Monday, May 02, 2005

Stop. Look. Listen.

This paper was presented on April 30, 2005 at International Baptist Church. This is in response to Dr. Draper's book Biblical Authority: A Critical Issue for the Body of Christ.

Biblical Authority Paper

It happened several years ago when I went to Cavite to visit my girlfriend at that time (she's my wife now). I felt that her father has set me up. Her father knew that I was a born-again Christian and in seminary for theological training. At that time, he himself was a lay leader in their parish and very much active serving in the local Catholic church. He called me and Leth up to the sala and introduced me to his friend who also a lay leader in their parish. I shook his hand and sat down in one of the couches. He introduced himself and then asked things about myself. I never thought that our conversation will go anything spiritual. All the time, I was thinking that this is another social conversation between my future father-in-law at that time and his friend. Then it came without warning.

He began to ask about my belief.. it's a battery of questions. I felt like I'm in an interrogation room. I even saw my father in law smirk at the barrage of questions thrown at me that threw me off-balance. He attacked my evangelical stance of salvation by faith alone. I didn't understand his line of reasoning until later (very very much later). He was arguing that we cannot be saved by mere faith alone but also by grace. Now that to me is confusing. I was about to tell him that we have no reason to argue since that is my position too as an evangelical. I was thinking of Ephesians 2:8,9 to support that belief. If he claims that he believe that, too, then there's no reason to argue. Why argue when we have the same position? Or so I thought.

Then I realized that he is thinking more of grace as the "special favor bestowed upon a Catholic through the sacraments." Now there is where we part ways. There is really a disagreement. He believes that as a Catholic receives the sacraments (which we evangelicals translate as "work"), he then is gaining salvation. After that initial barrage of mixed questions and accusations ( I haven't spoken a word yet.. for he won't even allow me to), he paused and waited. I saw my future father-in-law smiling. It's the kind of smile that you have when you are about to checkmate your opponent in two moves. Or so they thought.

I took a few seconds to compose myself; to recover from the shock and think of a reply. Then I thought of drawing himself out. I have to find out where he is coming from. So I decided to just ask questions and let him do all the talking. I planned to use whatever he will say against him when my turn comes. So I asked him where he got this idea. He claimed that it is in the Bible. He even quoted it for me. He got the verse memorized.

"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." John 1:16 KJV
I excused myself to get my bible. I opened it and turned to that verse and read it silently to myself.

"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." John 1:16 NIV

Now we have different wordings of that same verse. I asked him what he makes out of it. He emphasized the words and grace for grace which means that we gain salvation by grace [through the sacraments]. The grace that we need for salvation is transmitted via the grace of the sacraments. Thus, grace for grace. I nearly fell off my chair as I listened to him.

Then very politely, I asked him permission to read it from my Bible; which he reluctantly gave. I read the verse from the New International Version. I saw his brows rise.

"No! No! That's wrong!" he shouted (literally shouted).

I asked him what's wrong. He pointed out that the words are wrong. It doesn't say what it's suppose to say. I politely asked him what it should say. He again quoted the verse (now I know that he's quoting the KJV) with the emphasis on grace for grace.

I again politely explained to him that what I am holding is also the Bible (take note: not a bible). It is the New International Version, I told him.

"Well, then that version is wrong!"

Again, I was glad that I held on to the armrest of the couch -- I could have fallen off by that strong statement. I felt nauseated. Here is a man claiming that the Bible I am holding is all wrong just because it didn't say what he was expecting it to say. I saw my fiancee flushing red in anger but I winked at her and communicated that she let me handle it. And so I ask him, "If this Bible is wrong, then who is right?"
"Me, of course!"
"But this version is translated by scholars," I said.
"Well, they're all wrong."
"So you are right and this Bible I am holding is wrong?"
"How about the Hebrew and Greek bible?"
"Well, they are right, of course."
"Oh, Okay." I thought, I don't have the Torah nor the Greek New Testament with me. And even if I have them, I don't know how to read them.

I politely excused myself and my fiancee. I told him that it was a good time with him and I enjoyed talking with him. I thanked him for his time and if he would not mind, I have to go and do something urgent. I can see the shock in his face. I was smiling when I did this. I can just imagine what's going through his mind. I think he was expecting a bloodshed that day. I think he was expecting me to put up a strong opposition and shout back. He has lashed accusations and strong words against me (and what I believe in) from beginning until a few seconds ago. And here am I not putting up a stand nor give any reply to his accusations. He was not able to do anything but to let me go. My future father-in-law was altogether surprised by my move. They wasn't expecting me to do that.

