Cultivating and Celebrating a Faith
that is as Big as the Bible
“Why would you want a smaller Bible?”
“In the Old Testament Jesus is predicted,
in the Gospels Jesus is revealed,
in the book of Acts Jesus is proclaimed,
in the Epistles Jesus is explained
and in the book of Revelation Jesus is anticipated.”
Our tendency is to think that the person and work of Jesus Christ is confined to just the 33 years of His life on earth to which the New Testament’s four Gospels bear witness. The way we think and act, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Bible’s “Jesusy” books. We think that they alone are where we are going to find Him in the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are where we go to hear Jesus speaking and to see Jesus acting. But because the Gospels are about who Jesus was and what Jesus did in the past, the way we tend to approach them is as past history.
We think of Jesus in the same way that we think of Abraham Lincoln. He lived. He mattered. But now he’s gone. Oh, we still feel his influence. We continue to be inspired by his example and we’re certainly grateful for his contributions, but now he’s just a dead, distant memory. Our only access to Abraham Lincoln is through the historical records that we have that tell us something about what he said and did when he was here. Knowing Lincoln is a matter of historical research. But knowing Jesus it’s different.
“Dead as dead can be” on Good Friday afternoon, Jesus was “alive again and alive forever” come Easter Sunday morning. That’s what the Gospel story tells us, and even this is not where the Gospel story about Jesus ends. The way that many of us approach the Gospel story, Jesus gets up on Easter Sunday morning, but He’s got nowhere to go and nothing to do. But the way the New Testament tells the Gospel story, the resurrection of Christ is just the prelude to His Ascension which in turn is the trigger for Pentecost and the outpouring of the empowering presence of God through the Holy Spirit who has been given to the church for mission and assurance. The Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost are the three foundations to the church’s experience of the continuing presence and activity of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us about the 33 years of Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth. But the book of Acts and the New Testament’s Epistles are the opening chapters on the Risen Christ’s continuing ministry in heaven that has now been underway for 2000 years. And what this means is that the book of Acts and the Epistles are just as “Jesusy” as are the Gospels. He was just as present and He was just as involved with the things that we find in the book of Acts and the Epistles as the Risen Glorious Lord in heaven as He was during the days of His earthly life as the historical Jesus. We see Jesus and we hear Jesus everywhere in the Bible, and not just in the Gospels. This is where I think “Red Letter” Christians get it wrong.
“Red Letter” Christians are those Christians in the church today who, understandably weary of the disproportionate attention that has been paid to the book of Acts and to the Epistles of the New Testament by much of the church for so long, have consciously turned their attention back to the neglected Gospels, back to the “Red Letters” of Jesus’ teachings. But rather than restoring a lost Biblical balance, the unintended consequence of this “Red Letter” initiative for many has been to now do to the book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament what had previously been done to the Gospels. “Red Letter” Christians objected to the way that the Gospels had been marginalized in the preaching, teaching, and believing of some Christians and some segments of the church, and rightly so. But in their attempt to address this problem, many “Red Letter” Christians have now, in turn, marginalized the book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament.
Whenever and however a pecking order for the authority of the books of the Bible gets created that excuses us from having to pay attention to their witness to the speaking and acting of God reduces the Bible by labeling some books as being “secondary” and “unnecessary.” But we don’t need a smaller Bible, we need a fuller Bible. We don’t want fewer colors in our crayon box to work with, we need more! Any approach to the Bible that tries to convince us that there are parts of it that we don’t really have to deal with is going to finally restrict our knowledge of God and leave gaps in our spiritual experience because too much of the Bible has been pushed to the margins and left out of the conversation of faith.
What we need is a Bible that’s just as big as the canon of Scripture that has been placed in our hands. What we need is a way of reading the Bible that doesn’t leave certain parts of it out, that doesn’t declare certain books in it to be irrelevant and unnecessary, that doesn’t diminish our expectation of being able to hear God speaking and to see God acting when we take up our Bibles, open them to any page, and read. The Bible’s library of the collected testimonies of witnesses to the presence and action of God in the history of Israel and in the person and work of Jesus Christ set the boundaries for the field on which the game of our faith gets played. It’s big and expansive and rich and diverse, and deliberately so. So, why would we want to settle for less? Instead, let’s cultivate and celebrate a faith that’s just as big as the Bible. DBS +