Perspective from Self Precludes Certainty
Our human capacity to come to certainty will never, on its own, allow us to find ultimate truth. The human perspective on certainty can be seen in literary quotes by famous personages: “Man is the measure of all things” (Protagoras); “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes” (Benjamin Franklin); “Certainty generally is illusion” and “Certitude is not the test of certainty” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.); “The only certainty is that nothing is certain” (Pliny the Elder); “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one” (Voltaire).130
Human Perspective versus Divine Viewpoint
Postconservatives want to believe a Christianity of uncertainty. McLaren, through the character Neo in A New Kind of Christian, argues that authority is dynamic as over against static, and that absolute authority is a modern invention. Neo creates a false antithesis between objectivity and omniscience.131 Because Christians cannot have absolute objectivity (omniscience), they cannot adequately understand the Bible.
Jesus himself rebuked those who misinterpreted the Scripture (Matthew 5:17– 48). McLaren in effect denies objectivity of absolute truth found in the inspiration of Scriptures. Certainty is “overrated” for him.132 He is in a constant state of pursuit but never arrives at truth.133 He is in “lifelong pursuit of expanding thinking and deepening, broadening opinions about God.”134 Because the Bible is unclear, multiple viewpoints hold virtually equal validity. He reduces all interpretation of Scripture to personal perspective. In other words, he reduces Bible doctrines to “opinion,” and thus negates the authority of Scripture.
In a later book, McLaren declares that there are indeed areas where he can speak clearly: “In one of my previous books, I said that clarity is sometimes overrated and that intrigue is correspondingly undervalued. But here I want to say—clearly—that it is tragic for anyone, especially anyone affiliated with the religion named after Jesus, not to be clear about what Jesus’ message actually was.”135
Yet the message McLaren wants to be clear about is a social gospel. The secret message is a message about his peculiar view of the “kingdom.” This kingdom message relates more to the social gospel of early twentieth-century liberalism. He avoids the extant, clear message of the saving gospel—belief in the death of Christ to pay for our sins. In doing this, he obscures patent clarity of Scripture. John MacArthur puts it pointedly: “By overturning the historical understanding of Scripture with a new, secret message of Jesus, McLaren has again undermined the clarity of Scripture. Only a Bible that is impossibly ambiguous can fit McLaren’s neo-gnostic model.”136
McLaren claims that he does not hold to absolute relativism or assert that truth is a construct of language. However, he makes the point that, although absolutes exist, we cannot declare them unequivocally and with certainty. Incomplete knowledge of the transcendent God creates uncertainty. This is the essence of his generous orthodoxy. His view of orthodoxy has to do with humility directed toward certainty about truth. Because we cannot be certain about too much, we need to pull our punches about proclaiming certain truth. A generous orthodoxy cannot claim too much and it “walks with a limp.”137
In the end, McLaren believes very little that has substance in Christianity because relativism prevails in his system. McLaren sees this as a benefit in reaching postmoderns, but in doing so he undermines the clarity, conviction, and certainty of Scriptures. Certainty stems from clarity. G. K. Chesterton makes a salient point about humility toward truth:
But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason.138
McLaren’s viewpoint holds such subjectivity and relativism that certainty is not possible. No one is supposed to hold objective truth because tolerance trumps truth. It is a denial of the clarity and certainty of Scripture, and ultimately of the authority of Scripture. Sadly, it denies the exclusive and universal truth claim of Christianity.
The Bible calls this anti-exclusive attitude idolatry (Exodus 20:3–6). Christianity presents itself as exclusive—“No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), and “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These verses violate the central thesis of postmodernism that no one has universal and exclusive truth. Postconservatives accommodate this truth to the alien philosophy of postmodernism.
Man Reduced to Finite Perspective
Loss of certainty about God and about truth in general produced the belief that all beliefs are perspectives. This conclusion precludes the pursuit of ends and exists only for the means. A means-oriented belief is ultimately rigid pragmatism, an orientation that views all of life through this framework or grid. This pragmatic nihilism rejects ultimate truth and the idea of decisive certainty about truth. Everything disconnects because there is no certainty or ultimate end. People become lost in hedonistic, fragmented autonomous humanity. The post-modern self has lost substance and content.
Postmodern evangelicals now buy into this non-significant self. The core of the therapeutic evangelical self operates solely on surface and style. The surface is the substance for them. They have swung from truth that produces character to inane therapeutic personality. We find trust in self under this thesis. It is a fragmented self, devoid of universal certainty.
Postevangelicals are lost in a morass of syncretism along with their secular postmodern colleagues. That is why they cannot come to conclusions about certainty. They desperately seek to hold onto vestiges of Christianity without any basis except subjectivism. That is why they are irrationalists. Although John R. Franke denies this in the preface to Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, he claims “redescriptions and proposals concerning the understand- ing of rationality and knowledge.”139 He asserts that postmodernism produces a “more inherently self-critical view of knowledge than modernity.”140 This entirely overlooks the idea that evangelicals are not modernists as he supposes, but that they took the best from modernity without accepting modernism’s essential presuppositions.
McLaren wants to deny nihilism and relativism, but he does not a have a means to do so. Orthodoxy to McLaren is something within the power of the individual, but no one can “own God” by asserting anything for sure. This is a premise of A Generous Orthodoxy. Various traditions reflect on God from varying viewpoints. None of them can claim exclusive truth. He wants all viewpoints to have some salutary advantage.
Ultimately, postconservatives are their own authority, so they must clear ortho- doxy of any static absolutes. They do not rest their case on authority of Scripture. Orthodoxy for McLaren is opinion, not doctrine; it is “a way of seeing and seeking, a way of living, a way of thinking and loving and learning that helps what we believe become more true over time, more resonant with the infinite glory that is God.”141 His fatal flaw is that he views theology from what is important to his experience, not from extant statements of Scripture. However, the evangelical view is that Christians do not need to have absolute truth in themselves, but that they find it from God through the Scriptures.
By assuming postmodernism, McLaren embraces relativism at the cost of clarity about the Word of God, and eccentrically accommodates elements from all forms of Christianity. His glue of belief pivots around the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Yet, he denies propositional truth and affirms narrative “truth.” But the question of authority remains: Are not the creeds based on the Bible itself? Brian McLaren does not distinguish reason from rationalism in modernism. Although he claims that he is not an irrationalist, his book is replete with subjectivism, experientialism, anti-reason, and anti-logic. Is not this irrationalism?
