Which Comes First, Our View of God or Our Doctrine About the Bible?

Which Comes First, Our View of God or Our Doctrine About the Bible? July 21, 2016

Pete Enns views of God and Bible

A quote from a post by Pete Enns about this classic chicken-and-egg question.


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  • John MacDonald

    Kind of like the way Universalists focus on passages like “And all mankind will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:6),” and explain away passages like: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ (John 14:6).”

    • John MacDonald

      Another passage that really seems to speak against Universalism is: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.… (Matthew 7:13-14).” One would think that the opposite would be true if Universalism was the actual state of affairs.

      • Brian Kellogg

        We see this type of thing on all sides from time to time. I think one of the mistakes is to think we are reading a book devoid of contradictions and we mistakenly believe that its possible, in any reasonable way, to harmonize all those contradictions and excuse the failings.

        I’ve become a lot more comfortable with unsolvable mystery, allowing the tensions of the mysteries to exist unresolved. Doesn’t mean I don’t try to answer questions as I love questions but its ok if I just don’t know. And, even about those things I used to think were foundational and unquestionable. I think this helps us to better try on other perspectives and see how they work or don’t.

        • John MacDonald

          One of the emphases of Postmodernism is that texts will sometimes have different voices speaking against one another within one and the same text. One of the topics that occurs to me about this in scriptural studies is that God is sometimes portrayed as omniscient, and other times not. If you are interested in some thoughts on the subject of God’s omniscient vs limited intelligence, see my various posted comments in the comment section of Dr. McGrath’s post “Jesus vs. #AllLivesMatter” found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2016/07/jesus-vs-alllivesmatter.html

      • Vanessa Benoit

        couldn’t it be entirely possible that this wasn’t even referencing heaven and hell?
        just look at the world. wide IS the gate and broad IS the way that leads to destruction.
        and indeed, small is the way that leads to life.
        life.
        not salvation.
        life.
        those words are not the same words dang it.

        • John MacDonald

          John 14:6 seems to say the only way to God is through Jesus. Matthew 7:13-14 at very least doesn’t sound very inclusive, whatever “Life” might mean (although “life” here in Matthew may mean the same as “life” does in John 14:6).

          And Paul sometimes seems to think that faith apart from faith in Jesus is meaningless: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.… (1 Cor 15:17-18).”

          • John MacDonald

            “Life” seems to mean the eternal life that is gained through faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Only this can cancel the Sin Debt. We read:

            “that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.… (John 3:15-16)”

            “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you reap leads to holiness, and the outcome is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)”

            “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.… (1 Cor 15:17-18).”

          • John MacDonald

            On the other hand, “life” may just mean having a blessed life, (as in John 10:10): “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10).” But whichever the case is regarding the connotation of the word “life,” passages like John 14:6 and especially 1 Cor 15:17-18 seem to speak against Universalism.

          • Vanessa Benoit

            Take another look at Matthew 25 then

    • Patrick Moore

      Too many accept secondhand teachings and believe that is all there is to God. Too few wrestle with God to understand who God is. God only has children. God has no grandchildren. Jesus made it possible for all to come to God- it is through Jesus that this is possible. Therefore the verses John McDonald sets against universalism do not contradict it. Many who believe they are “saved” but live a secondhand faith may not enter heaven because they never knew God. Many who have truly sought and wrestled with who God is will be saved- no matter what “religion” they sought God through. Jesus made this possible, it is possible through Jesus. He is the one who knows our hears and will either say “well done my good and faithful servant” or “I never knew you”. All true believers bear the fruit of The Spirit and are found in many faiths. Too few Christians in America show any sign of belonging to Christ Jesus. Most are walking down the highway to destruction including many who believe they are Christians. Very few are following God but not all of them are “Christians”.

      • John MacDonald

        Patrick said “Many who have truly sought and wrestled with who God is will be saved- no matter what ‘religion’ they sought God through.”

        Paul would seem to disagree with this. Paul writes “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.… (1 Cor 15:17-18).” The sense is that Paul sometimes seems to think that faith apart from faith in Jesus is meaningless.

        • Patrick Moore

          So I believe this takes us back to the question we are responding to, and the answer is that it is different for each person. For me my view of God that informs my understanding of scripture, but for you it seems to be that your understanding of scripture shapes your view of God. I believe in an incomprehensible being who is bigger and more complex than anything else in human experience. Humans are small and very limited in comparison. But it seems to me those who get their understanding of God solely from scripture are putting God in a very small box with its parameters defined by an ancient book. From my perspective humans are the ones who are in the box defined by that ancient book and each writer grants us a hole in the box where we can catch glimpses of this God. The text is dead but God is alive and continues to seek a personal relationship with each of us so we can know him better than just these glimpses passed on to us from other flawed humans like ourselves.

