The Underwhelming Bible


It’s Good Friday, 2015. I’ve just been bombarded by trends in digital Christendom through feeds from popular Christian thinkers and posts from famous Christian bloggers. And there is a staunch, crispy realization bubbling underneath the rhetoric of the dozens of one-liners, clever graphics, and sentimental tweets overflowing my conscious: I don’t know if the church has ever been so underwhelmed by the Bible.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

In Luke 16:19-31, you’ll find one of my favorite parables, often called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Jesus essentially lays out a scene where an unnamed rich man goes to hell and a named beggar goes to heaven (parenthetical point: this is the only time Jesus has ever given a name to a character in a parable, so it’s critical that we, as the audience, do not identify with Lazarus but find ourselves first in the shoes of the condemned rich man).

In the climax of the story, realizing how horrendous hell is, the rich man asks Abraham, who he sees in heaven from hell, to send someone to his father’s house and to warn them, convinced that if they saw Abraham resurrected, they’d surely believe. But in a climactic kicker and heavy conclusion, Abraham says to the rich man, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them… If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:29, 31).

In other words, the rich man (perhaps like many of us today) isn’t convinced that the Bible is enough. He is convinced that they need some kind of a sign, a lot like the crowds in Luke 11:29 (whom Jesus called an evil generation). For the rich man, there needed to be something more substantial, something more powerful, or something more significant than simply God’s eternal decrees and the story of His powerful, redemptive history. But Abraham essentially tells the rich man, “There’s actually nothing more substantial, nothing more powerful, and nothing more significant than God’s Word.”

But I don’t know if many Christians really believe in that anymore.

Sola Scriptura: “By God’s Word Alone”

Throughout the Bible, over and over again, writers follow in the footsteps of James and repeat the same commission: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Ja. 1:21). Much like Abraham told the rich man, James is saying that there is only one thing that can save: receiving God’s Word.

This is why the Apostle Paul makes such extreme claims like, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17) while saying “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Saving faith—you know, that thing that makes everything in Christianity possible—simply comes from receiving God’s Word. Nothing else.

Likewise, Paul elsewhere says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). He goes on to emphasize the point by saying, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling [or meekness], and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” So in case you missed it, Paul just said that we should rest our faith in the power of God, demonstrated by the Spirit—and the Spirit demonstrated God’s power by Paul’s speech and message, which eventually, as we now see it, becomes part of the Bible (or, God’s Word).

Discovering the Overwhelming Word

For some, God’s Word is insufficient in light of music, glamour, and lights. For others, God’s Word is insufficient in light of dogmatic tradition and cultural routine. And for others, God’s Word is insufficient in light of service, miracles, or ministry. In any case and in any church, there is a level by which people—both before and behind the pulpit—are no longer impressed by God’s Word, no longer desperate for every letter and every word spoken by God through it, no longer starving for the Bread of Life, who Himself says that Moses and all the Prophets concern and point to Him (Luke 24:25-27). Instead, like the condemned rich man or like the slow disciples on the road to Emmaus, the church finds God’s Word utterly underwhelming, needing things attached to it, music and majesty surrounding it, stipulations and requirements following it.

Friends, where is our meekness? How proud of a culture are we to assume God’s Word is not enough—and in light of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, how condemned are we as a result?

Eventually, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus found a burning in their heart—a phrase that captures the glorious and powerful work of the Spirit; however, it wasn’t found through music, art, service projects, programming, tradition, liturgy, or fellowship. Their hearts were overwhelmed and burned in their core like Jeremiah’s bones (20:9) as Jesus opened up Scripture to them.

Today is Good Friday—but you’ll never know why this day is so overwhelming good without God’s overwhelming Word.

Written by Phillip Lee

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