There is an embracing of irrationalism among evangelicals today in face of the fact that the biblical view of truth is objective and propositional. Whether people hold to the correspondent, coherent, pragmatic, or performative view of truth, they all believe that truth is propositional. Even the coherentists (whose view restricts truth of sentences to agreement with most other beliefs) understand that propositions must be logically consistent. The more biblical correspondent view of truth (which holds that the facts must agree with the statements) insists that propositions must agree with one another. The pragmatic view (the notion that meaning is determined by practical consequences) says that propositions become true when practiced, and the performative view of truth (which introduces emotivism in moral philosophy) claims that a proposition is true by assent to that proposition. Yet today many deny that truth is propositional, which results in the gibberish of mysticism. Mysticism does not require propositional truth but operates in the realm of subjectivism. No theological or doctrinal distinction is required here. What valid message from God is there in this? Zero. Mysticism has no content, so it is an irrational approach to Christianity. True biblical Christianity sets itself in antithesis to other religions.
Perspective from Self Cannot Arrive at Certainty
Postconservatives prefer dialectical “personal knowledge”142 as the way of practicing life instead of didactic propositions forming principles for living from the Word of God. This is unmodified experience again. It is something someone must “feel.”143 “If you ask, ‘how do you know that?—the only answer can be, ‘I don’t know; I just know!’”144 This is old liberal thinking from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That which comes around goes around. Heresies do not seem to die. It also looks like neo-orthodoxy (that truth is not truth until you experience it). No, the only possible way we can know Jesus is through propositional statements from the apostles. Application of principles formed out of propositions and narrative literature from God’s Word is God’s method for living.
Stanley Grenz buys into the antithetical approach (dialectical) as well. He believes that either we know something exhaustively (omnisciently) or it is nothing more than a social construction. No one can assure us that this social construction of knowledge connects with reality; it is conditional and partial because we are finite. He wants to draw a dichotomy between knowing everything and knowing nothing. Evangelicals have never claimed to know everything, but this is the position Grenz wants to impose on the debate.
To suggest that evangelicals cannot escape their cultural understanding of what they believe is to make an assertion about what the Scriptures deny. The Bible asserts that we can be certain about what we know, as we will see in the next chapter. It is true that we are finite and our knowledge is therefore partial; however, this does not mean that we cannot know something truly. Obviously, we cannot know anything omnisciently even in eternity, because we will still be finite even then. We can know truly without knowing exhaustively with omniscient certainty. We can know absolutes so long as the absolutes are those from the Word and not our personal knowledge. Obviously, no belief system can capture God in a creed or doctrinal statement, but that is not the same as not knowing something truly, albeit not exhaustively.
Christians can know some things with certainty. Evangelicals know the difference between absolute objectivity (not possible except for God) and mediated objectivity, which allows us to know what is possible to know. Would God give us a Bible we could not understand? The nature of the Bible declares certainty of truth. The separation of biblical inspiration from biblical authority is an error of massive magnitude.
Note D. A. Carson’s stinging critique of Grenz’s neglect to interact with extensive literature in this regard: “Quite frankly, it is shocking that Grenz does not engage this very substantial literature. He has bought into simplistic antithesis, and he never questions it. This leads him to a merely faddish treatment of science.”145
Carson also says Grenz cannot bring himself to truth because he is “hoodwinked by that one untenable antithesis.”146 Grenz must cast a blind eye to the myriad Scriptures that proclaim truth. This is because postmodernism “has snookered him.”147
McLaren says, “[I am] a Christian because I have confidence in Jesus Christ— in all his dimensions. I trust Jesus. I think Jesus is right because I believe God was in Jesus in an unprecedented way.”148 This is unadulterated subjectivism. On what basis does he have confidence in Jesus? His answer is, “Through Jesus I have entered into a real, experiential relationship with God as Father, and I have received God’s Spirit in my life. I have experienced the love of God through Jesus.”149 He knows this because of experience, not because of objective truth. Later he says, “This is why, for starters, I am a Christian: the image of God conveyed by Jesus as the Son of God, and the image of the universe that resonates with this image of God best fits my deepest experience, best resonates with my deepest intuition, best inspires my deepest hope.”150 This is also pure subjectivity—God must measure up to human expectations.
Again, McLaren denies that John 14:6 (where Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him) is an exclusive statement, but that is exactly what it is. His rationale for the man Jesus as an “inclusive” Jesus is that his life and message “resonated with acceptance.”151 That is bald falsity. It is amazing how he selectively excludes what he does not prefer about Jesus. The three paragraphs following this in McLaren’s text of A Generous Orthodoxy are expressions of “sympathy” for this group or that. This is unadulterated, maudlin, mawkish sentimentalism. To him, tolerance rests on sympathy. Jesus had no sympathy for the moneychangers but lashed them with whips and threw them out like stray cats. At the heart of McLaren’s thinking is an unbiblical view of love; postevangelical love is romantic, sentimental love. It is philosophy based on feelings. Feelings justify subjective love. This is a far cry from biblical love.
Spirituality—Sublimating the Self for Certainty
The basis for the postconservative argument rests on the assumption that the self is the starting point for knowing. This is solipsism. The independence of the self and its individualism autonomous from truth outside of self is at the heart of postmodern presupposition. Psychological preference over objective truth is the issue. For postconservatives, there is little reality outside the self and its relationships. The right of the self stands at the center of reality, for self-discovery is the core of this philosophy, which resists doctrine or revealed truth from God. Absolutes and the norms or standards that flow from those absolutes are barriers to this belief system, as David Wells demonstrates clearly:
This, then, is spirituality of those on the move, those who live in the interstices of the postmodern world, those who know its rhythms, its demands, and the punishments which it inflicts on any who are unwilling to shift as it shifts, those who will not change as it changes, those who look askance at expediency. This is spirituality, then, that is contemporary as is contemporary society but, in other ways, as ancient as the world is ancient.152
Character according to the Bible is an ability to operate on principles derived from the Word of God regardless of what others think. That character involves giving to and living for others. Postmodernism changed that definition of character to acceptance of and accommodation to other beliefs to gain approval. This is at the heart of postconservative orientation. Note again Wells’s assessment of postmodern eclectic spiritual ethos:
With its individualism, its wholly privatized understanding, its therapeutic interest, its mystical bent, its experimental habits, its opposition to truth as something which mediates the nature of an unchanging spiritual realm, its anti-institutional bias, its tilt toward the East, its construction of reality, and its can-do spirit, it is something which is emerging from the very heart of the postmodern’s world. This is, in fact, the postmodern soul. And its ancient forerunner was seen in gnosticism.153
Postmodernism emptied itself of certainty of truth and put in its place an ethos of subjective, ethereal spirituality. Postconservative postmoderns fell into this ethos when evangelicals vacated propositional truth. They also moved into a mode of therapeutic spirituality where they put great emphasis on the self, subjectivism, and a radical form of relevance. Evangelicals revisited the old experiential liberalism of the early part of the twentieth century. This therapeutic experiential subjectivism aligns closely with Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Postmodern decay of Christianity, with the arrival of many Eastern religions into North American, set the context for this ethos. With this trend beginning in the 1960s, and exploding in the twenty-first century, many non-Christians claim some form of spirituality. They prefer spirituality to organized religion and especially doctrine formulated by propositions.
