Truth is The Word is Chris Peppler’s attempt to share his core conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of truth, and to explore some of the implications of embracing that belief. I use the word ‘attempt’ because it is my pleasure to know Chris Peppler personally. ‘Christ-centred’ is no mere slogan for him; it is the core truth by which he lives his life, reads his Bible, and leads his church. Putting the deepest convictions of one’s heart on paper in a way that does them justice is no simple task, and my appreciation of what Peppler has written is immeasurably deepened by knowing him personally—much as knowing Jesus personally transforms our appreciation of His Word.
Once we conclude that Jesus Christ is the source of truth, we must grapple with the nature and role of the Bible. A significant portion of Truth is The Word is does exactly that. In some respects, Peppler affirms classical evangelical convictions regarding the Bible, while in others he challenges them sharply.
First, Peppler affirms the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture in a manner consistent with other evangelical theologians. (He appears to dislike such labels and tries to avoid them, but this sometimes leaves him struggling to describe the same concepts in different words.) Peppler devotes much space to discussing the nature of the Bible. He concludes that the Bible is the written Word of God. It is inspired by the Spirit of God and is fully truthful in all it teaches, but reflects the genuine humanity and humanness of its human authors. This is the classical evangelical position, though at first reading it might not seem that Peppler is echoing the classical view.
Second, Peppler is cautious of what he terms rational biblicism. He sees this as the dominant hermeneutic amongst conservative evangelicals. In fact, rational biblicism is more than a hermeneutic; it is a worldview that sees truth as synonymous with the Bible. When asked, “What is truth?” a rational biblicist might answer, “the Bible is truth” or “the Bible is the source of truth.” What is wrong with this? First, it leads to an overly propositional view of truth. Adherents tend to treat the Bible as a sourcebook for theological principles and values. Second, it tends to “reduce faith to intellectual assent to biblical teachings” (29). For Peppler, truth is personal as well as propositional. The Bible points beyond itself to its source, the Lord Jesus Christ. Any engagement with Scripture that falls short of leading God’s people to personal faith in Christ and a personal relationship with Him is inherently unfaithful to the purpose and the message of the Bible.
Third, Peppler fears that too many churches are Bible-centred. They should be Christ-centred and Bible-based, but not Bible-centred. He finds the idea that truth is centred in a document rather than in a Person disturbing. “Jesus is The Truth. … He is, in himself, the embodiment and source of truth. Truth is therefore personal” (68). Like the Pharisees of old, the evangelical church is in danger of diligently studying the Scriptures in the sincere belief that eternal life is to be found in them, while missing the fact that the Scriptures themselves always point people to Jesus Christ (John 5:39). The solution lies in realising the gap and relationship between the written Word and the living Word. The Bible is the written Word of God that leads us to the living Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although the Bible is true in all it affirms, it is one step removed from the real source of truth, God the Son. If the church loses sight of this and makes the Bible too central to its life and worship, it may fall into a kind of idolatry—biblio-idolatry.
Having made his case that we should “centre Christian faith in Jesus without diminishing the inspired authority of the Bible in any way” (15), Peppler turns his attention to the way we interpret the Bible. In other words, he shifts focus from the nature of Scripture to the interpretation of Scripture. In practice, however, the separation of these two aspects is somewhat artificial, as additional considerations regarding the nature of Scripture permeate the discussion about how to interpret the Bible, which is the focus of the second part of the book.
With respect to hermeneutics, it is not Peppler’s intent to offer an entire system of interpretation. His goal is more focused: to highlight interpretative strategies that are consistent with his beliefs about Jesus and Scripture. I heartily support two of the proposed strategies: (a) both-and exegesis and (b) christocentric interpretation.
Both-and exegesis is Peppler’s answer to the presence of antinomies (apparent contradictions) in the Bible. Here he clearly reveals his commitment to the complete truthfulness and theological unity of the written Word of God. When confronted with a seeming discrepancy in the Scriptures, the interpreter should seek a clue to resolution which reveals how both texts or teachings are true.
Peppler’s three-dimensional christocentricity is the high-water mark of the book. He has argued at length that Jesus Christ is the source of truth, the author of Scripture, and the interpretive lens for rightly handling the Word of God. Christocentricity is the vaccine against biblio-idolatry and the cure for a lifeless study of the Bible as textbook. The first dimension is that we interpret the Bible through the lens of what Jesus said and did. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ function as an interpretive lens for rightly understanding what the Triune God is saying through His Word. The second dimension is that we use the Bible as a spotlight for seeing Jesus Christ. Our goal when studying Scripture is not to know the Bible, but to know its Author. Thus, bringing the first two dimensions together, “we see Jesus as an interpretive key to understanding the scriptures. On the other hand, Jesus is all in all, and the Bible is an interpretive key to understanding him” (163). The third dimension is that we encounter Jesus through the Bible, and experience a personal relationship with the One who is Himself “the truth” (John 14:6).
I have come to share Peppler’s conviction that Jesus Christ is the source of truth, although I do not always agree with his exposition of the implications. His core claims resonate with my spirit. Yes, Jesus Christ is the source of truth and the interpretive lens for reading the Bible. Yes, we need to live all of life with a Christ-centred focus, and guard against putting the Bible in the place that belongs to its Author. Yes, we must interpret the Bible from a Christ-centred perspective, and we must read it with a desire to know and meet Him. In seeking to restore these emphases to their rightful central place, Peppler has sounded a timely and prophetic call to the church. May we all heed the call to “centre Christian faith in Jesus without diminishing the inspired authority of the Bible in any way” (15).