I often encounter many people in the church who are perplexed by “the whole God and Jesus thing.” Most of them start with an understanding of God and then try to fit Jesus into that understanding. It’s my opinion that this happens because of our Bibles.
We read our Bibles, like all other books, left to right. God is formed in our mind by reading the “Old Testament” and then when we come to the “New Testament” we have to sort out how Jesus fits into our already formed understanding of God.
Consider for a moment that this this was not the experience of early Christians. The churches we read about in the New Testament, like those in Rome, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, and others, were not filled with Christians who had Bibles that they were reading every day. What they had was the gospel message. They had the story of Israel’s God creating the world, humanities rebellion, the covenant with Abraham, and the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus. This Jesus was the risen Lord who was enthroned above all the powers of the earth and it was this Jesus who had revealed God to us. If you wanted to know what God was like, you looked at Jesus (John 14:9; Hebrews 1:3).
Yes, there were synagogues and there were scrolls and there were the accounts of “God’s actions” in the past, but the experience of the early Christians was an experience with Jesus. It was the experience of a relationship with the risen Christ through his Spirit that truly dwelled in them.
The normative experience of early Christians was a relationship with Jesus. The normative experience of American Christians is a relationship with the Bible.
The difference in these two experiences is HUGE!
Christians in all times and all places are CHRIST-ians, not BIBLE-ians. Jesus is the object of our faith and he is our understanding of God. This means that we are better served by interpreting our Bibles right to left. We begin with Jesus, as the object of our faith, and then allow the object of our faith to provide clarity to the hazy shadows of the Old Testament. Rather than sorting out how Jesus fits into our already formed understanding of God, we must allow Jesus to reveal God’s true nature and character to us.
For BIBLE-ians this may sound blasphemous. Irreverent. Heretical. I completely understand. I was once a BIBLE-ian myself. But allow me to ask you a simple question: If you woke up tomorrow in the first century without a Bible, having never had one, what would you do?
My guess is that you would pray more. Another way of putting it–you would spend more time encountering the actual living Jesus. You’d spend less time trying to sort out the meaning of obscure verses. You’d spend less time forming airtight theological constructs. You would wrestle with what you had–a story that centered on one dying for his enemies and inviting us to live the same life–the story of Jesus. This Jesus would shape your understanding of God and you would believe that God is love and that you were called to be like him. You would actually be a CHRIST-ian.
I’ve recently preached a series of three sermons in my church that I believe are foundational in understanding the God who is like Jesus. They build upon one another and therefore are meant to be listened to in order.
If this post has intrigued you, caused you to think, or simply made you mad, I invite you to give me some time and listen and think further:
Sermon 1: What is God Like?
Sermon 2: What is God’s Love Like?
Sermon 3: The Same of God