Postevangelicals seized on this market but had to trim their doctrinal sails to do so. Because spirituality in culture was internal and private, postconservatives jettisoned objective doctrine that stands independent from the self. They avoided doctrine in favor of mystical experience. Many so-called evangelicals read horoscopes, believe in reincarnation, reject absolute truth as well as exclusive salvation, and believe that other religions contribute to genuine spirituality. They avoid universal truth claims by leaning on postmodern thought. Truth is the culprit because it divides. Spirituality that is personal and experiential can pick and choose what to believe without the messy process of discovering what is true or consistent with fact. It is a spirituality that relates to self rather than to God’s objective propositions.
Mysticism—Escape from Certainty
Because there is strong rejection of propositional revelation, the emergent church has entered into mysticism. There is a major paradigm shift from what God has said to what the individual subjectively feels.
Propositional teaching is a problem for postconservatives because it is objective, not subjective. Subjective mysticism is the postconservative answer to propositional truth and preaching. Mysticism attempts to connect to God directly by subjective experience rather than indirectly through objective Scripture. Postconservative mysticism contains “precious little expository prose” because postconservatives deem that only the mystic can enter the non-prose world. 154 They believe that to teach the Bible by addressing the mind is something mechanical. According to them, the Bible is a story that appeals to the emotions rather than to the mind, which in their view is modernism. The mystical better addresses the postmodern mind. McLaren sponsors the “hesychastic tradition, which discovers God in silence”155—part of Eastern Orthodox monastic practice. Mysticism does “not claim too much.”156
Bob DeWaay says that rejection of Scripture as a way to get to truth produces “freestyle spirituality.” He gets to the heart of mysticism with this statement:
Emergent leaders have embraced mysticism—where truth is experienced rather than understood. By making truth an experience, the Emergent have liberated themselves from the “constraining” interpretations of flawed and narrow-minded Christian theologians. If words don’t convey meaning but spiritual experiences do, language and thinking serve only as a springboard into mysticism.157 (Italics in original.)
The issue of certainty is impacted by this thinking. If there is no absolute, universal truth, there is no certainty. A society that rejects the possibility of truth cannot find universal truth and certainty. The presuppositions of pluralism and relativism preclude the possibility of absolute truth. There is only private perspective and personal story: “You might be a Christian. I am glad, but I don’t personally need it.” This produces loneliness because people are lost in themselves and have no transcendent truth to believe. Spirituality of this sort restructures human nature into the self. Many churches today focus on spirituality without content, and experience without truth. They have vacated the mandate to build mature believers by understanding principles of biblical truth and encouraging believers to apply those principles to experience.
There is much spiritual superficiality today in evangelical churches. We have paid the price for abandoning doctrine. Much of so-called Christianity is hardly recognizable as Christian or biblical. Postconservative postmoderns do not know what they believe or even how to get to the place of certainty. All they have is experience without substance, which results in vacuous emptiness and uncertainty about what they believe.
Emergent churches are no longer distinctively certain about what they now believe and are ashamed of what they have believed. If they do not claim certainty for what they believe, they no longer differ from other perspectives, especially secular postmodern spiritualities. All roads do indeed look as though they lead to Rome with this theology. This emergent spirituality can no longer view Christianity as uniquely true or carrying privileged information from God. Emergent spirituality leaves the exclusive Word of God for an inclusive spirituality that would have been unimaginable to the mid-twentieth-century evangelical. Who would have imagined that some evangelicals would turn back to Gnosticism to find a mystical power in the subterranean self? Fallacious spirituality misses the point that God is transcendent and that we cannot find him in the self. God demands exclusive loyalty. We cannot find God’s uniqueness in the god within.
This new spiritually is not formal in its Eastern religious orientation, but it does have a vague Eastern structure. The essence of this construction is personal consciousness. It is transformation by personal potential from the god lying deep within the self. This inner god stands in polar opposition to the transcendent God of the universe. The transcendent God reveals himself in extant terms written in the Word of God. His truth claims draw clear lines between the false and the true. Postmodern spirituality causes no division because it makes no claim to exclusive truth. Truth is for the individual, not applied to a crosscut population. The unifying principle in modern spirituality is to find connection to what the individual finds immanent within the self. True spirituality operates with doctrinal constraints and does not center in the self as a source for truth.
Early Gnosticism was pagan in its presupposition. The new spirituality of our day is not exactly parallel to the incipient Gnosticism of the New Testament, but Gnosticism does have its parallels to the spirituality of today. Ancient Gnosticism fermented in a time of immense uncertainty when philosophical structures of Rome were failing. Gnosticism became an escape or sublimation for lack of definite viewpoint. Loss of certainty in truth always causes dissonance. Dissonance is psychological disequilibrium, so people seek stability in self during times of discord. Hedonism is a result of finding self in self, losing truth, and failing to submit to the authority of that truth. The self as god does not submit to authority outside itself because the self is ultimate authority.
This radical subjectivism is difficult to challenge by those who are truth oriented because the prevailing culture runs counter to it. Radical subjective self in postmodernism “feels” more right than objective truth. This might be why The Da Vinci Code had such great appeal. Gnosticism is self-centered redemption. This self-knowledge operates in a revelatory way because self-knowledge is the object that offers insight into the self. It is knowledge (gnosis) of the divine through self. The more choices the self has, the less uncertainty there is. The greater the randomness and unpredictability we experience, the greater the uncertainty we experience. Because people deny objective truth, absolute truth, transcendent truth, they must turn to the solitary self, tossed like so much flotsam and jetsam upon an ocean of uncertainty. There is no polestar to give direction. Like pagans of old who did not believe in one God but in many gods, those who operate from the self-contained assumption do not have a unified field of knowledge and have no unified ethic. All ethics are relative to their individual gods. Today, as well, there is no ethic but the ethic of personal preference, the ethic of manifold individuals.
