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038  It Does Not Have Everything...

There was a very necessary book published back in the 1990s by a pair of mental health professionals who happened also to be Evangelical Christians. Their book teaches people how to say "No" to others who demand things of them, a very important skill that many of us lack. It has helped a lot of people and has sold several million copies.

In this book, however, they pretended that what they were teaching was not mental health techniques that they had learned through their field experience; they maintained that they were teaching biblical principles. But it was painfully obvious that they were not teaching biblical principles at all. What they were teaching was true and valuable, but much of it was not in the Bible

"The Bible tells us clearly what our parameters are and how to protect them," they wrote.  No, it does not, not clearly. A handful of their principles could be supported by passages from the Bible, but nowhere near all of them. 

Clarity about where to establish boundaries comes from experience. More to the point, probably their entire book came from a combined 60 years of clinical experience between the two authors, likely under the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

But for some reason, they couldn't say that.

Just for one, painful example, when they wanted to explain to their readers how important it is to be able to use the word "No" in order to set boundaries, they tried to make it "biblical" by adding at the end of the explanation, "Being clear about your no--and your yes--is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12)."

A concept that appears exactly twice can't be said to "run throughout the Bible," but that's actually beside the point. The point is that those passages are not about setting boundaries. They are about personal integrity--keeping one's word. It's related, but it's tangential. The authors never provided biblical support that explains when saying "No" is necessary, or why, or where to find the courage to do it--because those things cannot be found in the Bible. All the Bible added to their discussion was "When you say 'No,' you should mean it."

They said that they were teaching biblical principles, but they were not. They were teaching good psychology; then they supported their good psychology with bad hermeneutics. And then, they called the entire exercise "biblical."

Why on earth would they do that? What makes good, experienced men lie about where they got their wisdom?

Here's why they did it: there's a myth among Evangelicals that the Bible contains wisdom for every need of life. It's a very powerful myth, one that Evangelicals feel a powerful, emotional need to defend. 

Evangelicals feel the need to defend this notion so powerfully that they will not buy books by experienced mental health professionals unless they are told that what they will be learning is biblical principles. If it's "just" essential wisdom from 60 years of field experience, they're not interested. And some feel the need so powerfully that they will literally lie about such foundational things as where they obtained the wisdom that sits at the basis of their professional lives.

The Bible never really says of itself that it contains everything, though. Jesus says that the scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35); Paul says that the scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (II Tim 3:16). But neither of them said that the scripture was all that anybody needed.

In fact, both of them used many examples from places outside the scripture when they taught. Jesus, for example, did teach many things from the scriptures, but he also taught from nature and common life. He did it constantly. "Consider the lilies of the field..." "When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’" "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?" "...what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?" "The Kingdom of God is a like a man who casts seed on the soil..." Jesus found truth everywhere, not just in the scriptures.

It's tempting to say, "Well, that's Jesus, and He had wisdom we don't all have." But we're His disciples; we're supposed to be learning to be like Him. And can you honestly tell me that you've never learned anything from your own experience? Really?

Now watch carefully, because this next part is tricky...

When comparing scripture with experience, Evangelicals say things like "the Bible is the Word of God," and "the Bible is infallible." But experience, they say, is subjective; we can be fooled, and we can misinterpret.

It's an uneven comparison, apples against oranges. Evangelical theology regards the Bible as infallible independent of our interpretation; but we're only supposed to consider experience as we interpret it. The Bible is perfect--before we interpret it. Experience is questionable--after we interpret it. 

The problem is, we can never access the Bible's perfection. We can only obtain what's in the Bible by reading and interpreting. So our Bible knowledge is really no more infallible than our experience. And the truth is that we need both--and we need to consult wise counselors when interpreting either one. Ultimately, we need to learn to recognize God's voice...from wherever we hear it.

In fact, lots of Evangelical believers claim that the aim of the Christian life is to learn Biblical truth. But we know from last week's message that the aim of the Christian life is to get to know God and become like Him. The Bible is one part--and only one part--of how we accomplish that. But it's not the whole thing.

I commonly encounter Evangelicals attempting to prove things from the Bible that are simply not there. The hermeneutics they apply to reach their conclusions are horrific. But they feel compelled to find Bible verses for every subject, and will become emotionally distraught if you suggest that some truth is simply not there.

I dare anybody to try to prove that child sexual abuse is deeply wrong using only the words of the scriptures. Going beyond that, try to illustrate what damage is done to a child by such abuse, and how best to treat a child who has been abused so that he or she can recover from the trauma. 

None of that can be found in the Bible. Child sexual abuse is clearly wrong, and God certainly knows how to heal it, but there's nothing about it in the scriptures.

Sorry, it's just a fact.

Our walk with God is just that; a walk with a living God. He has everything we need. We should expect Him to communicate with us regularly. Sometimes that will entail our finding truth in the Bible. Sometimes that will entail our finding truth among the lilies of the field. We need to be able to welcome wisdom wherever we find it.

There is much wisdom in the Bible, and we should seek for it and use it. But if we carry an emotional investment in proving that the Bible is all anybody needs, we'll make idiots of ourselves before the unbelievers--and believe me, it is immediately obvious to them when we're acting idiotic and why. They're not stupid.

Besides, the Bible is not the object of our faith, it's just a means to an end. Getting to know God is the object. And the Bible says God is Spirit; God is not Book.

Evangelical dogma says that one learns wisdom by reading the Bible. But I've found that one needs wisdom in order to understand the Bible. So where does one get this wisdom?

One asks.

I made wisdom my goal and my prayer after reading in the early chapters of Proverbs for many years. "Get wisdom; and with all your getting, get understanding. Keep her, and she will guide you. Cherish her, and she will watch over you." Please trust me when I tell you that if you pursue God for wisdom, He will certainly respond to your prayer. The Bible says so (James 1:5). And then, you will know properly what is in there, and what is not...and you will find God.

Pursue wisdom in prayer, and I'll be back with more weird things we Evangelicals do with the Bible in a few weeks.

Phil Weingart

PS: The opening example in this essay is from my book, "He's Greater Than You Know," which is available on Amazon in trade paperback and Kindle format.


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