Here we go again… In November, I voiced agreement with Derek Rishmawy over against those who draw an overly sharp distinction between Christ the Word of God and the Bible as the Word of God. For example, popular pastor and blogger Brian Zahnd put it like this:
As I said back then,
Notice the false choice he sets up: one has to choose between Jesus or the Bible. As if we can know who Jesus is independently of scripture!
Honestly: What can we know about God’s eternal plan of salvation, for which Christ’s death and resurrection is the climax, apart from scripture, whose authors were inspired by God to write what they wrote? Unless I’m badly mistaken, nothing at all!
Well, the issue has resurfaced in this guest post, “Is Jesus or the Bible the Word of God, and Does it Matter?” by Austin Fischer on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. My short answer is, “It doesn’t matter very much, certainly not as much as ex-evangelicals like Zahnd and others think.”
No one has convinced me otherwise, certainly not the commenters on Fischer’s post—a post with which I mostly agree, by the way. Subtlety and nuance are not widely appreciated on Patheos blogs, unfortunately. First, someone named Max commented, “If there is a Jesus different from the one revealed in the NT, then he is a fictional character created in the person’s own mind, a creation to affirm whatever that person likes and condemn whatever that person dislikes.” I agreed, saying:
This first sentence is an excellent point: We know of no Jesus other than the one revealed in scripture. So the primary way to know the Word of God that is Jesus is to read the Word of God that is scripture. Therefore, I’m not sure the distinction is as important as many people believe.
Where I say “primary,” I’m tempted to say “only.” By saying “primary,” however, I recognize that we come to know Jesus not just through information from the pages of the text, but also through the Holy Spirit speaking through them.
Often, I suspect that progressives are referring to mysticism when they say that Jesus rather than scripture is the Word of God—as if they’ve come to know him apart from the Bible.
Someone named Terry jumped on this, saying:
Brent, so you just read Austin’s entire essay and have concluded that he’s out to lunch? It seems he made a very solid case for the distinction having merit, in spite of some who have overcooked it. Are you indicating that Austin is referencing mysticism and is a progressive *which seems to be polemical)? Is the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit via the Scripture really the only ways to “know the Word of God”?
I don’t think you’ve read my comment very charitably, but this is a Patheos blog. Fighting comes with the territory, I guess.
I agree with Fischer! I would, however, make the connection between “knowing Jesus the Word” and “knowing Jesus through the Word.” (Indeed, I think I blogged about this issue a while back and made that point.) And no, I wasn’t implying that Fischer was endorsing mysticism, and he’s clearly not progressive. That sentence was a response to the general tendency, as Fischer points out, to denigrate scripture by appealing to Jesus (only) as the Word of God. I do think Christians who identify themselves as progressive (whether they take that pejoratively is up to them) often appeal to a Jesus of mystical experience rather than the one revealed in scripture. Is that controversial?
Finally, to your last question, I don’t know. I’m really not into mysticism, so I’m tempted to say “yes.” What would any of us learn about Jesus that is in addition to, or outside of, or inconsistent with the Jesus revealed in scripture?
Brent, my apologies if I misread your initial comment. I think the connection you want to make is a valid one, but the overall content of your comment, to me, read as general disagreement with Fischer. Wrongly perhaps, but I read fight in your comment.
I don’t think any of us would learn about Jesus in a way that is inconsistent with Jesus as revealed in Scripture; the church being the Body of Christ puts forth at least one option whereby we could learn of Jesus outside of Scripture; God’s people could learn of Jesus, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, outside of Scripture.
But would they learn something that they wouldn’t know from scripture itself? Would they learn something that they could then write down and say, “This knowledge is as authoritative and real and true as anything else found in the Bible”? If the answer is no, then—again—I don’t see how the distinction between the Word who is Jesus and the Word that is scripture is all that important.
And on it went. You can read the comments. It’s a very important distinction, everyone seemed to say. Only no one could tell me what practical difference it made in understanding who Jesus is. All I can figure is that these Christians are coming at the question from far more conservative or fundamentalist backgrounds than myself. I’m coming from the other side—as a former progressive Christian turned evangelical. That experience convinces me that attempts to draw sharp distinctions between Christ as the Word and the Bible as the Word come from an embarrassment about the Bible and are an attempt to denigrate it and undermine our trust in it.
Rishmawy’s response to the original post was best of all. It included these words:
I’ve got little to disagree with in terms of the general points about semantic distinctions, the Image/image, etc. Indeed, part of my original post made the argument that we call the Bible the Word of God precisely because it’s a Trinitarian one, uttered by the Father, about the Son, through inspiration of the Spirit. Viewed this way, we can see that it is God’s word in terms of its origin, content, and agency. And that’s, I think, one of my points of pushback. The derivative nature of the Bible as the word comes in terms of the content. As the testimony about the Word Incarnate, we see that its secondary and derivative. That said, it’s also had through the direct, but humanly mediated activity of the Triune God. As Divine self-testimony, then, there is a sense in which it’s not derivative and secondary. It is properly God’s speech and is to be treated as such. Especially since the Scriptures as the word of God are the only way that we know anything about Jesus as the Word of God.