  • Patrick Moore

    Too many accept secondhand teachings and believe that is all there is to God. Too few wrestle with God to understand who God is. God only has children. God has no grandchildren. Jesus made it possible for all to come to God- it is through Jesus that this is possible. Therefore the verses John McDonald sets against universalism do not contradict it. Many who believe they are “saved” but live a secondhand faith may not enter heaven because they never knew God. Many who have truly sought and wrestled with who God is will be saved- no matter what “religion” they sought God through. Jesus made this possible, it is possible through Jesus. He is the one who knows will either say “well done my good and faithful servant” or “I never knew you”. All true believers bear the fruit of The Spirit and are found in many faiths. Too few Christians in America show any sign of belonging to Christ Jesus. Most are walking down the highway to destruction including many who believe they are Christians. Very few are following God but not all of them are “Christians”.

    • John MacDonald

      There are a number of scriptures that are usually appealed to against Universalism such as:

      •”Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. 14″For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it,” (Matt. 7:13-14).
      •”For many are called, but few are chosen,” (Matt. 22:14).
      •”And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 23And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, 24″Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25″Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26″Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; 27and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers,'” (Luke 13:22-27).
      •”And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly,” (Rom. 9:27).

      These verses seem plain and clear that not all are saved. How do you account for these?

      • Patrick Moore

        I’m sorry. I’m not a Universalist in the sense that you are arguing against. That should have been clear from what I wrote. I agree not all will be saved. Very few will be saved compared to the number of those who will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire. I’m just saying that even very few who believe they are “Christians” will be saved, and perhaps many who are not “Christians” will be saved. Because it isn’t about reciting any magic words or holding any “correct” beliefs in your brain- it is about having an honest living relationship with the One True God. Perhaps I’m using the wrong word (universalist) but to me it is the idea that God is God of all whether they acknowledge him or not, and makes himself accessible to all whether they’ve ever heard of Jesus or not. This God is God to all faiths who honestly believe there is only One True God and all of these scriptures miss represent God because they were written by flawed humans from their limited human perspectives. Anyone who, despite the official teachings and doctrines of their faith, is able to form a true relationship with God and know God is Truth, Life, and Love- full of grace and mercy, able to forgive sins. They believe in the God who is Jesus whether they know this or not, because Jesus is the only God who is and does these things.

        • John MacDonald

          Patrick wrote: “Very few will be saved compared to the number of those who will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.” It sounds like a very narrow view of scripture is determining your understanding of God and salvation.

          • Patrick Moore

            And you can make that judgement from this single statement? Says the man who in his previous post was quoting verses that said essentially the same thing when you wrongly assumed that I believed everyone was going to Heaven? You can’t have it both ways.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not religious. I’m agnostic. As I pointed out, you said: “Very few will be saved compared to the number of those who will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.” You picking and choosing scriptures to proof-text your offensive, obscene worldview betrays exactly the kind of person you are.

          • Patrick Moore

            So basically you are just here to argue with anyone no matter what they believe and can take any side of an argument to do so. What kind of person do you believe I am?

          • Patrick Moore

            I’m sorry you find my worldview offensive. Could you share with me what part of it offends you?

          • John MacDonald

            Patrick wrote: “Very few will be saved compared to the number of those who will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.” Only a sociopathic religious nut believes the vast majority of mankind will be damned.

          • Patrick Moore

            ooh, name calling. Do you mean anyone who believes these things that you posted fit that description?

            “•”Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. 14″For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it,” (Matt. 7:13-14).
            •”For many are called, but few are chosen,” (Matt. 22:14).
            •”And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 23And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, 24″Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25″Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26″Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; 27and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers,'” (Luke 13:22-27).
            •”And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly,” (Rom. 9:27).”

            That makes for a lot of sociopathic religious nuts, and since you are the one actually quoting scripture verbatim I think that description must include you?

          • Patrick Moore

            or would it be wrong to judge someone based on the very little bit we have shared with each other about our beliefs?

