A Journey Toward Jesus: 14th Letter

bridge2A Journey Toward Jesus
–Fourteenth Letter

January 12, 1975

Dear Bruce,

Your bulletin continues to be very fruitful in good things. I am glad you are writing more of your own material, and that you are writing shorter articles which deal with really practical matters. You will find that a good many preachers (and some paper editors) are not going to appreciate the tone and content of many of your recent articles, but I believe God is pleased with them, and wish to encourage you to be ready for flak when it comes, but not to think any man’s opinion matters all that much – including mine!

Yes, I feel that sometimes the preaching of the restoration movement per se borders very close to an “extra-biblical hermeneutic” and/or promoting a creed, as you suggest. There is a vast difference, on the one hand, between preaching the Bible, and emphasizing Christ, along the way urging that men simply go back to what is found taught there and “restore” Him to a place of rightful authority and prominence, and – on the other hand – of preaching: “The ‘true church’ (‘right organization,’ ‘correct group’) once existed in perfect condition; it got fouled up so that there were no ‘real Christians’ or at least no ‘rigbt groups,’ and then ‘our’ folks came along and ‘restored’ the ‘true church’ so that if you want to be a ‘real Christian’ now you need simply get in ‘our group’.”

I had thought for several years that the kind of uniformity some seek and others glory in is really nothing unexpected, given the fact that most of the preaching done in those quarters is really not preaching the Bible, but preaching about the Bible, and specifically, preaching about a certain way of interpreting the Bible. And when that kind of preaching gets mixed up with “preaching the gospel,” so that “conservative theory of interpretation and rules of examples,” etc. come to be called “gospel,” several things result:

  1. People do not really hear the gospel, if only by default.
  2. Those who hold to such preaching will agree on many things which distinguish them from other brethren.
  3. When the wrong emphasis is put on the hermeneutic, anyone who questions what the men have said about how to interpret the Bible, is attacked as if he had attacked the Bible itself.

All that is not to say that many of the rules men have made up are not good common-sense ones for understanding the Bible better. But I am of the persuasion that given all the common-sense they may have, the most important thing is for a “man of faith” to approach the Word with a real desire to understand (“discern”) the will of the Lord in order to please Him, and then to study with such a prayerful desire. Neither Hillel nor Shammai had the key to the (Old Testament) Scriptures – the key was in Jesus Christ and His work and life and its meaning. Nor were the Essenes on the right track with their approach of interpreting everything in the light of their own historical movement. So today, neither of the preachers who has written on “how to interpret the Bible and pick out binding examples” has the exclusive key to the truth; nor do those (JW’s, Adventists, holiness sects, Church of Christ, etc.) who may approach the Bible with the “right group” attitude.

You understand, of course, that I am not saying that all brethren are like this, or even most of them. But no doubt some are. We do not need to be.

I like the idea very much of an “interpretative method” being derived from the Scriptures themselves. And that doesn’t mean, of course, that one simply looks for illustrations of his own points, or analogies. When Jesus and the Apostles used the Old Testament Scriptures, they

  1. interpreted them in the light of Jesus as the central figure of all God’s plan and revelation, and
  2. they understood them in the light (most of the time, but not always) of the general context and point of the larger passage.

There is a difference also between saying that all men can see the truth of the gospel and live holy lives that please God – on the one hand – and saying that all men can learn all the same truths on every point and to the same degree of perfection – on the other. I am quite confident that not all men will do the second, but I am equally sure that all those who are foreknown by God (with all that means in the Bible whatever “all” that is!) will do the first.

I also think you are probably correct that God has left enough of a gap that we can never be God (i.e. understand everything perfectly), but must always be creatures (i.e. dependent on God for what we do not know and take His word for what we do). Now we have two choices as creatures:

  1. we can confess our own inadequacies (in knowledge, as well as in life), and live (find life) through faith in God our Creator, or
  2. we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we can know everything, and then rationalize away the obvious problems inherent in such a supposition.

This is what has happened when folks pick out “important commands,” or “major issues” such as “the work and worship of the church.”

On the other hand from all the above, I think we need to remember and emphasize the point that Dr. Schaeffer continually makes: namely, that while we cannot know exhaustively, we can know truly – so far as God has revealed His knowledge to us, and so far as we correctly apprehend it. I believe you are right in mentioning The God Who Is There, but I would even more strongly recommend Schaeffer’s He Is There And He Is Not Silent and Genesis In Space And Time. These ought to be studied, particularly the first one.

As to the restoration movement and Campbell’s ideas:

I believe the original thing got off to a good start, and that it would be worth having today as well. Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is good reading still – and it is available for about $1.50 in paper. Much of the basic attitude of those earliest men later is seen in the work of Syrgley, particularly his New Testament Church, from which I noticed you have copied in your bulletin. That is an excellent book, as is much of Questions and Answers or however it is titled, by Lipscomb and Shepherd.

It may be the case that Campbell got a lot of his ideas from Locke’s philosophy. It ought to be remembered, however, that the alternative in the religious world of his day was a very irrational and mystical subjectivism. If Brother Campbell went from that horrible error so far that he stepped into the ditch of rationalism at times, he ought to be borne with by those of lesser talents and minds (and I know that includes at least myself). On the other hand, since we are not Campbellites anyway, we can appreciate all the good he had without being burdened with or obligated to receive whatever he had that we think not to be good.

My own idea, therefore, is to be most of all an exegete of Scripture, a teacher of the Bible, a preacher of Christ. And if I can do these things, always with a practical end in mind of “presenting every man perfect in Christ,” I am sure that “restoration” will be a happy by-product so far as it should be.

If on the other hand I set out to create or reconstruct a philosophical frame (a creedal platform or structure) which will guarantee the user the answer to any question he might have, I will not only probably end up speaking where the Bible speaks (as long as it fits my system) but also speaking where it does not (since my system is so well-made it can fill in the gaps God overlooked!) I do not preach “restoration” therefore, although I am interested in it as a by-product of preaching the Bible.

When all is said and done, we can spend a right amount of time raising questions, but we ought to be sure that we give a greater attention to the answers – the answers we can know because they are clearly revealed. And these answers center in and point to, and flow from, Jesus Christ – the Son of God who became man in order to live our life, die our death, enter our judgment, and accept our verdict, in order to give us His own. This is conditional always on true faith, and true faith always seeks to please God. To that end it studies His word, prayerfully and carefully, with the common sense He has put in our heads. The final product of all this study is to be a right way of living in the present world, and in view of the one to come.

The main place we live is in the home. Therefore, give attention to developing a happy, Christ-honoring and God-pleasing home, enjoying the wife He has given you, and the child He has entrusted to you both. That is where the real action is, and that will prepare you to share the things that matter most with others, and with conviction and persuasion. Day by day we live, and in rather mundane circumstances for the most part. So I urge you (and myself) not to get too strung out on deep things, or too overly concerned about philosophical questions we cannot answer. Sure, explore new territory, go wherever the light leads. But remember that the exploration is not for its own sake, but for the sake of a very ordinary life that pleases God. And that is usually not difficult to understand!

My prayers with you all.

Your brother in HIM,