Objectivity—the Core of Certainty
A biblical Christian, on the other hand, knows an absolutely righteous God who operates on unchanging absolutes. As a God of unconditional love and unaltered grace, he gives hundreds of promises and propositions of truth to those declared righteous as God is righteous. To be ignorant of these biblical truths is to miss much of what the Christian life is all about. The only way we can become cognizant of these things is by divine revelation of a body of truth known only by divine inspiration. Evangelicals today chuck these truths into the bin of irrelevance.
Christianity is not just our preference, something we like or want to experience. The idea that I prefer theism over atheism is a maudlin notion rather than a rational or logical idea. Because Christianity is true as over against false (the law of non-contradiction), I believe it. Why should anyone want to believe our preference as over against their preference if truth is not the mediator? The issue is not to make Christianity more likeable, pleasant, or nice. Rather, Christianity presents itself as true, and it is certain that it is true. If we choose the idea that Christianity is more likeable, we must take an entertainment approach, which ends in preference. If we accept that Christianity rests on truth, then we can appeal to truth. Christianity is a worldview, not something that turns us on. To appeal to preference is to rest belief on the falsity of shifting sands. To appeal to truth is to advocate for God. The true presupposition is God, not man; we need to keep in mind God’s omniscient preference. This involves drawing the distinction of what God views as truth and what man believes is true. A human viewpoint of the world is limited in counterdistinction to God’s omniscient view of the world.
Biblical Christian living always begins with God’s revelation and not the self. Modern spirituality is essentially experiential. Its legitimacy comes through therapeutic outcome. People today find no one truth to order their lives; they must mix and match on a perpetual basis to come to the benefit of this process. David Wells quotes Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, which expresses this viewpoint well: “The noble type of man regards himself as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of; he passes the judgment: ‘What is injurious to me is injurious in itself’; he knows that it is he himself only who confers honor on things; he is creator of values.”158 The self as both the subject and object of the search is one form of Gnosticism. God gave both Colossians and 1 John as a critique against incipient Gnosticism. This Gnosticism denied the human body of Christ because Gnostics deemed that the body itself was evil.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti- christ, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:2, 3 esv)
Postconservative, postmodern spirituality tries to dislodge spirituality from doctrine and formulated belief. Postmodernists are suspicious of doctrinal faith, so they separate spirituality from truth. They abdicate doctrine for fear of the prevailing belief that perspective is all that can be true.
The very nature of Christianity is that it is deductive, doctrinal. We cannot take Christianity seriously by avoiding its teaching. At the very least, dodging doctrine undermines biblical Christianity. At bottom, it invites Christians to abandon biblical spirituality and truth. The belief of postconservatives is essentially different from a biblical Christianity. Their spirituality is a pursuit but, on the other hand, biblical spirituality is a find. The spirituality of pursuit is a spirituality of uncertainty, a spirituality of unbelief. Christian spirituality is a spirituality of experiencing revelation. Christianity is not an endless search for spirituality but a finding of God’s objective truth about spirituality. Spirituality is not an extension of the self but a discovery of what God has to say. Postmodern spirituality marginalizes biblical faith.
Postmodern spirituality is essentially a psychological experience, but biblical spirituality relates to God’s nature, standards, and sin. Postconservative spirituality is about anxiety, power, and personal pain; it is a therapeutic spirituality. Biblical spirituality turns on truth primarily and experience secondarily. Postconservative spirituality centers on emotion, but biblical spirituality centers on trust in extant promises from God. Postconservative spirituality distorts the concept of love into a shallow panacea neglecting other dimensions of God’s Word. Banal love presents God as overwhelmingly immanent in relatedness, silencing his transcendent holiness. This spirituality is mainly about personal experience to the neglect of the great doctrines and truths of the Bible. We can see this clearly in worship choruses and other forms of evangelical music. Post- conservative spirituality is mystical, ethereal, and not biblically and rationally concrete. Postconservative worship is about experiences and not about understanding God’s attributes, such as his love expressed in sacrificing his Son and in providing reconciliation and redemption for us and satisfaction to himself.
Postconservatives quiet the concept of sin and domesticate sin to tensions within the self. Tolerance is a watchword imbibed from culture where postconservatives can accommodate their beliefs to the prevailing society. Accommodation of the Word of God to culture negates the essence of biblical Christian- ity. Under the guise of a distorted idea of love, radical emergents distort objective truth. This is not love but emotional, saccharine sentimentalism. Sentimentalism that flies in the face of objective statements of Scripture is not love but deception. Accommodation to culture in order to placate prevailing sentiments in society reduces Christianity to something maudlin.
Postconservative leaders know that most North Americans do not believe in moral absolutes or absolute truth. That is why they preach tolerance and are against those who hold absolutes, especially absolutes about truth. They base this on a new standard of tolerance not found in the Word of God. Tolerance is the new criterion that measures all methodology and communication in evangelicalism. This new form of relativism among evangelicals refuses to allow the transcendent Word of God to speak in certain terms, yet the Bible binds moral absolutes to absolute truth. Recasting of biblical viewpoint into psychological tolerance turns Christianity into something it is not. Postconservatives, left without a center, have nowhere to stand logically against the presuppositions of postmodernism. They no longer realize that they are moving off-center to the presumption of the vacuous self.
The Bible warns against subjective spirituality (1 Corinthians12:2f). Many Corinthian Christians were Gentiles who worshiped in mystery religions and pagan cults. They were “carried away” to this system; that is, Satan carried them captive to idols by subjective and ecstatic means. This put them in a subjective, random place without principles to guide them, being “led astray to mute idols, however [they] were led.” They permitted themselves to be led in a self-abandoned manner without the Word of God. Paul wanted them to “know” objective truth.
Ecstatic utterance does not point to spirituality. Evidently, some of the Corinthians thought that speaking in ecstatic utterance was the essence of spirituality. A test of spirituality is our view of Jesus. The particular false doctrine here might have been Gnosticism. One view of Gnosticism believed that the physical body was evil. Because Jesus had a physical body, he was evil and accursed. John wrote 1 John against this error. Other New Testament books warn of this error as well. Spirituality originates in the Holy Spirit’s revelation of propositional truths, not in an ecstatic experience.
