Whose Jesus Do We Follow?
In the epistle of 1 John, the apostle is fighting a heresy that is contrary to a proper understanding of Christology. The heresy was known as Gnosticism and it distorted a true apprehension of who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and how a believer should live in light of the right response to those questions. Today we are facing another heresy involving who Jesus is and what he has done. While different in some respects from Gnosticism, it still has the same root issue of epistemology: “Where do we get our information concerning a correct understanding of our Savior?” or “Whose Jesus do we follow?”
One example of this is the book, “The Shack” which downplays the authority of scripture (pg 65-6) in favor of a theology that is derived from one’s supposed human (119) experience with God. This book and some of the endorsements I have read of it have followed suit in taking the pragmatic “ends justify the means.” In other words, information learned from a man-centered experience trumps scriptural truth if the result makes everyone happy. One may object to this harsh treatment of “The Shack” by stating it is a work of Christian fiction. I would partially agree with the classification in that it is a work of fiction, yet when it comes to the Christian part, it lacks any Christian orthodoxy on the basics of the faith. Therefore, “The Shack” should not be touted as a “Christian” work of fiction in any bookstore, especially a bookstore that seeks to offer “Biblical Solutions for Life” and that has derived its name from a verse of scripture that speaks of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ (John 14:6). “The Shack” creates a Jesus that is foreign to the Jesus found in the Bible.
So, where do we get a correct understanding of Jesus? Can we separate Jesus from the scriptures in such a fashion that the concept of Christ, apart from the scriptures, serves as a tool of interpretation? For John, the answer to that is apparently, no. He begins his letter with, “What was,” (NASU) which is a relative neuter pronoun to describe who was the focus of his proclamation (Jesus). John then goes on to describe the Jesus he had touched, saw, heard, and felt. The main reason for relaying his own experience is to show that Jesus was a real man and not some pseudo human void of a man’s flesh. Jesus was God incarnate as a real person. John was proclaiming the real Jesus. Yet, it is still interesting to note, why did John use the neuter gender, “What was” to describe Jesus along with what he experienced with his own senses? Danny Akin, in the New American Commentary, 1 2 3 John says, “It is because he wishes to draw attention equally to the ‘Word proclaimed’ and the ‘Word as person.’ The message and the person ultimately cannot be separated. Each explains the other.” (pg 51)
Today, we cannot experience Jesus in the same fashion as John did. Jesus has ascended to heaven and will not return to earth until the Father sends him again. Therefore how do we understand who Jesus is and what he has done? The answer is through the written Word of God. To set up a criterion of Jesus that is experience driven will ultimately lead to a Jesus who opposes the very Word that testifies of him.
At it’s 2000 annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a revised Baptist Faith and Message, and among other revisions, removed the statement, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” which was in 1963 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message article on the scriptures. Although originally used to support the biblical witness of creation, this statement was eventually used to support and accept doctrinal stands that were not within the realm of confessed Southern Baptist beliefs. Because of this statement, Jesus became a standard separate from scripture by which the Bible was interpreted according to one’s private interpretation.
In correcting the misuse of the “criterion” statement, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message committee, lead by Adrian Rogers, replaced the “criterion” statement with, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” This new statement confesses two things. First, scripture is the apostolic witness to Jesus. Indeed, we cannot know Jesus apart from the scriptures. To say that Jesus is “the criterion by which we interpret the scriptures” or that one should read scripture through the “lens of Christ” is to incorrectly make the “red letters” some kind of interpretive framework that overrides what other parts of scripture attest. This is contrary to Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:16 that asserts, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (italics mine). Yes, scripture does interpret scripture and aids in a fuller understanding of God’s Word, but some scriptures are not to be treated on a different tier of subordination as some form of biblical triage. All scripture testifies of Jesus.
Second, the scriptural witness focuses on Jesus. Whether we turn to Genesis, Ezekiel, Acts or Obadiah, the ultimate focus of scripture is Jesus. This means that when God’s Word is proclaimed, Jesus is honored and glorified. To derive a Jesus that is foreign to the revealed Word is to not honor Jesus.
Therefore, if scripture testifies of Jesus and He Himself is the focus of scripture, we need to proclaim and teach the Holy Writ. If we desire to know anything about Jesus we must first look to the scriptures and let all other derivations be judged by God’s Word. If a faulty and heretical view is given of Jesus in book form, it should not be placed in the Christian genre, but placed in the fictional shelf of a bookstore or library. Most importantly, it should not be embraced as a source of Christian spiritual healing. If one has a faulty and false Christ, then one will have a faulty and false spiritual healing. We should also be careful not to read scripture through a Christ that is separated from the very thing that testifies and focuses on Him. Once we state that everything we read in the bible flows from our understanding of Christ, then we create a Jesus separate from the scriptures that will be prone to error and fail to bring the glory and honor so rightly deserved by Him who died as the propitiation for the sins of the world. (1 John 2:2)