A VINTAGE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO OF HOPE • 3Did God Really Say?
0—Progressive: Let’s Get Vintage!
1—Manifesto: Resist Progressive Christianity, Reclaim the Fundamentals
2—Vintage Faith: 10 Things to Know About Vintage Christianity
3—The Bible: Did God Really Say?
4—God and gods: The Mars Hill Effect
5—Creation: God Spoke and…What?
6—Humanity: We’re Not Talking Monkeys
7—Homosexuality: An Honest Chat About Its Reality & Revelation
8—Sin: We Really Are that Screwed-Up
9—Jesus: Gandhi on Steroids or God Made Flesh?
10—Cross: A Love Note or Butcher’s Block?
11—Resurrection: Better Than a Zombie
12—Church: No Church No Christ, Know Church Know Christ
13—Universalism: Not All Dogs Go to Heaven
14—Hell: For Real and Forever?
15—Heaven: A Place on Earth?
16—The End: Go Backwards to Go Forwards
Recently, a former progressive megachurch pastor said this about the Bible in relation to the ongoing gay marriage discussion:
I think culture is already there [with gay marriage] and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.1
Really? The Church is least relevant when it quotes scripture? Quoting the Bible is our worst defense?
This chapter isn’t about gay marriage. Instead, it’s about this idea:
Christians are most relevant when they quote the Bible because its words are God’s words. And those words have the power to rescue people from sin and death and put this broken, busted world back together again.
Fundamental to the vintage Christian faith is the assumption that God has revealed. That he has purposefully engaged in this grand act of divine self-disclosure. Both generally and specifically.
The word stems from the Latin one revelare, meaning “unveil, uncover, to lay bare.” Christians have always believed that in this ridiculously vulnerable, purposefully loving act of divine self-disclosure, God chose to unveil himself to us. To uncover and lay himself bare before humanity. He invites us to explore him and his intentions for how we are to live with others and himself. He’s done so through creation, through his mighty deeds, through a book, and ultimately through a person—Jesus Christ.
Starting with revelation might seem like an odd ground zero for a Christian manifesto. One would think you’d begin such a public declaration with the Beginning and the End of the whole thing—God. That’s typically how theology books start such a conversation, anyway.
Indeed that’s true. And yet given the starting place, or lack thereof, of progressive Christianity, vintage Christians need to rediscover and reestablish the historic Christian belief that there has been a revelation in the first place: that God has chosen to unveil himself to us. To uncover himself. To lay himself bare before humanity. God has spoken; he has revealed himself to us.
This seems almost basic, I know, but for progressives it isn’t. They are confused about the starting place of the Christian faith, that God really did say a whole lot of things to us about himself, his Story, and us and our story.
According to one progressive Christian, we shouldn’t read, interpret, and apply the Bible like some do as a constitution, as if it was an absolute authority on everything in life. Which is why he can’t bring himself to say the Bible is inspired by God and is the sole textual point of God’s divine self-disclosure, only that it has “a unique role in the life of the community of faith, resourcing, challenging, and guiding the community of faith in ways that no other texts can.”2
Instead of a document that bears authority, this progressive Christian voices how many progressives view the Bible: as a community library. For him “the Bible is a library filled with diverse voices making diverse claims in an ongoing conversation.”3 He goes on:
This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed…[Revelation] happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.4
Progressive Christianity believes revelation is about human conversation about God, rather than God revealing himself to humanity. God isn’t the one who is saying something to us about himself through the Bible. Instead, it’s people who are trying to say something about God through our on-going conversations, stretching back six millennia.
You see, for progressive Christianity meaning doesn’t reside in the Bible, because God himself isn’t speaking through it. Instead, people decide by way of siding and opposing what the Bible says, or perhaps more accurately, should say in light of our twenty-first-century God-conversations.
While progressive Christian theology has held this sort of view for five generations, it does so in opposition to the historic Christian faith.
Natural and Special Revelation
Vintage Christianity maintains God has revealed himself in two ways: naturally and specially.
Psalm 19 reminds us of the starting point in God’s revelation: creation. All of Creation pours forth speech about the glory and works of God, the Psalmist writes. This is God’s self-disclosure to everyone generally, through natural revelation.
We’ve all witnessed this, right? Whether hiking a mountain, kayaking down a river, sailing on the open seas, or watching a sun set. We’ve encountered this speech about God in creation and just knew there was a God, a Creator who painted all this!
In Romans 1, the apostle Paul tells us that every single person on the planet is without excuse before a holy God because he has revealed himself generally. God has not hidden himself away. He has revealed himself to everybody.
One of the primary portals God gifted us to know him and encounter him is a book filled with letters and poems, histories and laws. It’s a little thing we call the Bible.
For millennia the church has believed that God himself is speaking to humanity through this book so that we can be a real, genuine knowers of God and the life he intends for us. Because the Bible’s words are God’s words, we also believe that everything in it is trustworthy, authoritative for issues of faith and life, true, and without error in all that it affirms.