Christians need to beware of false, subjective spirituality. It is easy to haul our subjective, pre-Christian ideas of spirituality into our view of spirituality when we become Christians. One criterion that will save us is the unmistakable objective mark that Jesus is Lord. If we distort the person and work of Christ, we distort Christianity. Ignorance of extant, objective truth will put believers in a bad place spiritually. Any teaching that makes us (1) overly introspective navel- gazers of the self or (2) passively and subjectively open to any teaching will put us in a seriously negative danger spiritually. Objective truth always counters subjective influences of the ecstatic idols of our day.
Personal encounters and mystical experiences are not the experiences of those in the Bible. Illumination of the Spirit does not replace propositions in the Word but rather makes them clearer.
That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3, bold italics mine)
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:3, 6–7, bold italics mine)
Comprehending and Understanding God’s Revelation
Postevangelicals place emphasis on story, mystery, and metaphor but reduce propositions of the Word of God to the outer edge of the periphery in their thinking. They reluctantly concede some propositions, but propositions stand as an embarrassment to their perspective viewpoint on truth. Their focus on the person of Christ to the negation of the Word of God is a serious mistake because all that we know of the person of Christ is in propositions of the Word of God. God gave believers “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Peter speaks of the “prophetic word” (the Bible) as “more sure” than the personal experience of seeing Jesus personally on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:19–21).
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10, 11 esv, boLd italics mine)
Peter speaks of the need for diligence in making our calling and election “sure.” Salvation is not unstable from God’s viewpoint but from our viewpoint. The word “sure” is emphatic in the Greek sentence and means “firm, permanent.” “Sure” was a legal term in the first century for a legal guarantee obtained by a lawyer from the seller. We gain stability from our summons and selection from God. The Christian stands on solid ground when he legally validates the confirmation of the “sale” of his salvation. God will make good on his promises, for he himself secures payment of our salvation. There is no “money back” guarantee, because God himself guarantees we will get the product of salvation. We obtain this assurance upon the naked, unsupported Word of God. “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” (2 Peter 1:12 esv, italics mine)
Verse 12 begins a new section dealing with the importance of the Word of God for the believer (1:12–21). We turn from the focus of the work of God in individual Christians to the Word of God as the instrument of nurture. Peter’s purpose is to “remind” Asia Minor Christian that they live their lives by truth (1:12, 13, 15; 3:1). We cannot overstate the importance of God’s Word for the Christian. Harry Ironside, longtime pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, used to say, “If it’s new, it’s not true, and if it’s true, it’s not new.” The novelty of post- conservatism should warn us about its lack of validity.
Peter wants us to be “established in the truth” that we have. “Established” means “to fix, make fast, to set, to put something firmly in a location.” The idea is to be stable about knowing truth. The Lord called on Peter to stabilize his brethren (Luke 22:32); Paul wanted to visit Rome to establish them (Romans 1:11) and Timothy at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2). It is the work of God to stabilize the saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:17). We are to stabilize our own hearts (James 5:8). Peter established Asia Minor saints in the truth and set them solid in truth. Peter’s purpose is to set cardinal truth of their faith in their thinking. A shock absorber on a car gives stability to the car. Likewise, if we cannot take the shocks of life, we will lack stability in life. All Christians need equilibrium. What gives us equilibrium in our lives? The “present truth,” God’s truth. Equilibrium is a state of balance produced by two or more forces. There needs to be a balance between what we believe and what God says in his Word.
Peter knew his days were numbered. He spoke of important components of Christianity because so little time on earth remained for him. We speak of the things that are of most importance to us at the point of death. God’s purpose for the believer is that we remind ourselves constantly of the importance of God’s Word. This is a daily challenge for every leader.
We gain stability by knowing: we first gain knowledge; then we gain stability. We cannot reverse this process, for stability does not precede knowledge. All Christians need equilibrium. What gives us equilibrium in our lives? Truth, God’s truth.
“The present truth” or “the truth that we have” is the truth that is present within us through instruction from our pastor-teachers. This is not truth at present under consideration. Truth is reality lying at the basis of an appearance—the manifested, veritable essence of the matter (Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 11:10; Galatians 2:5). “Truth” here is the deposit of faith (Jude 3) and is something we can always possess and never lose.
Stability in this passage is not strong character or human security. The stabilizer is the Word of God. The means to effect confirmation in our souls is the Word of God. We cannot live the Christian life without the Bible. The Word of God is our chart, our compass, our bill of rights, and our only infallible rule of faith and practice.
I think it right, as long as I am in this body . . . (2 Peter 1:13a esv).
The phrase “I think” is an accounting term. This word originally referred to “leading, to lead the way, to preside.” Later it came to mean “to consider or to lead before the mind, account” (Philippians 2:3, 6, 25; 3:7, 8; 2 Thessalonians 3:15; 1 Timothy 1:12; 6:1; Hebrews 10:29; 11:11; James 1:2; 2 Peter 3:9). This word came to mean “to think in principles.” “Think” then means to “lead” principles “out before the mind.” Character forms from what we think about God’s Word. “Right” means “fitting” here. Peter is thinking in terms of a right principle. It means to do the right thing. “It is fitting that I write to remind you because I am about to die.” Peter developed a sense of responsibility to give Asia Minor Christians vital truth before he died.
. . . to stir you up by way of reminder. (2 Peter 1:13a esv)
Here, Asia Minor Christians and all successive generations of Christians will have a lasting capacity to remember apostolic teaching. “Remind” means to recall information from memory, but without necessarily implying we have actually forgotten what we know. It carries the idea of “to recall, to think about again” (1 Thessalonians 2:9; Hebrews 13:7; 2 Peter 3:2). This entire book of 2 Peter reminds them of truths they can think about repeatedly. Here we are, more than 2,000 years after the writing of this book, and God still reminds us of “these things.”
As one of the eight or nine writers of the New Testament, Peter wrote two of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Peter wants to guarantee his readers will “always” remember what he taught. That guarantee comes from the Holy Spirit who enables him to write Scripture (1 and 2 Peter). Our guarantee of remembering Peter’s teaching comes from the written legacy of these two books. Thus, 1 and 2 Peter are permanent reminders of apostolic teaching. Our only accurate source of information about eternity comes from the Bible. We cannot know anything accurate about Christ’s death apart from the Bible. The only way we can prepare for death and eternity is to accept forgiveness from God by Christ’s death for our sins. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of the Bible for declaring doctrines about eternity.
Peter’s expression “way of reminder” means “to remind with authority.” When we communicate truth, we inculcate authoritative principles for life. Peter is in the course of explaining his approach to death; thus, he gives his perspective on death. Repetition of principles is a key to leadership.
