The Jesus Criterion #1 – Introduction

by Steve Flowers

God is the savior—known boldly and intimately in Jesus’ life, which shows us how to live and love.

From the “We Believe” statement on Stone Village Church’s web site

I have never forgotten what the shop manager told me several years ago after my vehicle had an oil change and was checked for routine maintenance. He reviewed the results of the check and highlighted that I would need new tires soon. That was not news, as I knew the life of the original tires was near an end. What left an impression on me was how he phrased the importance of tires. His talk went something like this: 

Your tires are the only four points on your vehicle that touch the road. You can have the greatest running engine and the most luxurious and roomy interior but none of that ever touches the road. If you don’t have a good set of tires that you keep properly maintained, then everything else in your car does not matter. The safety and comfort of your ride are first, foremost, and constantly dependent on the quality and upkeep of your tires.

Not long after that, I bought new tires for that vehicle. The manager’s point hit home so I bought a higher quality brand than I usually did and was more faithful to make sure those tires were properly maintained. In the interest of full disclosure, the auto service business also sold tires and I bought those new tires at that business. Now this story may seem to only illustrate how I am fodder for a good sales pitch, but I was genuinely intrigued by the simple but accurate description of a car’s tires being the only four points that touch the road. It brought home the importance of those four points that took my spouse to work and home every day and transported my entire family on trips. They were four relatively small points by physical measurement that on any given day could be attaining high rates of speed, rolling over slippery rain and snow, or suddenly veering to avoid a collision. Those four points are literally, as the saying goes, where the rubber meets the road.

Christians have multiple points where the rubber meets the road when it comes to how we understand the Bible. Like a car, they are the points that dictate where our Bible journey touches the road of life with all of its speed, turns, and unexpected hazards. And that journey of understanding the Bible can feel similarly out of control at times until you develop a better understanding of what those points are and then develop good habits of maintaining them.

The Jesus Criterion is an extended series that has evolved over the past several years as a personal project to address the nature of the Bible. My intention is that this series adds to the much-needed counternarrative against allegedly biblically based ideologies that are actually, well, unbiblical. Unbiblical ideologies speak reverently of Jesus but are not grounded in how Jesus is revealed. They also cite the Bible’s ancient words but do not account for the books’ historical and cultural backgrounds from whence those words came.

The series will counter such ideologies by exploring the two most important touch points to understanding the Bible. The first and most important one is having a robust understanding of the inspired nature of the Bible. And the nature of the Bible’s inspiration is that it is a holy mess centered in Jesus as the greatest living revelation of God. The second most important touch point to understanding the Bible directly follows from that view of inspiration. It is to consistently use Jesus as the standard of measure through whom we interpret the entire Bible. Church practice and personal spiritual living should all be discerned through the lens of these two points in conjunction with the Spirit’s guidance.

Here are a few things to help manage your expectations. The Jesus Criterion is an extended essay broken down into 17 posts over the next several months. Its primary audience is for Christians who believe the Bible to be inspired (including and especially for those who cannot fully explain how they know that to be true or what that exactly means).  But it is also open to all those interested in what the Bible teaches regardless of any religious affiliation (or not). The series will offer guidance for how to understand the Bible as a whole across all scripture passages. The following are focal questions on which you should reflect as you proceed not only throughout this series but your entire Bible journey:

  • What does it mean to me to confess the Bible to be inspired?
  • What tools or method of interpretation do I use to understand what I am reading in the Bible, and do I use that method consistentlyacross all scripture passages?

Finally, The Jesus Criterion is not the final answer on inspiration and interpretation but is written to provide you help along your own faith journey. There is a comments section at the end of each post for readers to interact with what is being presented. Above all else, this is my prayer for all those who decide to engage this series:

God, for all those who have approached the Bible

But had it used against them instead of for them,

Or have been confused or disillusioned by how it has been interpreted,

Or simply longed for a deeper understanding of its pages,

And through it all feel You drawing us to its message,

May we yield anew to your Spirit

To be overwhelmed by what You are revealing in your written word.

Amen

 

Next post: Inspiration (the Bible kind)

 

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