This is Part 3 (Part 1 , Part 2) of a 7 Part response to Rachel Held Evans’s (RHE from here on) new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. In this post, I want to address the inspiration of Scripture.
In the book, “Inspired,” RHE recounts her story of doubting Scripture by saying that she “Knew there was no such thing as crafty serpents and talking donkeys, and that you could never fit every kind of animal on earth on a boat. Science proves the earth wasn’t made in seven days, nor is it held up by ‘great pillars’ as the book claimed. There were contradictions in the various accounts of King David’s reign, and even the stories of Jesus’ famous resurrection didn’t read like reliable newspaper reports” (pg. xii).
And thus, in Inspired, we have RHE’s story of how she formerly “believed” the Bible, and then walked away from it, only to find it again later and “love” it once she really understood its intended purpose which is to inspire us (pg. xxiv).
I said in my first post that I was heartbroken by some of the positions RHE has arrived at concerning the Bible. This does not mean I excuse or minimize what she is advocating. Behind the pages of her book is a not so subtle serpent’s hiss asking all the while “Hath God really said?” She quotes Peter Enns who writes “the Bible looks the way it does because God lets His children tell the story.” This completely ignores 2 Peter 1:21 – as though God has the power to become a man but is incapable of using His children to tell the story and perfectly preserve His inerrant word (more in a bit).
What’s alarming to me is some of the positive responses I’ve seen to this book. I’m not just talking about Jen Hatmaker (one endorser), who jumped from orthodoxy in the not too distant past. I’m talking about people in my generation, as well as some younger and older, who are gobbling up this sort of teaching as a viable Christian solution to the “problems” of the Bible (she has over 100,000 fans on Facebook).
I don’t have time to address her claim about “science proves the earth wasn’t made in seven days” other than to say 1.) No it doesn’t and 2.) The Bible doesn’t claim the earth was made in seven days. It says six, Genesis 2:1-2, and I believe it.
Inspiring to Readers or God-Breathed?
In today’s post, I want to talk about RHE’s problem with “inspiration” and the nature and purpose of Scripture. She writes, “the Bible of my twenties served only as a stumbling block, a massive obstacle between me and the God I thought I knew” (pg. xvii).
Of course, a glaring issue here is that the Bible was given to us so that we can know God (Ps. 19:7-11, John 20:31, Psalm 119:16, and 1 Peter 2:2-3, etc.). The Bible is not a stumbling block to knowing God but the special revelation of God Himself. You can’t listen to God apart from Scripture for Scripture is His self-revelation to us.
This requires us to see the Bible for what it really is: God-breathed as Paul teaches us in 2 Timothy 3:16. RHE addresses this verse in her Introduction (pg. xxiii), says that “here the writer has created a new word – theopneustos – a combination of the Greek theo, meaning ‘god,’ and pneo, meaning ‘to breathe out’ or ‘to blow’,” but then she goes on to say:
“Inspiration is better than magic, for as any artist will tell you, true inspiration comes not to the lucky or the charmed but to the faithful – to the writer who shows up at her keyboard each morning, even when she’s far too tired, to the guitarist whose fingers bleed after hours of practice, to the dancer who must first learn the traditional steps before she can freestyle with integrity. Inspiration is not about some disembodied ethereal voice dictating words or notes to a catatonic host. It’s a collaborative process, a holy give-and-take, a partnership between Creator and creator…We have no reason to think [the Bible’s] many authors were exempt from the mistakes, edits, rewrites, and dry spells of everyday creative work.” (pg. xxiii)
So, to RHE, the Bible is “breathed out by God” and then the authors of Scripture do a little “give-and-take” with the Lord in order to say what they really wanted to say, superseding the Divine Author’s intentions. And what is the purpose of this? So that the reader of the Bible (rather than the Bible itself) will be inspired. “If you’re persistent [in understanding the Bible how she does] you just might leave inspired” (pg. xxiv). Her point is that the Bible, rather than being breathed out by God, is given to us so that we might be inspired by its many stories.
Herein lies a major presupposition for RHE. She cannot accept that the Bible actually is the words of the living God. Which, to be clear, is what the Bible says about the Bible. We’ve examined 2 Tim. 3:16, but consider for example a random passage from 2 Chronicles 34:27
“because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.”
King Josiah had heard the words of the Law of the Lord (v.18-19), tore his clothes and repented. And here Josiah is being sent a message by Huldah the prophetess that he didn’t merely hear the words of the Law, but the words of the living God. Why? Because the Bible is the words of the living God.
But RHE says: “When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not – static, perspicacious, certain, absolute – then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic” (pg. xx).
Verbal Plenary Inspiration
I’m not sure who explained verbal plenary inspiration (VPI) to RHE but either they failed, she didn’t listen, or she has just flat out rejected it. She doesn’t actually explain the VPI position in her book so I’m not sure she understands it. Her rendering of “inspiration is not about some disembodied ethereal voice dictating words or notes to a catatonic host” is not what any person who holds to VPI believes, so I’m not sure who she’s trying to attack with that.