Since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Peter 1:14, 15 esv)
Peter repeats himself for emphasis. In spite of Peter’s approaching death, he will leave a legacy that nothing can destroy—2 Peter itself. “At any time” refers to a series of occasions—on any occasion that we read 2 Peter, we will know apostolic teaching (the New Testament).
. . . to recall these things. (2 Peter 1:15 esv)
Asia Minor Christians and all successive generations of Christians will have a lasting capacity to remember apostolic teaching. Peter’s goal is to establish autonomous Christians, not autonomous from God but autonomous from depending on any given leader. Here Peter uses a different word for memory.
“Recall” means “to recall information from memory,” but again without necessarily the implication that we have actually forgotten what we know. It carries the idea of “to recall, to think about again.” The repetition of memory words shows the importance of not neglecting apostolic teaching.
Peter here leaves his last will and testament. The doctrines of 2 Peter go on as a legacy for all Christians after Peter’s death. Truth does not rest in any great leader or pastor. Truth lasts forever (1 Peter 1:23). It is not the person but the message that is important. Leaders will come and go, but the Word of God abides forever. The great thing a pastor can do for a congregation is to teach them the Word (this is the point of the pastoral epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). Other pastoral functions pall into diminishing priority in light of the communication of God’s Word. The pastor’s real legacy is people who know the Word. No Christian should depend on some scintillating or pleasing personality. We must depend on the Word, for the Word lasts forever.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (1 Peter 1:16 esv)
Christians do not base their faith on clever stories as the false teachers did (whom Peter attacks in chapter 2). Rather, the Christian faith rests on the historicity of God’s revelation. The Greek word for “follow” comes from two terms: “to follow” and “out.” This intense term conveys the idea of conforming as a follower of myths in a dependent manner. It carries the idea of following someone personally to the end (2:2, 15). The implication is to comply with some authority. Thus Peter and his companions did not follow “fables.” “Fables” are not the authority of the New Testament church. Christians follow their Lord and the Word.
A “cunningly devised fable” is a clever piece of special knowledge created shrewdly and skillfully. We get our English word “sophistication” from the Greek verb for “cunningly devised.” We also get our English word “myth” from the Greek word for “fable” here. A fable is a legendary story about supernatural beings, events, or cultural heroes. A fable in this usage is a fabrication, a concocted tale to mislead subtly. These people have special knowledge involving capacity to produce cleverly contrived myths. Peter did not contrive his message. Christianity does not come from human invention.
The Greek tense of “devised” means these tales were formed in the past with the result continuing to the present, showing these were long-standing myths. Christianity is no myth. It is not a fairy story for children or folklore for adults. Christianity operates on fact, not fiction. It is no religious fairy tale. Neither is Christianity the work of someone’s imagination that has no basis in fact.
The truth of the Christian faith closely binds with the historicity of the New Testament. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, under the influence of the Age of Reason (which assumed rationalism as the essential source for truth), a belief system arose to attack Christianity. Some of its methods claimed the Bible was myth. These claims were based more on subjective theological presuppositions than on historical fact. The question of the historical fact of Scripture is of little importance to those who deny the truth of Christianity. It is of immense importance to those who believe in its credibility, for the truth of Jesus Christ can be known only from New Testament records. The influence of the New Testament records is tantamount to the influence of his character.
The heyday of liberal higher criticism has passed, but their critical method severely undermined the credibility of Scripture. Although many of their methods (such as the Wellhausen theory) are no longer accepted, advocates of liberalism face a dilemma because their attempt to make the Bible a book of myths does not square with the demands of objective evidence from archaeology and elsewhere.
The New Testament is the most trustworthy piece of writing that ever persevered from antiquity. There are greater resources for reconstructing its text than for any document of the classic age. Some papyri go back to the time of the writings of the apostles. By contrast, the dialogues of Plato, the works of the Greek dramatists, and the poems of Virgil have come down to us from very few copies. Some of their manuscripts are separated by as much as 1,400 years. The earliest manuscript for the Gallic Wars was 900 years after Caesar’s time. The two oldest copies of Tacitus’ work are dated eight and ten centuries after his original writings. The Iliad has only 643 manuscripts. Caesar’s Gallic Wars has but ten good manuscripts. However, there are 5,366 Greek New Testament manuscripts plus 45,000 copies of New Testament texts in papyri, lexicons, dictionaries, and the church fathers’ writings. In the New Testament, there are fewer than fifty variant readings of any importance. There is no case where an article of faith is left in question. The Bible is the most reliable historical document in the history of the world. It obviously is not myth!
God speaks through the Bible (Luke 1:70; Romans 1:1, 2; Hebrews 1:1, 2; 2:3, 4). Therefore, it is of highest importance that we recognize that the Bible we possess is true and reliable. Peter “makes known” two things about the Lord Jesus Christ: his power and his Second Coming. Peter uses the doctrine of the Second Coming as the basis for establishing true criteria for truth. Because the Second Coming did not happen during Peter’s day, this makes Peter’s point more dramatic. Peter, therefore, goes beyond his personal experience. Truth is more real to him than experience. If there is a conflict between experience and the Word, experience is wrong; the Word should be the deciding factor for determining truth. The Word of God is the only way to evaluate experience from God’s viewpoint. Some people do not have the ability to evaluate experiences because they do not have principles of Scripture to measure their experiences. We all have a tendency to overestimate our experience and underestimate the principles of God’s Word. We will never know whether we are right or wrong without objective criteria against which to measure our experiences. God gives us an absolute criterion in his Word.
How do we determine what six inches is? First, we must know what an inch is. You say, “Well, someone says it is ‘this’ long and someone else says it is ‘that’ long.” Which person is right? If I say six inches is equivalent to three feet and am dogmatic that it is, how are you going to prove me wrong? I have made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with the facts. How do you know that an inch is an inch? We must find a ruler, an established and commonly accepted standard (worldwide) for determining how long an inch is. In biblical parlance, our ruler is God’s Word. God’s Word is from eternity and operates on eternal and absolute norms.
After we decide to use the ruler, we have to know how to use it. We cannot measure an inch by the end of the ruler. We must turn it sideways and use it as designed. Many people distort the Bible by fallacies such as pretexting (taking a verse out of its context). These people have the right standard, but they do not know how to use it. The best way to understand the Bible is to examine it verse by verse in its historical, grammatical, cultural, and contextual meaning. If we do this, we will not scramble Scripture. Another distortion in understanding the Bible is the error of interpolation (imposing one’s own view on a passage of Scripture).
