My primary objective in writing this book is to convince you that Jesus Christ is the source of truth. In this sense, truth is not merely a philosophical concept: it is deeply personal. In himself, Jesus embodies truth and is the seminal source of what is true. The apostle John wrote that the “Word” incarnated into the human race and lived for a while on earth, full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14). “Word” here does not signify the Bible; it signifies Jesus Christ. Although the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and reliable, it still functions in a secondary capacity to point us to him who is in himself the truth – Jesus.
I have subtitled this book “Restoring a Lost Focus” because I believe that over the last few centuries the church has lost its early focus on the centrality of Jesus. He is not simply the originator of a variation of Jewish religion, or just a sublime model of ethical living. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the creator of all that is, the living lord of life itself, and the effective head of the church. Yet, for some, Jesus has become merely a historic character trapped in the time warp of the biblical world, like some strange exotic dried flower pressed between the pages of a book. Others regard Jesus as the saviour of humankind but also a redeemer whose immediate relevance ended in the year AD 34. Some enshrine Jesus as lord of their lives, yet for them scripture mediates his lordship, and in reality, it is the Bible that reigns as lord of their lives. However, Jesus is alive! He did not cease to exist on the cross of Calvary. He rose again and as such he is the reigning lord of life, the creator and sustainer of all that is, and the author, focus, and interpreter of scripture. In this book, I seek to centre Christian faith in Jesus without diminishing the inspired authority of the Bible in any way.
I believe in the inspiration of scripture, but the Bible is not God – Jesus is. We do not worship the Bible – we worship God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Bible does not give us eternal life – Jesus does. No matter how revered and important the Bible is, and it is very important indeed, we must never allow it to overshadow the Lord Jesus Christ or to compete with him for our affection. This is not its purpose and I am as sure as I can be that God is not pleased when we focus so much on the Bible that we lose sight of Jesus.
I want to put a magnifying glass into your hand and then, as you read this book, ask you to move the magnifying glass away from the page until the word ‘Bible’ blurs and the ascription ‘Jesus, Word of God’ comes into focus. I believe that the Bible is God-inspired and is therefore the written Word of God. However, it seems to me that most Christians focus so intently on the ‘book’ that they fail to comprehend the living ‘Word’.
Two scriptures that speak most clearly into the current loss of focus are John 5:39–40 and John 20:31. Read together, and in the first person, they form the statement, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life … these are written that you may believe that I Jesus am the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in my name.”
A second objective of this book is to challenge you to rethink some of your underlying assumptions. I am goading some of the ‘sacred cows’ of the conservative Christian Faith in order to stimulate thinking and, ultimately, strengthen faith. For instance, I am probing the traditional approach to the canon of scripture and some of the conventional notions of inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. Whether or not these turn out to be more ‘bull’ than ‘sacred cow’ will depend, not only on my analysis, but also on the way you think.
We all have givens: basic assumptions that we develop and entrench during the course of our lives. I am probing these and highlighting the process by which we acquire knowledge and assimilate truth. Our world-views and belief systems rest largely on our foundational assumptions. Philosophers call these a priori givens, and they lie beneath the surface of our normal thought processes and provide us with the foundations on which we build our house of knowledge. Often we are ‘taught’ these foundational concepts and we accept them as true without real interrogation or testing. Once we have laid these foundation blocks we seldom, if ever, re-examine, let alone re-lay them. I want to ask you to look carefully at some of the foundational assumptions in your particular mental house of knowledge. As part of this process, I want to encourage you to loose yourself from over-reliance on the books, lectures, sermons, and teachings that have influenced your thinking. A lot of what we read and hear is good and true; however, much of what we accept as truth is based largely on the deductions and conclusions of others. Some of these opinions can withstand rigorous testing, but some cannot. The problem is that, in many cases, we accept both the solid and the crumbly as foundation stones in our house of knowledge.
Why are we often so undiscerning? Perhaps it is because we lay most of our knowledge foundations at an early age. Perhaps it is because we have been programmed to accept as truth that which is pronounced convincingly by authority figures. Perhaps we are just mentally lazy. I hope to challenge your thinking on a number of ideas most Christians would regard as foundational: the a priori givens of our Christian world- view.
We are living in an age when, as in the days of Isaiah the prophet, “truth has stumbled in the streets”, and is “nowhere to be found” (Isaiah 59:14–15). In our day, we have reduced truth to just another aspect of personal or community preference. Relativism1 and pragmatism2 rule. The motto of the age is ‘If it appears to work for me, then it must be true’. This is not just prevalent in society, business, and politics, but is also a dominant mind-set within the church. I do not believe we should allow ourselves to default into this mind-set.
Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). We must be able to answer this question. However, through this book I want to attempt more than an answer to Pilate’s question. I want to go further and deeper and seek to uncover the very source of truth. We need to understand the nature of truth, but we also need to know from whence it comes. Not just ‘what is truth?’, but also ‘what is its source?’
1 Relativism is the theory that truth is not the same for all people; that there is no single, unchanging, and absolute truth concerning anything.
2 Pragmatism is the theory that truth is a matter of the practical usefulness of beliefs.