What is the Bible?

For about a decade or so, the Christian world has been engaged in a discussion which is forcing churches to make a choice. Will we accept the authority of the word of God, or will we proceed under some other authority like personal experience, popular opinion, or our own thoughts and feelings?

The subject under discussion is same sex attraction, and the choice is ours. For my part, I am going to bank everything on the Bible as a true and lasting guide for explaining our situation, helping us honor our Creator, and guiding us to ultimate and eternal joy.

It’s puzzling to me that there’s any debate whatsoever about this in the Christian world. After all, the Bible’s perspective on homosexuality is, as one Bible scholar put it, “unambiguously and unremittingly negative” (Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament). Furthermore, Evangelicals claim to be people of the Book, people who accept Scripture as their final authority in matters of faith and practice. It’s one of the distinctions that sets us apart from Catholics. And yet major Protestant denominations are splitting over the issue, and many have acquiesced altogether.

I suspect a major cause of the debate is the way pastors, care group leaders, and other teachers have tended to handle the Bible in recent years. The question everybody wants answered today is “What does this mean to me?” Of course, that’s a fine question to ask; but when practical application becomes the primary focus of your Bible study, you’ve mistaken what the Bible is at its essence. The Bible is not primarily a book of self-help therapy. It is the very revelation of God, and its primary purpose is to reveal to us the nature and ways of God. The main question each passage confronts us with is not “How does this apply to my life?” but rather “What does this tell us about our good God and the redemption He offers in Jesus?”

Therapeutic Christianity is not our ally in this present-day battle for the Bible. Neither is our own laziness, which much prefers easy topics like “Five Keys to a Better Marriage” over “What This Next Passage Teaches Us About God.”

Happily, the Bible doesn’t really force us to choose between doctrinal truth or practical stuff. That’s because nothing in the world is quite so practical as a clear picture of the God whose nature it is to save the world.