If you reached this page, I’m guessing that you’re one of those Christians who judges whether a person you meet is a real Christian or not by what they think of the Bible. If that’s you, let’s reason together for a bit.
(If that’s not you, maybe you got here because you’re just exploring the site, in which case you should probably read this page instead. Or stay here if you like. It’s up to you.)
First, yes, I believe the Bible, and I love it. I read the Bible constantly. I teach from it. I learn from it. I meet God in it. In my book, “He’s Greater Than You Know,” I have 95 pages of exposition (after an introductory chapter and before a concluding one) and I quote the Bible 135 times in those 95 pages. So, yeah, I take the book seriously.
But I suspect that something is out of balance in your thinking. Has it occurred to you that neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor Peter, nor James, nor any other writer in the New Testament, used that criterion to evaluate believers?
So, if they didn’t, why do you?
They did make assessments, or more accurately, they provided criteria by which people might assess themselves. But none of those criteria were about the scriptures. (And in truth, we’re really not supposed to judge one another. No, really, we’re not. But that’s a topic for another day.)
Jesus never taught “You have to believe the Bible; that’s the most important thing.” He could have; Jesus was a Jew of the 2nd temple period, and they used the Old Testament more or less the same way that modern Evangelicals use the Bible. But Jesus did not go around saying how important the Bible was; he just assumed that the people around him believed it like he did. It was part of their religion.
What Jesus did say about who’s a believer is this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He was talking about His general teaching; if you love Jesus, you will devote yourself to learning His ways and then putting them into practice. He also said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) This gives us two criteria: Jesus’ disciples hear and obey when He speaks to them by whatever means, and He has a relationship with them (“I know them.”) He also said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) The scriptures are involved in all this, but the commandments are not specifically about the Bible. Rather, the criteria were about conduct: do you love Jesus? Do you obey Him? Do you love other Christians?
Or take Paul. Paul’s gospel can be found in his letter to the Romans. He wrote his entire gospel there without saying once, “You have to believe the Bible. That’s the first and most important matter.” And yes, he could have said that; like Jesus, Paul was a 2nd temple Jew. He quoted the Bible to the Romans expecting them to believe it, but that was not his criterion for evaluating believers.
What Paul said about believers was this: “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:13-14) That’s pretty clear, and it is not about the scriptures; it’s about conduct again, and about accepting the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Paul did write about the scriptures in II Timothy 3:16; but that was written to a believer of long standing, and it was written to remind him of where he had come from, how his mother had taught him the scriptures when he was a boy. Paul’s gospel was not about believing the Bible, it was about righteousness; and the righteousness he spoke of did not come about by believing the Bible, but by embracing and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I’m saying all this because Christianity is not about reading a book and obeying it. Christianity is a real relationship with a real and living God. Certainly you should read the Bible and know it, but if your practice of Christianity has been entirely about reading the Bible and following commandments, you may have missed something pretty important–namely, God Himself.
Worse than that, though, I’m betting that your experience is something like what you read in Romans 7: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Rom 7:19) That passage is not supposed to describe the Christian life; it’s supposed to describe Paul’s frustration while practicing Judaism, before he received the Holy Spirit. It does describe the Christian life, though, for those Christians who are still trying to please God by obeying the Law–even if the Law they are trying to obey is the New Testament rather than the Old.
So I’m going to suggest that you stop judging believers by the criteria you’ve been using, and I’m also going to suggest that you need to think about getting to know God a little better. But most of all, we’re going to work on how to get you to relax about the Bible. ‘Cause Christianity is not about making yourself good by doing what’s written. It is about letting God do that for you by His Spirit, who works powerfully in you.
If you happen to be in a situation where you really do need to assess somebody’s fitness to teach you, I recommend that you pay close attention to Jesus’ warning about false prophets: “You will know them by their fruits.” (See Matthew 7:15-20) And don’t let some Evangelical heresy-hunter convince you that “errant doctrine” is an instance of what Jesus was warning against; it’s not. Jesus was talking about conduct. So, if you are considering learning from a person who acts in a manner that disturbs you–arrogant, overbearing, controlling, harsh or judgmental, sexually immoral, loving the world’s goods or loving fame–perhaps you should find a teacher whose character is more commendable.
And finally, if you really want theological criteria by which to judge for some reason, start with something central and simple, like the Apostles Creed. Pretty much everybody in Christendom agrees that those are the fundamentals.