The “but” in “but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” is a term of strong contrast. There is a contrast between some subjective observation and exposure to the facts. Peter, James, and John actually observed Jesus transfigured on the Mount of Olives. The Greek word “were” means to become something that you were not before. They were not eyewitnesses before the transfiguration, but the three observers of the transfiguration became eyewitnesses. They looked onward from the transfiguration of Jesus into his millennial glory. Peter, James, and John had a foretaste of the coming of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 16:28–17:2).
An eyewitness is one who watches or observes as an overseer. These people personally saw an event and thus had first-hand knowledge and could attest to the occurrence of an event. This is the only occurrence of “eyewitness” in the New Testament. The Christian faith is credible because of historical facts, not stories. The Christian faith requires eyewitnesses who can corroborate those facts. Peter defends the doctrine of future things on the basis of the historicity of the Mount of Transfiguration. “Eyewitnesses” is a rebuke to pre-Gnostic adversaries at the time of writing 2 Peter. This was a technical term used in mystery sects to designate those initiated into a higher knowledge. Peter excluded false teachers as true eyewitnesses. Peter, James, and John personally witnessed Christ revealed in glory. Peter considered eyewitness experience as valid for corroboration of truth. Experience itself is not reliable to arbitrate truth in a final sense because interpretation of experience is subjective. Experience is valid as a corroborating element, for we can see truth confirmed in an incident.
“Majesty” is a state of greatness or importance. Jesus was prominent and important to Peter’s thinking. “Majesty” in the Greek means far more than the English equivalent; it carries the idea of magnificent glory. “Majesty” can mean the manifestation of great or mighty power. Here “majesty” refers to the splendor and magnificence of Jesus’ transfiguration of great grandeur and sublimity. Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’ majestic appearance. Jesus is “His Majesty King Jesus.” We can never use that term for Isaiah or John but only of the Lord Jesus. We never say, “His Majesty Peter” or “His Majesty Paul.” We do say, “His Majesty King Jesus, king of the world to come and the sovereign king of the universe.” Peter, James, and John at the Mount of Transfiguration (Mount Olivet) saw with their own eyes as the Lord was transfigured before them into a foretaste of his millennial glory. The experience on the mount then was a sneak preview of the Second Coming (Mark 8:34–9:13).
This was a bona fide experience of historical fact. What a thrill it would have been to be there! It was a great privilege for Peter, James, and John to see the coming millennial kingdom unveiled before their eyes. Thirty-two years later Peter spoke of it in this second epistle. He now declares that the event has to do with Christ’s coming again. The trio on the Mount said, in effect, “You can’t fool us. This was no hallucination or optical illusion. This was real. We actually saw Jesus transfigured before our eyes.” These three men objectified truth.
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (2 Peter 1:17 esv)
The “when” here is the Mount of Transfiguration experience on the Mount of Olives. Peter’s desire is for his readers to see beyond the first coming of Christ to his Second Coming. He gives a running commentary on the Mount of Olives transfiguration experience. The transfiguration was a foretaste of Christ’s coming.
Many evangelicals today, sadly, diminish the doctrine of the coming of Christ.
We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:18 esv)
It is important to tie “hearing” in this verse with “eyewitnesses” of verse 16. Peter, James, and John both “heard” and “saw.” People have every reason to receive the testimony of Scripture because the Bible is based on facts and true history. These three men actually and personally experienced the Mount of Transfiguration incident.
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. (Matthew 16:27–17:2)
Peter now continues with an implication of his Mount of Transfiguration experience, but he draws an even more convincing documentation of truth than the transfiguration.
And we have something more sure [more sure than the personal experience on the Mount of Transfiguration], the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19 esv, italics mine)
The Word of God is surer than the experiential, personal, apostolic witness of the account of the Mount of Transfiguration. Our faith primarily rests in what God says, not what we experience.
“Sure” means “firm, permanent,” and is the same word as in verse 10. “Confirmed” also comes to mean “reliable, dependable, certain.” The New Testament uses this Greek word (βέβαιος) and its cognates nineteen times. Secular Greek used it as a legal term for unassailable position or guarantee. These are people with a firm faith because what they believe in is altogether reliable. We can rely and depend upon the Scriptures because they are trustworthy- thy. The apostles could trust God’s Word more than their own senses. We can trust the empirical evidence of the trio seeing the transfiguration, but we can trust even more the message of the prophets: the Word of God. The issue here is certainty. We know Scriptures to be true by the apostolic authority; for that reason, they are certain (Hebrews 2:2). There has been a process of verification by the apostles and they confirmed the Bible to be true.
The “prophetic word” pertains to inspired utterances—prophetic (of the prophets). In other words, this is Old Testament Scripture. It is the prophetic word that is more sure than the experience on the Mount.
The phrase “do well to pay attention” has to do with seriousness toward Scripture. We are to search the Scripture so we can apply principle to experience. We want to mold and fashion our lives according to the Bible. “To pay attention” means literally “to turn one’s mind to.” It can mean “to hold to, to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately.” We need to pay attention to, to keep on the lookout for, to be alert for, to be on one’s guard against neglecting God’s Word for our souls.
The phrase “as a light shines” means “to give light.” The Word is a bright light in the darkness of this world. It brings everything to light and makes it appear as it truly is. Light dispels darkness. When Jesus comes again, he will dispel the darkness of our world. The phrase “until the day dawns” means to “shine through.” We get the English word “phosphorus” from the Greek term for “morning star.” Literally, “morning star” means “light-bringer” or “light-bearer.” The “morning star” bears and gives light. The eye gives light to the mind. The morning star is conspicuous and thus illumines our minds. Until Jesus comes again, darkness will prevail. “Rises” comes from two Greek words: “through” and “shine;” thus, “rises” means “to shine through,” with special reference to the dawn. This is the breaking of daylight upon the darkness of the night. When Jesus comes, he will break into the darkness of this world. He will break through time and space; things will become clear when Jesus comes.
Truth is more reality than experience. Peter lived with Jesus for three years. Jesus rebuked, corrected, and commended Peter over that period. Yet Jesus became more real to Peter in knowing truth than through Peter’s personal experience with him. That heads some of us off at the maudlin pass! Some say, “If I had lived when Jesus lived I would love Him better. I would not have done some of the dumb things spiritually that I have done.” Malarkey! You would not be any different than you are right now. You have enough of the Word to love him thoroughly.
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20 esv)
This section of 2 Peter deals with Scripture itself. No book in the world is as valuable as the Bible. God’s Word is indispensable because only it tells us the truth about God, Christ, sin, and eternity.