Back in the kitchen, I told my fiancee that there is no point in arguing with that lay leader because the problem is a very fundamental one. It involves more than just interpreting what the Bible says. It is determining which is more authoritative between the versions. Or worse, it involves proving that he has no match against the scholars who translated other versions of the Bible. And I since he only believes himself as correct, it will take reading the verse in the original language for him to concede.

That encounter is my first one when it comes to questioning the Bible. From there, I realized that our problem is not whether THE BIBLE IS TRUE AND AUTHORITATIVE for a believer; rather WHICH BIBLE?

Another event took place in Bolinao Pangasinan. I have met a man who does not believe that the Bible is God's Word. He insists that it is man-made. He believed that there is a God but the Bible is only man's craftmanship. I told him that I respect his view. But regardless of that, I asked him permission to conduct a bible study with him. I thought that he would me throw out of his yard when I said that. To my surprise, he agreed. I think it's because I have spent several days befriending him. He accepted me as a friend, not because he's interested in a Bible study. I told him that we will study the Bible and let the Bible speak for itself. After a week's study, that man realized and experienced the power of the gospel and got saved. He then conceded that the Bible must be the Word of God. I am not sure if this is a mystic experience or not. But I believe that as we study the Bible and learn about Christ, that man experienced something. I am glad that he was open in the first place. The BIBLE I used back then was a Tagalog Popular Version. Now is that BIBLE inspired and authoritative, too?

The most recent event was when there was a Catholic applicant in the seminary. He wanted to register in one of the courses offered. However, it is clearly stated in the policy that PBTS would only accept "born-again" Christians. However, the registrar believed that he did not land in PBTS by accident. God must be working in this young man's life. So she requested me if I can share the gospel with him before he leaves. I willingly complied. In the course of our discussion; he questioned the authority of the bible. He said that he cannot accept what I am saying as authoritative because the Bible is not God's word. God did not write the bible but just mere fallible men. That's why he said that the bible cannot have authority in his life. I said a quick arrow prayer for wisdom. After a while, I challenged him that if I can show him God wrote the Bible that he concede his position. He willingly agreed. I turned to Exodus 20ff. He never saw it coming. He gave the last lame defense that it was Moses who wrote it. I let him read the verse stating that the finger of God wrote down the Ten Commandments in two tablets of stone. He was silent for a long time. I felt that this man is not ready yet to concede so I just politely asked him if I can finish what I wanted to share with him. He said yes, but I am not sure if he fully grasped what I told him that day. Finally, I decided to let him off the hook. I told him that if he is not ready, I won't be offended. I gave him my contact information if he wanted for us to have a talk again.

These three events are the only incidents that I have encountered where the authority of the Bible is questioned. We can find that these three men have something in common -- all of them are unbelievers by the time they questioned the Bible's authority. I have yet to meet an evangelical that would question the Bible's authority. And those three men are not the norm. They are the exceptions. In places I have been to, I find people respectful and submissive to the Bible as God's Word. They don't question it. Even the Roman Catholics revere the Bible and wouldn't question its authority over their lives. Why is it?

Could it be that we Filipinos are religious? We believe that there's a Supreme Being out there, someone who is more powerful than us. We might see this by how we conduct our lives. We still see people going to church on Sunday and yes, even on other days. We see people carrying "religious items" on their bodies, in their cars, bags, etc. Maybe not all do this, but generally if you randomly ask a Filipino about his belief on a Supreme Being, he will answer on the positive. We can often hear people say May awa din ang Diyos. When we had kababayans held hostage in the Middle East, we saw people saying the rosaries or holding mass in various places. We have a general consciousness of God. We run to him when we are in crisis. We understand his supremacy.

Times might be changing but the relative religiosity of the people has stuck in there. That is why in all of my evangelistic home Bible studies, I don't have to re-emphasize the authority of the Bible. I don't have to defend its integrity, its reliability, its inerrancy, its infallibility. These are all taken for granted. It is given. A great majority of Filipino homes would still respect and recognize the Bible's authority. These are unbelievers. How much more in the believers' homes? Would they dare raise the issue of the Bible's authority?

