Most Christians today would definitely say that they do not believe that God is dead. After all, they own God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2. They drive down the road with their windows down and the sunroof open, the Newsboys blaring from their speakers: “God’s not dead, He’s surely alive. He’s living on the inside…” On Sunday morning, they go to church, raise their hands and sing songs of praise and worship.
And yet, when they open their Bibles, they suddenly start acting like God is dead.
Interpreting Your Dad’s Book
Let’s imagine for a moment that your dad wrote a book. You sit down in your favorite armchair and start reading it. Halfway through chapter 2, you get confused about something he wrote. You could interpret it two different ways! Which one is correct?
You look up. Your dad is sitting on the sofa, a few feet away.
Now, at this point, what would you do? Would you find a dictionary and start looking up the words your dad used? Would you get out your phone and start looking at other people’s reviews of the book, in hopes that one of them understood it better? Or would you just ask your dad what he meant?
If it were me, I would do the latter. I mean, isn’t that the easiest thing to do, anyway?
A Dead Book from a Dead God
Nor do they seem to think that the Bible was really written for them.
They read their Bibles religiously. But when they come to a passage that they aren’t sure about, they look it up in a commentary; dig into the Greek or Hebrew definitions; ask their pastor; check the notes in their study Bible—anything except asking God to directly reveal the meaning.
And this goes on, perhaps even worse, with those who are highly trained in theology. Over and over and over and over, I have seen theologians delve deeply into a passage or verse. After parsing the meaning of the Greek to the nth degree, and explaining the cultural and historical context, they tell you what Paul was trying to say to the Philippians. At best, you get the truth. But often, you get confident statements of fact that are really nothing more than strongly (or commonly) held opinion—or maybe just half-truths and error.
…no amount of study can help a person who stubbornly holds to an incorrect understanding of the words in the book—their study could be a path to destruction.
It is the Spirit that conveys the meaningful content of Scripture. And we don’t receive the Spirit through our own diligent efforts. It is a gift of God’s grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8) and if we aren’t “quickened” (made alive) by the Spirit we will remain dead in our sins and ignorant. Our salvation is fully dependent on God’s grace and therefore is not a product of anything else we have done—that “anything else” including our own human ability to read and comprehend Scripture.
The Elephant in the Room
The old poem about the blind men looking at an elephant has been quoted and referenced many times. It applies to many aspects of life.
However, what few people realize is that it’s specifically written about theological wrangling:
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
— John Godfrey Saxe
This sums it up quite nicely. It seems to be easy for a theologian or Biblical scholar to dig deep into the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words, exegeting the exact meaning of a verse—and miss the overall picture entirely. Like the blind men who thought that the elephant was comprised only of the part they happened to touch (the side, the leg, the tusk, the ear, the tail, or the trunk), these theologians miss the big picture of what God is really saying because they are too narrowly focused.
Replacing God with a Dictionary
I do enjoy looking at word definitions. Translations are not always accurate, and if I’m reading from the KJV, it can have old words whose meaning is not what I’d expect. I really like the e-Sword Bible program, with its pop-up Strong’s number definitions.
But in the past, if I didn’t understand a verse or wanted to understand it better, I would go to my Strong’s dictionary first thing. I might ask God to help me understand the verse, but I didn’t really listen to see if He told me anything directly.
In more recent years, God has shown me that I should ask Him to explain the verse to me. He certainly can (and does) use Strong’s dictionary and other such resources to help me understand. Cross-references are also great. Commentaries—sometimes helpful, but often just a bunch of useless opinion.
The point is that, when I realized that I could ask the Author to explain His Words to me, it totally shifted my approach to Biblical interpretation.
God’s Not Dead, But the Early Christians Are
Today, I see various Christians who look to the early Christians for guidance about the Christian life. In his book Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?, David Bercot even argued that we should follow the traditions of the early church because they might be apostolic traditions that God had told us to follow.
If God, like many other religious figures, was dead, then the early Christians would be a key resource for understanding Christianity. After all, they lived much, much closer to the time of Jesus. Typically, that would mean that they had a better understanding of Christianity than we have 2,000 years later.
But since God’s not dead and the Holy Spirit is guiding us, the time factor becomes irrelevant. Indeed, it becomes a hindrance, because we don’t know all the details of Roman culture in 200 AD.
The writings of the early Christians are interesting to study, and they help us to consider Scripture and Christianity in a different light. However, we must remember that they had no more access to the Spirit than we do. We are not at a disadvantage to the early Christians, and their beliefs are not any more authoritative than our own.
God Is Alive and Wants to Guide You
Before He went back to Heaven, Jesus gave us two powerful promises:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I don’t go away, the Counselor won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. (John 16:13)
As my cousin recently wrote:
…I’d like to leave you with one of the questions that burned in my mind as I finished [Forgotten God by Francis Chan]. In John 16:7, Jesus said that it is better if He leaves so the Holy Spirit can come. Do we live like we believe that that is true?