It’s a basic belief that God is speaking to humanity through the Bible so that we can be a real, genuine knower of God and his commands. Unlike progressives, who insist the words of the Bible aren’t really the words of God, vintage Christians insist this book is God’s book; its words are his Word. Therefore, it has authority over every ounce of life. It is relevant to conversations about faith, life, and everything in between precisely because it is a vessel through which God exercises his own authority.
God himself is the author of this mysterious book. All Scripture is God-breathed; it isn’t human-breathed conversation about God. This book, this Story has been breathed by God using regular people in their time and place to speak to us in our time and place. This book has authority because God has authority. And he influenced the writers in such a way that they told to us everything that God wanted to tell humanity about his Story and our own story.
In response to our former progressive pastor’s words, a friend wrote on my Facebook wall, “A God who is eternally self-existent and has no beginning or end, and with whom there is no past or present, is more relevant than any of us — and always will be.”
He’s so right!
God revealed and spoke us these words, therefore we can know how to be rescued, what it means to be rescued, and also how to how to live as we were intended to live. Because not only does this book contain the power of rescue itself through faith in Jesus Christ, it also contains the power of re-creation—it is useful for putting us back together again. It also has authority over every ounce of life.
I love how N.T. Wright defines the authority of Scripture:
…the phrase “authority of Scripture” can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.”5
If God is the author of every ounce of life, then it makes sense that he has authority over it. And if he has authority over our life, doesn’t it make sense to listen to what he has to say about how to live it?
When my 2003 Ford focus started coughing and heaving a year ago going up hills and idling at stoplights, where did I turn? The author of my car, the one who has authority over how it’s supposed to function: Ford. They were incredibly relevant to a conversation about how my car was supposed to function.
God and the words he’s spoken to humanity are just as relevant. Scripture has authority and is relevant in every conversation about how life is to be lived, because the God who has authority is the author of that life!
While it may be a bit circular to use the Bible to explain the Bible, Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:10-17 about the Bible’s value in conversations about life are instructive. He explains that through an act of love, God breathed this book into existence, and in it contains the power to rescue people from sin and death and is useful for putting us back together again in four crucial ways:
- The Bible teaches us. It teaches us about God, ourselves, our world. It teaches us about our faith in Christ and what God demands from us.
- It tells us what’s wrong in our lives. It tells us how we treat people, calls out the things we do when no one’s looking, and addresses how we treat God and respond to him.
- Scripture tells us what’s right. After we’re made aware of the ways we’ve rebelled, we find in this book the path to help us recover.
- It shapes us into the person God intended. It shapes us into the husband or wife God intended when he created us. It shapes us into the employee or business owner he intended when he created us.
A Vintage Christian believes God revealed therefore I can know how God intended me to live with myself, with creation, with other people, and with God. He has said somethings to me—lots of things—through his book! All so that we can know this God who has revealed himself to us. The Word of God is made up of God’s words, not merely human words. And through this literary vessel God exercises his authority over the life he himself breathed into existence.
And that’s precisely the reason Christians and Christian leaders are most relevant when quoting these letters from 2,000-plus years ago.
God Revealed Therefore I Can Know
A Swiss church leader by the name of Karl Barth once said, “God encounters man in such a way that man can know him. He encounters him in such a way that in this encounter he still remains God, but also raises man up to be a real, genuine knower of himself.”6
God has chosen to make himself known so that we can understand him, so that we can know God. We can say things about God because he has told us things about himself.
Vintage Christians begin with the assumption that God has spoken for the specific purpose of rescuing and putting us and our broken world back together. God has chosen to make himself known so that we can understand him, so that we can really know God. We can say things about God because he has told us things about him.
Deuteronomy 29:29 speaks about this very thing: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
God revealed, therefore we can know! He has spoken to us through creation and Scripture. But what’s amazing about the Christian faith is that God didn’t stop there—with nature and a book. God went further by speaking to us through a Person. Jesus.
The final, ultimate form of God’s revelation is Jesus. He has spoken to us through Christ’s life, through his teachings, through his death and resurrection. Christ is the exact representation of God. He is the perfect imprint of God. In other words, Jesus is God.
Not Muhammed. Not the Buddha. Not Krishna.
Vintage Christians insist knowing God begins and ends with knowing Christ. Looking to Jesus. Sitting with him. Learning from him.
Get to know Jesus. Because he is the final, ultimate revelation of God. Through Jesus, God has ultimately spoken.
1 Chumley, Cheryl. Ex-megachurch Pastor to Oprah: U.S. Church ‘moments’ from Embracing Gay Marriage. February 18, 2015. Accessed August 3, 2015.
2 Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 83
3 Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (New York: Jericho Books, 2012), 204.
4 McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, 83, 91–92.
5 N.T. Wright, The Last Word (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), 23.
6 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. II,1: The Doctrine of God: Edited by G.W. Bromley and T.F. Torrance. Translated by T.H. Parker, W.B. Johnson, Harold Knight, and J.L.M. Haire (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 32.