John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/5-things-i-wish-christians-would-admit-about-bible) calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible. I return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.
Part 1 can be found here.
Pavlovitz’s third point is the worst case of false dilemma I have ever encountered. Is there no third option between the writers of Scripture as “God-manipulated puppets” and regular humans beings in a rarified state of mind recording their experiences of the divine? Notice he doesn’t interact at all with any semblance of an evangelical view of inspiration. It’s either zombie secretaries or muses.
The apostle Peter testifies that the writers of Scripture did NOT take the initiative to write Scripture, but were rather moved by the Holy Spirit as wind moves the sails of a boat (2 Peter 1:21). Pavlovitz does speak of the primary Author of Scripture as the initiator but it seems to make no difference in his view of Scripture. He offers no solution for how the Bible can be God-breathed, yet also the work of human authors. His doctrine of inspiration is so thin a mouse couldn’t skate on it.
The overall impression I get from this point is that we need to dial down our belief in the authority of God’s Word—if he didn’t dictate it, we can’t take it all too seriously.
4. Liberals don’t believe that the Bible has any objective meaning.
Pavlovitz makes a common mistake in this point. He confuses objectivity with neutrality. He is right that we can never shake off entirely our personal biases to be neutral, but that says nothing about whether I can objectively understand the Bible or interpret it objectively. Just as Pavlovitz had an objective meaning when he wrote this article, so God has an objective meaning to his words, and in his omnipotence knows how to communicate clearly.
Pavlovitz’s statement, “But until then, [when we reach maturity in the faith] most of us have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image” smacks of relativism. He makes it sound as if widespread confusion on the meaning of the Bible is automatic and hard to escape. In saying this, he is denying the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. He never tells us what the process of maturing is that sets us free from our own biases.
Has Pavlovitz reached this mystical plain? If not, why is his view of Scripture any better than mine. If he has reached maturity, maybe he can shine a light on the path so the rest of us can shake off our old fashioned ideas. This point smacks of cultural arrogance and triumphalism. Thank goodness someone like Pavlovitz has ascended the ladder of neutrality to tell us that that no one can ascend the ladder of neutrality. This is the relativist’s dilemma. If he is right that we are all blinded by our individual perspectives, then his own view is the result of a blinded perspective and it should carry no more weight than that of a farmer in Tibet.
This point reveals most clearly the influence of postmodernism in his thinking. At the root of it is a denial that God has spoken and that he has done so clearly. If God has not revealed, then this denial of neutrality leaves us all trapped in our own biases, with no chance of finding shared meaning. If however, God has revealed himself clearly, this postmodern gobbledygook is exposed for what it truly is.
5. Liberals don’t believe the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us.
The final point is the coup-de-grace. The Bible is not God we are told. It is words about God. Well, first of all, no one of which I am aware has ever mistaken the Bible for God. Second, as mentioned earlier, the Bible is not words about God, it is the revelation of God to man. There is a huge difference here.
Pavlovitz diminishes the Bible by saying it is a testimony about God. This is the neo-orthodox wedge. Karl Barth and all his neo-orthodox followers can be easily identified by the wedge they drive between God and the Scriptures. The Bible testifies about Jesus who is the true Word, they tell us. The Bible is the record about God, they claim. All this amounts to a Bible that does not need to be inerrant, because as long as it testifies to God, it fulfills its purpose, and the purpose is the only thing without error.
When Pavlovitz says that “the words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail,” he reveals his rejection of the Bible’s own testimony about itself. Excuse me, Mr. Pavlovitz, God created language. He tells us that his revelation is clear. Of course God is greater than his revelation to us in the Bible, but it is not therefore inadequate or ambiguous. The Reformation doctrines of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture hold that the Bible is both sufficient to communicate to us everything necessary to know about God, and that these things are clear.
To claim that God is too big for words is to deny God’s ability to communicate. Pavlovitz’s strawmen are too numerous to detail here. For example, who has ever claimed that words can contain God? No one; that’s who. Yet, the effect of this statement is to encourage the idea that the Bible can’t accurately tell us about God.
To sum it up, Pavlovitz’s view of the Bible is nothing short of liberalism rehashed with a dash of neo-orthodoxy and a pinch of postmodernism thrown in for good measure. And make no mistake, it is a view of the Bible that is deadly to faith. It undermines the Reformation doctrines of Scripture—its sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity. Nothing will kill a church faster than this view of Scripture, because it undermines every other doctrine along with it. Look at the last 100 years in the mainline liberal denominations. One hundred years of steady decline. Look at the last 50 years in neo-orthodox churches. Fifty years of steady decline.
Why? Because a diminishing of the doctrine of Scripture results in the destruction of every other doctrine. Pavlovitz’s article probably reveals the growing consensus of the evangelical church in light of the modern pressures of evolution, homosexuality, multiculturalism, world religions, and other forces. If evangelical Christians are not careful they will find themselves without conviction about any of their beliefs and defenseless in the face of attack.
Genuine believers cannot admit what Pavlovitz wants us to admit because his strawmen don’t represent what most Christians believe. Rather, he ought to admit that what he is proposing reflects quite accurately a 21st century liberalism that is death to the church.