VPI is the biblical teaching that God worked in the mind, heart, will, and through the culture, and time period of human authors so that each one penned what they wanted to write while simultaneously perfectly preserving the exact words God intended to be written. That’s what Paul means by God-breathed. Not that Scripture is to “inspire” us, but that God breathed it out for us through the agency of human authors.
The authors of Scripture didn’t become robots on the one hand, nor did God allow their sinful humanity to err in one single syllable as they wrote. The Holy Spirit moved upon the authors in such a way that their words and God’s words are identical in Scripture (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16).
Furthermore, the Jesus RHE claims to follow quoted Scripture as though it was out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). He also said in Matthew 22:31 “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God.” Did you catch that? According to Jesus, we can read what God said. Therefore, what Paul, Moses, David, Luke, James, Jeremiah, etc wrote in Scripture are not inspirational stories – but the very words of the living God.
RHE’s take is that the Bible is smudged with human “fingerprints” and what God really wants us to glean from it are the “stories” so that we can live a life of love toward Him and other humans (which sounds sort of rosy except that if we understand what RHE is teaching we are actually left without a cure for personal sin, and without a God who is truly sovereign, holy, loving, and just).
Jesus Loves Scripture
As I hope you’ve already gathered from the above section, there is no such thing as following the Jesus from the Bible without loving the Scriptures, because Jesus loves the Scriptures (John 10:35, Luke 24:44-45, Matthew 19:4, etc.). And when I say Jesus loves the Scriptures I mean that He considered them as authoritative, perspicacious, perspicuous, certain, sufficient, and absolute. (Mark 7:13, Matthew 5:17ff, etc.).
People like Brian Zahnd, Peter Enns, and RHE like to say Jesus is our highest authority, not Scripture, but on closer examination, this is nonsense because Jesus upheld the authority of the Old Testament and spoke authoritatively Himself. The Bible really is the words of the Triune God. Scripture isn’t merely inspirational but inspired by God (God-breathed!). You cannot separate the authority of His person from the authority of His words. To do so is nonsensical and incoherent. This would be like saying I believe I should obey the Speed Limit sign but I don’t have to listen to what’s on it. Nonsensical.
So, RHE’s quest in her book is to lay out an understanding of the Bible that strips away all the icky stuff that doesn’t gel with 21st Century moral standards (yikes!), and to make it all about how God is trying to catch us up in His story (which. coincidentally, looks like RHE’s story of fighting against the “patriarchy,” shaming white males, upholding homosexuality, etc.).
Fundamentally, this comes down to whether we see Scripture as something God inspired, or something merely meant to inspire us to be part of the “resistance” (pg. 118). Is the Bible breathed out by God or is it not? I am actually quite content siding with the clear teaching of Scripture on the matter as opposed to following RHE.
Judging the Scriptures
I mentioned this last post but it bears repeating. RHE and other likeminded people arrogantly sit in judgment over the Scriptures as though they have been enlightened, so as to show the rest of us the virtue of doubting the Bible. All of us with an “untrained eye” (pg. 119) might miss what’s really being communicated in Scripture because we’ve been brainwashed by evil white conservatives. To RHE, what the Bible is really about is people resisting corrupt leaders, protesting injustice, and fighting the patriarchy (pg. 74-75).
Her hermeneutic is to take 21st Century issues and then find stories in the Bible that line up with her worldview (the very thing she says she’s writing against). The reality is, to truly understand the message of the Bible we must start with God and see how it applies to our situation instead of trying to overlay our context upon Holy Writ. We must not sit over the Scriptures in judgment, but under them in humility. Thus saith the Lord. Many a man has tried to judge the Bible only to find the Bible judging him!
What is the Bible?
This all comes back to what we believe the Bible is. Is it a collection of works written by merely human authors who had a hidden agenda to fabricate stories? Or is each syllable, jot, and tittle, breathed out by a Holy Sovereign God who discloses Himself to us that He may be known?
What did Jesus think? What did Paul think? What did the Old Testament writers think? They all believed Scripture to be the very words of God. Who are you going to go with on this?
There is no in-between. For God to give us a Bible we have to untangle or that really doesn’t accurately portray His attributes or that is “a holy give-and-take” would diminish His goodness (and power, wisdom, etc.). If God intentionally allowed untruth in His word it would question His veracity. And as I mentioned above, there is no way to follow the Jesus of the Bible without believing the Old Testament is all true. He believed in Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4), Jonah being swallowed by a fish (Matthew 12:38-41), that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46), and that to deny His words is to deny Him (Mark 8:38).
It’s all or nothing when it comes to what we believe about God’s breathing out His Word. RHE’s “middle ground” is an untenable position.
In the next post, I’ll attempt to grapple with her definition of the gospel.
Here are all the posts in the series: