Jesus Vs. the Bible ? (Updated)

Jesus Vs. the Bible ? (Updated) June 5, 2013

Recently American Mega-Pastor Andy Stanley  (North Point Community Church) delivered a sermon where he said that he believed in Adam and Eve,  not because the Bible says so, but because Jesus believed in a real Adam and Eve. According to Stanley, “The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. the foundation of the faith is not the infallibility of the Bible.” For Stanley, the foundation of our faith is Jesus.

My good friend Denny Burke takes issue with Stanley, calling his view a poison pill. Denny argues in contrast:

While it is true that Christ’s accomplishment in the cross and resurrection is the basis of our salvation, it is misleading to say that the “foundation of our faith is not the Scripture.” Our only access to what Christ accomplished for us in history is through Scripture! The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation. This is why the apostle Paul can speak of the apostles’ message as the “foundation” of the church (Eph. 2:20). Without their testimony which has been inscripturated for us in the Bible, there is no salvation.

Another friend and well-known scholar, Scot McKnight, also chimes in with a response to Denny, suggesting that Denny has a deficient theology of the Word and a deficient view of the biblical canon.

My own response to this melee runs thus:

1. Although I can perhaps appreciate an apologetic intention towards the unchurched here, I think Andy Stanley’s framing of the discussion in terms of “not Bible, but Jesus,” is unhelpful.  It can potentially foster a Bible vs. Jesus paradigm. Moreover, I have been around churches and theologians (especially Episcopalians) where Jesus is invoked as an authority over and against the Old Testament, Paul, and Revelation. So I see the problem that Denny is responding against and a response of some kind is appropriate.

2. I think we need to remember that our authority is indeed the Word, but the Word exists in its threefold form: The Word incarnate (Christ), the word prophesied and proclaimed (Prophets, Apostles, and even Preachers), and the word inscripturated. You cannot play one Word off against another Word since they are all rooted in the self-disclosure of the one triune God.

3. I have several problems with Denny’s response to Stanley:

a. The idea that the “Bible is the Foundation” of our faith is a recent post-Protestant innovation. For a start, what was the center of people’s faith across history when most people were illiterate and prior to the advent of the printing press. In order to make the Bible the center of faith, you have to assume a kind of mass produced Bible-culture and an environment where literary rates are high. It is impossible for Denny’s point to hold true for most Christians, in most places, at most times in history. Now I would say that the Bible is essential for developing a fully orbed and fully rounded faith. Further to that, the Bible is our authority for living out a Christ-centered, Spirit-led, and God-honoring life. However, it is not our only access to the word of salvation. For people learn about the word of salvation from the preaching of the gospel, from the recital of ancient creeds, and in the great hymns and songs of the faith. In many ways these connect to Scripture, but they also connect to and expound a faith that existed prior to the canonization of the Old and New Testament. The faith that Denny wants to protect is not simply a faith contained within the pages of the Bible, it is rather the faith once delivered to the saints by Jesus and the apostles of which Scripture it is written form. Scripture is the written product of God’s Word being preached by the Apostles and preserved by the apostolic community through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

b. I think it fair to say that reading the Old Testament through a Jesus lens is a very biblical thing to do; in fact, the Evangelists and Apostles model that for us very well. Christ is the goal and climax of the Old Testament and Christ is the substance of the New Testament. As such, I would affirm (with BFM 1963) that “The criterion which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ” and also affirm (with BFM 2000) that “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who himself is the locus of divine revelation.” A christocentric faith will yield a high view of Scripture simply for the fact that a follower of Jesus cannot have a view of Scripture at odds with what Jesus said and taught about Scripture.

c. Most concerning is Denny’s remark that “The message of salvation comes to us in the Bible, apart from which there is no salvation.” If I’m reading Denny correctly – and I think I am – his view is basically extra Biblicum nulla salus. Such a move is christologically disasterous. Christ is the center of Christian faith and without Christ there is no salvation. Denny is attributing to Scripture what the apostolic and catholic churches have ordinarily attributed to Christ. But note Paul’s words: “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:22).

d. I think Denny is committing what I would call the “SBC Error” which confuses epistemology with authority. This error can be seen in a comparison of the 1963 BFM and the 200o BFM. In the 1963 BFM, it states that “Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice is Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” But this is changed in the 2000 BFM to “Our living faith is established upon eternal truths.” In other words, the BFM 2000 removes “Jesus Christ” and replaces him with “eternal truths.” It replaces our Deliverer with Doctrine!! That is not kosher. Just because my main way of knowing Jesus is through the Bible does not make the Bible the center of my faith. That would be like saying that the Priest/Pastor who says, “I now pronounce you man and wife” is the center of my marriage. The Priest/Pastor might tell me the good news that I need to know, but he sure ain’t coming with me on my honeymoon! The center of our faith is not the Word about Christ, it is rather, Christ the Word!

