Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Back to the . . . Body! by Stephen R. Crosby

There was a Body before there was a Bible. This is a threatening fact for many, especially those from a Protestant or Fundamentalist background. It is none-the-less, an indisputable fact. The implications can, and have been, argued for centuries but the fact cannot be. The Bible is the product of the Church. The Body is the result of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, Spirit-outpouring, and Spirit-indwelling: the New Creation.

I am thankful for my heritage. By the grace of God, I have been devoted to Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures for 36 years. To the best of my ability, I have given my life to the disciplined study, honest exegesis, and honorable application of the Scriptures. I am not anti-Scripture. However, the kingdom benefit of biblical knowledge (revelation, insight, etc.)  has limits and love does not. We must honestly admit that the Protestant Evangelical passion for the Scripture (which I share) is not without some inherent difficulties and risks.[i]

The Protestant Reformation was a renewal movement led by lawyers (literally) and scholars. The universities of Renaissance secular humanism were the setting for the Reformation. The Reformation was characterized by argumentation regarding propositional truth in the Scripture: the best-reasoned and persuasively presented argument won the day as “truth.”  The Scriptures were approached by reason the same as any other topic-chemistry, geology, etc. The underlying premise was that truth was reasonable, and a reasonable and disciplined scholastic approach, contrary to irrational mysticism, could lead to “correct theology.” The Bible was the textbook. Truth was the aim, and the rest is, as they say, history. As in most any noble effort, there were unintended downside consequences.

Bypassing for now the history of shameful bloodshed and other egregious misbehavior associated with the Reformation, there is yet another downside consequence which is more contemporaneous. It’s the belief that the essence of Christianity is correct apprehension of biblical precepts, rather than transformed life and living according to Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. For the majority of Evangelical Christianity the essence of our faith is presented as a set of propositional truths about Jesus, to which one must agree or “go to hell.” “My truth is better than your truth.” “If you don’t agree with what “the Bible says,” you are going to hell.”

The Scriptures declare that the world is not waiting to be persuaded from the Bible.[ii] The world does not care about our “Bible” and our opinions about it. The Scriptures tell us that the unbelieving world has a right to “taste” of us,[iii] to savor us,[iv] to see if the aroma of Christ[v] is present or not. The world is waiting to see a quality of life manifested on earth.[vi] It is not positioned by God to merely be lectured at by those who profess to possess superior and absolute propositional truths.

Truth has always had a Body.[vii] All of Christian truth is incarnational (embodied). The correct apprehension of biblical facts is not the same as possessing the life of Christ. It’s possible to flawlessly explain Paul’s theology and possess none of his life.

I suggest, as did A. W. Tozer, that the specter of bibliolatry is always uncomfortably close at hand. The normal state of modern Evangelicalism is a devotion to  the Bible, but a life separated from the Bible’s Christ and His Spirit. Tozer called it the “tyranny of the scribe” and “textualism from which the human mind revolts.” [viii] Tozer is not alone. Paul Tournier described the real essence of Christianity as: “. . . the building of a new civilization in which the spirit of Christ will be in the inner source of personal, family, social, and individual conduct.”[ix]

Peter Leithart says it like this:
Christian community . . . is not an extra religious layer on social life. The church is not a club for religious people. The church is a new way of living together before God, a new way of being human together. What Jesus and the apostles proclaimed was not a new ideology or a new religion, in our attenuated modern sense. What they proclaimed was salvation, and that meant a new human world, a new social and political reality .  .  . Conversion thus means turning from one way of life, one culture to another . . . it is the beginning of a re-socialization . . . In the New Testament we do not find an essentially private gospel being applied to the public sphere, as if  . . . it were a second story built on a private ground floor. The gospel IS the announcement of the Father’s formation, through His Son and the Spirit, of a new city—the city of God.[x]

Paul’s gospel had an empirical test built into it; if no one was transformed, then the message that announced the transformation could not possibly be true. The first and chief defense of the gospel, the first letter of commendation not only for Paul but for Jesus, is not an argument, but the life of the Church, conformed to Christ by the Spirit in service and suffering. A community of sinners whose corporate life resembles Christ –that is the Church’s first apologetic. The very existence of such a “city” is our main argument.[xi]

We are living in a time when a change is taking place in our understanding of our understanding! Our concept of the essence of biblical Christianity, “church,” and how it is done, is undergoing a much-needed Holy Spirit renovation. Our understanding of “truth” (revelation) must move away from persona, pulpit, gift and “anointing” . . . to Body. The days of dependency on single individuals, with singular gifts, is over.

Paul makes it clear in Colossians 2:2-3 that the unfolding of all the mysteries of God, the deep insights into His Person, plan and purpose, is not just a result of receiving the “preached Word,” but is directly linked to our joining together in love (emphasis mine):

That their hearts might be knit together in love and UNTO all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

There is more to our faith than the accumulation of teachings and a pursuit of “revelations” (which border on addiction to novelty for novelty’s sake). I am not very interested in new “revelations,” so-called.  I would like to live well in the ones I already understand. Mark Twain once said that he was not so much bothered by what he did not understand about the Bible, but by what he did understand! Me too.

Regardless of how right we might be on a point of doctrine, or how “anointed” the meeting is, or how “cutting edge” our insight is, we are worthless[xii] to God and humanity if these things do not ultimately lead to transformation of our lives before God and humanity. There is a love that surpasses knowledge.[xiii] There is a power that surpasses what the natural can produce.[xiv] There is a service that transcends human sympathy.[xv] These things are neither difficult nor complicated. They do not require argumentative (and often endless)  explanation. They require expression. Arguments are cheap. Expression is costly.

We are the message . . .
We are the argument . . .
We are the apologetic . . .

We are the One Loaf the unbelieving world is permitted to “bite in to” to see if God is real . . . or not.[xvi]

[i] Not the least of which is: “Who reforms the Reformers?” Every group thinks they have the last word from God – a fundamentally intoxicating proposition.
[ii] Rom. 8:19.
[iii] Ps. 34:8.
[iv] Matt. 5:13.
[v] 2 Cor. 2:16.
[vi] Rom. 8:19, 2 Cor. 4:10-11.
[vii] John 5:39-42, John 14:6, 1 John 1: 1-3.
[viii] A. W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life, 1957.
[ix] Paul Tournier. The Healing of Persons. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, 42.
[x] Peter Leithart. Against Christianity. Moscow: Canon Press, 2003, 16.
[xi] Ibid., 99-100.
[xii] In the sense of utility for kingdom purpose, not in the sense of His affections.
[xiii] Eph. 3:19.
[xiv] Heb. 6:5.
[xv] Heb. 10:24.
[xvi] Matt 5:16; James 2:18, 20, 26. It is my understanding that the justifying works of James are not in conflict with Paul. The works James refers to are the works before humanity, not God. These works “justify” us in the eyes and ears of the world, and earn us a right to be listened to (e.g. Matt 5:16). Our behaviors will always speak more loudly than our philosophies:  “See how they love one another.”

Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission to copy, forward, or distribute this article is granted as long as this copyright byline is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.

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