Three down, two to go…
4. The danger of forgetting the best of your own theology
To me, one of the most interesting comments Mark made is one I mentioned in yesterday’s post: “If you don’t love Jesus, you’re a bad Bible scholar.” Does this mean that Christians shouldn’t listen to anything non-Christians say about the Bible? Coming from someone who embraces a Reformed tradition, this seems almost anti-intellectual.
So does the opposite hold true? If you love Jesus, does that automatically make you a good Bible scholar? What happens when two people who both claim to love Jesus have very different interpretations of the Bible? Should we conclude that one of them (the one whose interpretation conflicts with ours, naturally) must be lying about his or her reverence for God? Does a difference of opinion give us the right to cast doubt on their devotion?
Back to the original question. If someone makes no claim to be a follower of Jesus, does that automatically disqualify them from saying anything useful about the Bible? Should be plug our ears and hum when they speak?
It’s here that I think Mark may have forgotten one of the greatest contributions of the Reformed theology he embraces.
Now I don’t consider myself to be Reformed (not with a capital “r” anyway). I’ve been there before… and moved on. I’m a recovering Calvinist. The more I study the scriptures, the less I’m persuaded by the classical Reformed view of predestination.
However, there’s at least one thing from my experience with Reformed theology that I’ve held onto. To me, this something is arguably one of the key elements of a Reformed worldview: the notion that in a world created by God, we as Christians can celebrate truth wherever we find it because all truth is God’s truth.
This is what common grace is all about. God does not just give good things like sun and rain—or wisdom and knowledge—to the righteous (Matthew 5:45). Which is why it’s so dangerous to say something like, “If you don’t love Jesus, you’re a bad Bible scholar.” Sure—if you don’t believe in the resurrection, I may not take your word for it what happened after the crucifixion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach me anything about the life and times of Jesus.
On three different occasions, the apostle Paul quotes pagan sources. He did so in writings that came to be regarded as sacred scripture (Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12-13). He even refers to a Cretan philosopher as a “prophet.”
Paul was comfortable using the ideas of people who didn’t know or love Jesus to express biblical truth. Why? Because Paul lived with the confidence that all truth is God’s truth—that (to paraphrase Jay Kesler) we can overturn every rock in the pursuit of truth because there’s nothing that’s going to jump out from underneath and eat God.
Maybe reading books by the likes of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan isn’t necessarily a bad idea after all.