Andy Stanley’s remarks made me grind my teeth in discomfort, while Denny’s response left me sympathetic but deeply frustrated. A Christ-centered faith does not mean pitting Jesus against Scripture. Similarly, a high view of Scripture does not mean removing Jesus from the center of our apostolic faith.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Docteur Lou

    Thanks for your honest, balanced, and respectful answer. At any rate, you always respond to these sort of issues with grace and clarity.

  • prodigalthought

    I once read this comment by a theologian: Many Christians today believe in Jesus because of the Bible. But the early church believed in the Bible because of Jesus.

    Something of that nature. I think it very interesting to ponder. Where do our priorities lie?

    As you suggest, we don’t need to create a dichotomy/tension between Christ & Scripture. But we do need to keep the most important in the forefront. I think the church is properly referred to as ‘Christians’ because we remember who takes precedence.

    For those who want to say -’Well, we wouldn’t know what we know about Jesus if not for Scripture.’ – I think it’s way too simplified, missing the organic nature of our Christ-based faith & how we came to have a canon of Scripture. You also note many practical aspects in your article, Michael. There was no finalised, codified NT canon for a couple of centuries. But the knowledge of Christ spread rapidly at the preaching of the gospel/kerygma, the verbal proclamation of the living word. And no one really had a ‘personal copy’ for the first 1500 years after Christ, but there was a continued knowledge & seeking of Christ. Not to mention that our knowledge of Christ comes through something more holistic like the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Scripture becomes primary, but never ‘only’.

    The early apostles & leaders met the living Christ, encountered him, and that event opened their eyes to what the Hebrew Scriptures were teaching about him. THEN they used the Hebrew OT Scriptures to testify to Christ (which actually continued after he left). So one, mainly Christ, takes precedence. It was always:

    Christ -> Scripture -> Christ

  • davewainscott

    Great wrestling here.

    It hit me that according the Eph 2;20, it could be said that the “foundation” is neither Bible nor Jesus…but as it says there “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”

    • prodigalthought

      Dave –

      What about this passage that many forget?

      …God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

  • Justin Borger

    Prof. Bird,

    You describe your opinion of Stanley and Burke’s positions in some detail. But what are your thoughts on McKnight’s comments? Do you think they were helpful/accurate?


  • Prem Isaac

    This appears self-referentially incoherent: all will agree that Scripture is a communication, a message or messages. Andy Stanley rejects this communication as being the basis of faith. However, to tell us this, is he not communicating with us through a message which is somehow recorded and transmitted(much like the Bible)? So why does he think we should find his message persuasive and central to understanding Andy Stanley himself, but not the message of Scripture for understanding and walking with God acceptably? It looks like he is trying to silence God and this is his way of pressing the mute button: Jesus is central, but not what He (or His Father in Heaven) says to us through His communication by Scripture.

  • Michael

    Facepalm. Both/And.

  • curtismpls

    It is a false dichotomy. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus and the Bible are the same thing; they are both ways that God reveals God to us. Jesus vs. the Bible? The answer is “yes, both.”

    We do not worship Jesus alone. We do not worship the Bible alone. Either one would be idolatry, because we would be worshiping a reference to God, rather than worshiping God directly. We worship God, who is revealed to us through Jesus and through the Bible.

  • Joe

    1 john1 Jesus is the word of god, its plain and simple. The world was created through him, without him nothing was created. Its just that simple. Lets not over think this.

  • Jack Daniels

    Andy Stanley’s position that he believes what (he thinks) Jesus believed is something I run into with some of my students from time-to-time. I don’t think its a position that makes much sense out of the fact that Jesus was a 1st century Israelite, and thus, should have thought what most 1st century Israelites would have thought – even to the point of thinking things that were wrong. Only recognizing this does one come closer to a fully Divine and fully human Christology.

    Michael, your comments about Denny’s response I think beats around the bush of the fact that Jesus comes to us inscripturated, in speech & talk (academic, ecclesial, and mundane discourse), in public prayer and liturgies, stories, performances, and actions. Another way to put it – Jesus comes to us in “formal-controlled” ways (scripture, liturgies, liturgical prayers, etc.), “informal-controlled” ways (ecclesial & academic discourse – “Sunday school,” lectures, etc.), and in “informal-uncontrolled” ways (mundane discussion, like blogs!?!, and daily conversations, and in alternate states of consciousness – meditation, lectio divina, etc.).

  • Great post. I definitely see the replacement of “truth” in scripture for “Jesus” to be problematic for Burke and others like him.

    Regarding your three-fold understanding of the Word: how is 2 (prophesied) substantially different than 3 (inscripturated). The word spoken/written in language doesn’t seem significant enough to merit differentiation. Also, if the word spoken/written is a form of the Word, why isn’t creation also a “form” of that same word (Gen. 1/John 1/Col. 1)?

    But also, you mentioned your three-fold form of the Word, what about the more sacramental form (word in the table) and or the liturgical form of biblical Word (bible), the Sacramental Word (table), and the Eccesial Word (people) all as forms of Word of God? This has often been the more tradition 3-fold form.

  • Silah

    Rom 10:17 “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”