What am I driving at?

Dr. Draper has written an excellent book. Personally, I appreciate the way he dealt with the topic. He wrote very clearly and as I told my wife, a layman would not have a hard time understanding the book. I appreciate how he took time to explain the technical terms in a very clear way. You don't need a formal seminary training and background in order to understand the book. It is highly readable. I would like to personally extend my gratefulness to the authors.

When I first heard that there will be a conference about Biblical Authority, my first question was: Why? Why would we ever need that? In as far as I can remember or know of, we Filipino Southern Baptist Churches (nor the Convention) are not facing that issue. I have not met a single SB Pastor that would question the Bible's authority (if there is someone here in this group you may meet me afterward and I will be glad to talk to you). And so I just thought that this would be a good conference in order to prepare us if that issue ever comes over here.

Then I got the chance to read the book. Dr. Draper is ranting against the trends mainly in the academic circle of the Southern Baptists in the United States. I can't even believe what I am reading. He claims that there are seminary professors teaching in Southern Baptist Seminaries who doesn't hold on to the historic position of the Southern Baptist regarding the authority of the scriptures. Now, I can understand where he is coming from. In page 125 of the book he summarized the issue of what the Southern Baptist Churches in the United States are facing:

In other words, it is not a question of interpretation, but its is a question of what the Bible is rather than what the Bible says. It is not literal versus figurative. It not that which we have versus that which we do not have. That is not the point. The point is whether or not we can trust the Bible.

I trust that Dr. Draper is correct in his assessment. However, that same issue may not be true across the Pacific. In my 15 plus years in the ministry, I haven't heard a Southern Baptist Pastor throw doubts on what the Bible is. I haven't met a baptist who seriously question the authority of the scripture. In my 7 years in the seminary as a student, I have never met a professor who has serious doubts over the Bible; at least I haven't met a professor like the ones Dr. Draper is describing. So if the situation in the U.S. is focused on whether we can trust the Bible or not, I personally don't think that it is the same here in the Philippines.

If the trustworthiness is not the issue here, then what is it? It is what Dr.Draper eliminated as the main issue in the above quotation. We struggle here as to what the Bible says. In short -- interpretation. The question we ask is "what does this mean to us?" "how can we apply this in our church life?" The question of whether the Bible is true or not is never asked at all. We never doubt the authority of the Bible -- it is given. Rather, we are interested on how we interpret it and consequently use the truth. This is where pastors differ. I have met several pastors with their different interpretation on a single passage. They affirm that the Bible is authoritative. Now, they are struggling as to which interpretation is authoritative. This, I see, is the main issue here in our churches.

How come I arrived at this conclusion?

It could be that rationalism has not reached the Philippines yet or I have not immersed myself in our churches enough.

Why "Stop. Look. Listen" is the title of this blog entry?
Much of our theology today has come from the West.There are instances that we forget we are on a different hemisphere. We apply anything from the West without critically examining its value for us. This can lead to tragedy and misunderstanding.
I am one of the Biblical Scholars who advocate critical contextualization for our churches. We have to be careful to examine materials coming from the West before we ingest it. Sure there are useable materials, but I believe it's in the minority. We have to do several major rewrites to make it applicable, edible, and nutritious to our eclessiological diet.


Big Heavy said...

question: who is the head of your church?

TatangREtong said...

I've always thought that humans are fallible. Thus, in their fallibility they have a limited understanding of the nature of god. This leads to the many interpretations of what god is. From my perspective, they are all one and the same.

I always find it amusing that one person will not be saved / go to heaven /etc because they do not belong to a particular church or religion.

If you are God, would you condemn a person to eternal damnation because he never saw / heard /learned about you even though you created him?

ahh, religion, it is a funny topic.

MhacLethCalvin said...

Hello Big Heavy,
The head of our church is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Yeshua Hammishach.


Hello tatangretong,
I believe that God did not leave humans by themselves to figure out who He is. That is why Jesus came: to reveal to the world who God is and bring us back to Him.
The Bible should be read in its entireity and interpreted in that large context to understand the whole counsel of God -- and that is to reveal himself so that we can be saved through his Son Jesus.

Regarding your question, I think the apostle Paul can answer better. The answer can be found in Romans 1 - 3. It is a good read and a good primer on the estranged relationship of God and Man; and a primer on God's redemptive plan.

Thanks for posting guys !