          • John MacDonald

            Your comment was that “Very few will be saved compared to the number of those who will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.” Unless you take back that statement I will not dialogue with you any further. I have standards. lol

          • Patrick Moore

            You have now repeated that quote of what I posted four times. I fail to see how my quote is any different than the list of scriptures that you posted. It would not be fair for you to stop talking to me believing what I said is offensive to you, when you have not told me why you are offended in a way that makes sense to me. Why can you say these things as quoted scripture, but I can not give my own summary statement that says the same thing?

          • John MacDonald

            The problem I have with you is that you think the vast majority of people are going to hell.

          • Patrick Moore

            but the scriptures you quoted say the same thing and you don’t have a problem with that?

          • John MacDonald

            I have a problem with people picking and choosing which scriptures to focus on and deciding on morally obscene ones. Do you agree with the apostle Paul that slavery is okay?

          • Patrick Moore

            No I don’t. Slavery is wrong. And despite what some verses say all people are equal regardless of skin color, gender, sexual preference, etc… And you are not answering my question. I don’t know what picking and choosing you think I’m doing. I think I just understand things differently. We have not said enough to each other for you to be making such sweeping judgements of me.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think you really believe that the vast majority of people are going to hell. I think you are just confused. Would you say that a person with severe Down’s Syndrome who can’t understand the Christian message is going to hell? What about an atheist who works tirelessly for charitable and humanitarian causes? Surely these non religious people would not be consigned to hell by God?

          • Patrick Moore

            I don’t think I’m confused about what I believe, and as I’ve said it’s not about believing the right things or not- so understanding the Christian message is irrelevant to knowing God. Jesus made that possible, but the believer doesn’t necessarily have to know or believe that for it to still be true. God is not a Christian. It’s about free will and personal choice. The case of a person with Down’s Syndrome or even a child who dies young I believe their innocence and limited ability to choose anything for themselves. For the atheist that is not enough information to know their relationship with God. Being “good” doesn’t necessarily mean you go to heaven, and being “bad” doesn’t necessarily mean you will die. It all depends on your relationship with God. Most atheists I’ve known have had a hostile relationship with God- or at least with other believers. I have a good friend on the other hand who sounds like the Atheist you are talking about- I think Atheists are more likely to have wrestled with God than many American Christians… but God did not turn out to fit their expectations of what God should be. That is unfortunate that they feel that way, but the fact that they sought the truth likely puts them in a better place with God- especially if they live out their life as a little jesus to others- slow to anger, full of compassion, and showing the fruits of the spirit in their life. They are living in a good relation with God and don’t even know it, but they are emulating Jesus and letting the Spirit of God work despite their disbelief… that atheist friend will likely be in Heaven. But I still think most people who live out their selfish lives seeking only their own pleasure and never seek God, question God, or want anything to do with God… one day they will get their wish to have nothing to do with God. And in a country where people believe they are “Christian” because their grandmother was a Christian and go out and live this way… I think God gives us the authority over our lives to let our will trump his will concerning what happens next.

          • John MacDonald

            You wrote “But I still think most people who live out their selfish lives seeking only their own pleasure and never seek God, question God, or want anything to do with God… one day they will get their wish to have nothing to do with God. ” Only an unjust God would consign such people to hell or annihilation. Otherwise good people who “never seek God, question God, or want anything to do with God” are just as worthy of heaven as anyone else.

          • Patrick Moore

            But what makes them “good”? God loves each of is more than we can know, and actively seeks relationship with us. Even if a person has no access to any faith or other believer, I think God tugs at each of our hearts to be in relationship with him. We can go with that or we can ignore it and seek our own pleasures instead. So I’d be curious about what they are good. What led them to live this life? I think some seek and follow God, or “good”, or light, life, love, truth… whatever form God takes in trying to connect with each person. Maybe you are right. Maybe I do believe more people are going to heaven than I thought. I’m just not very optimistic about humans in general. Probably an effect of being a counselor for abused children. I have a view of the dark side of humanity that most people don’t have to see. I don’t think God chooses were we will go. It’s more complicated than that, but essentially we are the ones who choose where we go. You seem to have picked up on the fact that I don’t believe in “Hell”, but believe those lives will end. Because a just God can not support eternal punishment- that just doesn’t make any sense. I have to go for now but you can keep typing at me. TTYL!

          • John MacDonald

            Consider the parable of the independent son: A loving father had two sons, a needy codependent son, and an independent son. The needy codependent son called his father every day and thought about him constantly. The independent son called on holidays and birthdays. The father loved them both equally, and had portioned out half of his estate to each when he died.