The phrase “knowing this first” points to priority. Invariably, what God asks us to know, we do not know. God wants us to know the subject of this verse “first.” He desires that we know something about divine inspiration above everything else. When we interpret Scripture, we need to begin with the principle that God, not humans, inspired the Bible. This is paramount.
Peter’s opponents denied the divine origin of Scripture. They claimed that their writings came from visions, signs, and dreams. These prophecies came from adversaries, from their own origin. But Peter says that the apostolic writings came from God, not a human author. “Prophecy” here is the message of a prophet. “Scripture” means “writing.” Peter here refers to the Old Testament and the writings of the New Testament written to this point. “Scripture” is singular. The Word of God is one single unit. It does not contradict itself.
Some verses are difficult to understand. We must interpret these verses in light of other passages dealing with the same subject. In addition, we should interpret unclear passages of Scripture in the light of clear passages. If a passage is crystal clear, that portion of the Bible will help us interpret the unclear portions. God is the author of all of Scripture and he makes no mistakes. He used human authors to write his book, and they wrote in different times and different places; many lived centuries apart from one another, yet all sixty-six books fit together as one. The Bible is one in its teaching, and picking certain verses out of their context to establish a doctrine is a dangerous practice. We must understand each verse in the light of its context. Otherwise, we risk distorting the meaning of that passage and then operating on incorrect information. This is much like misleading advertising in that it misrepresents its product. Verse-by-verse Bible exposition saves us from this problem. By taking each verse successively and including all of its words, we can come to a true meaning of Scripture. This also presumes that we interpret the Bible in the time in which it was written, and to whom and on what occasion it was written. It is also of great advantage to know the original languages in which the Bible was written. This is the way to discover what God truly says. We must always be careful not to make the Bible say what we want it to mean.
. . . That no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
The word “private” means “one’s own.” A prophet cannot speak a personal message. Scripture does not come from the prophet because Scriptures did not come from human origin. Scripture is not the human author’s “own thing.” The Bible is reliable because of its source; Scripture is reliable because God is reliable.
The word “interpretation” literally means “unloosing, solving, explaining,” but metaphorically it means “interpretation.” The word can mean the conveying or uttering of a divine proclamation and therefore carries the idea of producing or bringing forth. Scripture does not come from the human author’s explanation of things. It is not a concoction of the author’s own thinking.
The word “is” means “to become something that it was not previously.” This probably means that the prophets did not originate Scripture. The Holy Spirit, not human authors, originates Scripture, for he gives the Bible by revelation. This passage is not talking about the interpretation of the Bible but the origin of the Bible. God used human authors to write the Bible, but the Bible does not teach their human ideas. Human authors of Scripture did not put their own spin on Scriptures. The Bible is not man’s ideas about God.
In the NKJV, First Peter 1:20 says, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” The word “any” means “no — not even one.” Every single Scripture came from God and not human beings. No Scripture springs from the mind of the human author.
No single passage of Scripture stands by itself. We must understand it both in its context and also as a whole. We need to understand doctrine in light of all of Scripture’s teaching. We call this “theology.” In true handling of Scripture, we cannot take passages we do not like and ignore them, so we include the entire body of truth from God to form a proper theology. This will deliver us from error. Every passage of Scripture has one interpretation but many applications. If we give the idea that an application is an interpretation, we misrepresent what God says.
Our senses deceive us at times: I thought I saw Sue, but it was a look-a-like. I thought I heard a burglar, but it was a mouse. I could have sworn that there was someone in the kitchen, so I came downstairs with my baseball bat. Our senses can fool us, but the Word of God does not fool us if we interpret it in its context.
No single church possesses the exclusive right to interpret the Bible. If a single church had this right, then individuals would not have responsibility to understand Scripture. If we blindly accept what a given church teaches, then we place ourselves at risk.
Each of us must take responsibility to understand the Word for ourselves. As Christians we all have the Scripture and the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible for ourselves. The issue is not what your church or pastor teaches, but what the Word teaches. What does the Bible itself teach?
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21 esv)
Note that this verse begins with a word of explanation: “for.” The previous verse explained that Scriptures did not come from a human source but a divine source. Scripture does not originate with human authors. The Bible originates with God. The human authors received God’s ideas. Scripture comes by divine inspiration. Revelation comes from God to man. Religion is human ideas about God. That is why religion does not have the answer.
If the Bible did not come by human will, how did it come? By people who “spoke from God.” Approximately thirty different men wrote the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. About eight men wrote the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
These men were not automatons or robots. They used their own personalities and vocabularies to write Scripture. The Holy Spirit, however, guarded them from error as they wrote Scripture. He superintended each word they wrote. Therefore, the authors of Scripture made no mistakes. We have the Bible exactly as God intended for us to have it. We can place our confidence in Scripture. The “men of God” are Old and New Testament authors such as Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, and Paul. God picked certain men to communicate the Bible.
In the phrase “but men spoke from God,” “but” implies strong contrast. In contrast to human beings originating Scripture, the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture.
The Holy Spirit “carried along” these men. The book of Acts uses “carried” for wind carrying a ship (27:15, 17). The Holy Spirit so guided the human authors that they wrote without error. That is why Scripture is certain. Therefore, we can trust Scripture because it is the very words of God. The Holy Spirit upheld, or bore, the writers as they wrote Scripture. The writers of Scripture wrote better than they knew. That is why the Bible is not full of fables. The Holy Spirit governed the human author in the process of writing Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). The human author was aware of the content that he wrote, but the Holy Spirit “carried” him. The Holy Spirit so supernaturally superintended Scripture writers that without circumventing their intelligence, personal literary style, or personality, he enabled them to record Scripture with perfect accuracy.
We have a trustworthy Bible because the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture. The Bible is the unabridged revelation of the thoughts of an omniscient God. God put into writing everything that we need to know about him. Scripture is the only inspired book on earth. Other books might be profound and insightful, but God did not inspire those writings. Only the Bible is inspired because the Holy Spirit wrote Scripture.
If 2 Peter 1:20, 21 means anything, it means that we can comprehend and understand God’s message to us in his revelation. We can know reality to the degree that God has revealed himself. We cannot know everything about all things. Finiteness will never be infinite, even in eternity. God is accessible through the text he gave. The Word of God is active and powerful beyond finite capacity (Hebrews 4:12). This goes far beyond the nebulous meaning of a community, with its limited perspective on the world. Peter argues for a sure and certain word from God.