. If they received the spirit apart from the law, then (from experience) they know that (for the Galatian Gentiles) there’s a dissociation between the law and Christ — which is apparently the exact opposite of what the Christ following teachers, whom Paul opposes in Galatians, are claiming.

    Though Paul does use scripture in his arguments about these issues in Gal 3-4, he sets everything up with this argument from the Galatians’ experience. Among other things, this establishes at the outset that interpretations of scripture supporting a dissociation of the law from what God has done (and is doing) through Christ are more plausible since they’re in accord with what “they already know” God has done; i.e., in accord with what, in Paul’s setup, scripture must be talking about. This, of course, helps matters since some of the passages Paul uses in Gal 3 (esp. Lev 18.5 and Deut 21.23) basically say the exact opposite of Paul’s point, which part of the reason why many interpreters think that they’re among the passages from scripture that the folks Paul opposes were using.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Because the Galatians’ experience was that of having received “the Spirit,” and because Paul has an ongoing experience of being lead and empowered by that same Spirit, he understands what God has done in establishing a New Covenant in Christ, and it seems apparent that Paul believes that a new set of “commandments” to have been given.

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  • Hilary Major

    Would it be worth it to also include the history of how certain verses have been interpreted, and the results of certain understandings, when considering how to interprete the Gospel? We now have two millenia of history to check the consequences of different interpetations. I’m thinking of the verses condeming the Jewish leaders and Jews in general in the Gospels. Those verses were written before the pogroms, before the Inquisition, before the blood libels and ghettos, before the Holocaust. We can look back now and see two groups of people struggling despretly to survive catastrophe and determine a new course for their respective people. Christians can even easily access the works of the Jewish sages comparable to the period the Gospels were being written, it’s the Pirke Avot and Mishnah, and study the Pharisess’s in their own words.

    In the light of the historical consequences of Christian anti-semitism, and with access for ecumenical study with Jews, is there any case for a new theological understanding of the verses condeming Jews for rejecting Jesus?


  • Matt Colflesh

    Let’s just go with whatever Moises Silva says! If you haven’t listened to him…you’re missing out

  • Dan F.

    Hi Dr. Enns,

    I can’t believe I missed this thread from six weeks ago. One quick question – how does admitting that Scripture Alone isn’t sufficient for theology not call into question the fundamental pillar of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura)? Either every man is Pope, interpreting the Scriptures through their own reason, experience and reading of the tradition or there is one Pope and one college of bishops established by Christ to lead and guide the Church. Or do you see some third way?

    • Jamie Rehmel

      It seems to me, that is a false dichotomy. My experience is thus: Everyone can read scripture and experience God through that medium. Nevertheless, it seems to me that everyone is on somewhat of a continuum in terms of their competence in reading scripture and using it hermeneutically. It also seems to me that the Catholic church has some untenable theological positions. Therefore, there seems to be at least one, but probably many other, alternatives to your either or proposition.

  • Dave

    This issue isn’t whether Scripture is broken (it is not). The issue is not if we use reason, experience, tradition to understand Scripture. We do. Every valid interpretive approach uses reason and experience to understand “sola scriptura.” The question is will we use these the methods of interpretive insight to invalidate the Word of God, the text we are trying to understand, in favor of our preferences. Or will we use these tools carefully in community to continue to refine our understanding of God’s revelation.

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