Why Do I Believe the Bible Is the Word of God? Because Jesus Did.

This post was originally written as part of this comment exchange on Randal Rauser’s blog post “Liar, Liar, Soul on Fire.”

1. I see the Bible is a collection of documents written by ancient Jews over many generations, and ostensibly no more free from error or worthy of attention than any other ancient documents.
2. I read the documents and see that they coalesce in meaning around Jesus of Nazareth. The NT claim that He is the figure promised in various ways throughout the OT strikes me at first as plausible, then as credible, and ultimately as persuasive. I accept that He is indeed Lord and vow to serve Him as such.
3. I see that Jesus regarded the OT as the word of God, and therefore worthy of appropriate devotion. I take that as my cue to do the same.
4. Given that the NT writers claim to speak in Jesus’ name, I give their writings the same respect.

Thus I don’t need the Bible to be the word of God in order to believe that Jesus is Lord. However, believing in Jesus as Lord does lead me to believe that the Bible is the word of God.

That said, I do not go around telling scientists what theories they can hold or what they can and can’t call facts. I’m not a scientist and the Bible is not a book of science. A problem only arises when scientists – or, more broadly speaking, modern culture – tells me what is and isn’t true in the Bible. I refuse to cede that authority to them.

Of course, the threat of modern culture is that I won’t be be considered intellectually respectable if I maintain this view. However, since my Lord didn’t compromise His faith in the truth for the sake of preserving intellectual respectablity, who am I to try to maintain intellectual respectability?

Why Do I Write These Blogs?

The following exchange took place here.

James:

Why is this a place for non-church goers and that be a positive thing to propose others to do trying to follow Christ? Im probably missing your point even though I find lots of interesting things in the blog. Now Im a church leader and a teacher and would like to know the purpose of your message. What is your take on reach out or evangelism? Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20…. Jesus words….

Mike Gantt:

The purpose of my blogs is to make known important truths that have been hidden from us (e.g. everyone is going to heaven, the Second Coming of Christ occurred long ago, the kingdom of God has replaced the church), while at the same time reinforcing truths which are known to us but which have not been sufficiently heeded (e.g. Jesus is Lord, the Bible is the word of God).

Most of what is called evangelism today can best be described as a fulfillment of Matthew 23:15. Christians are crying for the world to repent while God is calling Christians to repent. I was a pastor and sought to grow my church. My blogs are part of my repentance; they seek to grow His church.

I should add that God’s omniscience and omnipresence should be added to the list of ideas that are commonly accepted among believers but that we don’t seem to take seriously.

I Fear God Because I Read the Bible

I didn’t read the Bible because I feared God, but I did come to fear God once I read enough of the Bible to understand its message.

In other words, it was reading the Bible as an adult that gave me a reverence for God.

When I began reading the Bible in earnest, I was an agnostic in my late 20’s.  My purpose was to read the Bible as literature and thus round out my education.  Although I was a college graduate by that time, no part of my formal education had involved reading the Bible.  In fact, I had read few classics of literature and thought that reading the Bible as literature was a necessary part of my “catch-up” work in becoming more “culturally literate.”

The period of time I had spent in formal education – first grade through my senior year in college – was 1957 to 1972.  In retrospect, I’m struck by the fact that I had so little exposure to the Bible during that time period, and all the more so since this was all taking place in the American South:  the Bible Belt!

In any case, it was reading the Bible without any expectation of “being converted” or “having been converted” that I soon became converted to its way of thinking.  That is, reading the Bible established in me a reverence for God.  (In this regard, see the verses cited below.)

The Scriptures have that sort of power because they were written by holy men of God.  Though they wrote in antiquity, they speak to modernity, because that truths about which they wrote are timeless.  And because these writings were inspired by God Himself, they can inculcate in us the appropriate fear of Him.

The following verses speak to the power of the Scriptures to evoke in us the proper attitude toward God.  (All are taken from the NASB.)

Psalm 119:38 Establish Your word to Your servant,
As that which produces reverence for You.

Psalm 34:11 Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Isaiah 57:11 “Of whom were you worried and fearful
When you lied, and did not remember Me
Nor give Me a thought?
Was I not silent even for a long time
So you do not fear Me?

I Found Christ by Looking for the Truth

I did not find Jesus Christ by looking for Jesus Christ.

I did not find Jesus Christ by looking for God.

I did not find Christ by seeking to be spiritual.

I did not find Christ by seeking to be religious.

I was seeking none of these things, because none of them held interest for me.

What then was I seeking?  Truth.  I wanted to know the truth about life and how to do the right thing with my life.  As a result, I found Jesus Christ.

See John 1:14, 17; 14:6

Related posts:

What the Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals Taught Me

What the Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals Did Not Teach Me

I Left My Church by Letting It Leave Me

What the Apostles and Prophets Taught Me

This post can be considered a follow-on to these two posts:

The Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals all taught me the authority of the Scriptures.  The Scriptures were the work of the apostles (from whom came what we call the New Testament) and the prophets (from whom came what we call the Old Testament).

The apostles and prophets have been the bedrock of certainty in my knowledge of God.  They bear unwavering witness to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.  In the Scriptures, we have what Eve did not have – a reliable written source to which we may turn in time of temptation.

The Evangelicals may fail – and have.  The Charismatics may fail – and have.  The Pentecostals may fail – and have.  The Apostles and Prophets, however, did not fail.  They remained faithful to the end – and that is why their writings have remained with us.  They testified to their message of faith and hope and love with blood – their own.  That is why both they and their writings are revered.  They bore faithful witness to Him who loved us and released us from our sins by His blood.  Their collective wisdom – for it is the wisdom of He who sent them – will last through all ages.  The pages they left us are rock solid and worthy of our unwavering trust.

What the Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals Did Not Teach Me

What the Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals taught me can be found here.  What they did not teach me was that godly living was more important than churchgoing.

The Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals are just as big on churchgoing as the Roman Catholics.  To all of them, attending church seems the most essential activity in life.  Do you doubt this?  Consider that if you come to church unbelieving they will welcome you, but if you believe in Jesus but don’t go to church they will consider you deluded, apostate, or heretical.  There seems no virtue more important to them than sitting in a pew.

By contrast, the Bible teaches the importance of righteousness – that is, doing the right thing, practicing godliness, purifying one’s motives and deeds.  The Bible is a book about Christ and His righteousness.  It is utterly insufficient as a manual on how to organize and operate a church.  This is why churches must supplement the Bible with their own take on how church ought to work.

Thus the Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals did not teach me to be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:!4) but rather to be zealous for church.  They were therefore professing an allegiance to the Bible that they were not practicing.  This is why I ultimately had to part company with them.  It is better to do right in the sight of God than to appear righteous in the sight of men.

What the Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals Taught Me

I should say first that I was raised a Roman Catholic in the 1950’s.  My first six years of formal education were at parochial school.  I was an altar boy, and, later, a lay reader at Mass.  As a child, I collected holy cards, prayed the rosary, and wore a scapular.  I was at the church six days a week, and was as Catholic as one could be.  The Roman Catholics indeed taught me their religion, but I learned hardly anything about God.  By the time I was in my mid-teens in the mid-1960’s, I had fallen away from church and God seemed distant and inscrutable, if I was conscious of Him at all.

Over a decade after this, in the late 1970’s, the Evangelicals taught me about Jesus and the Bible.  They found me an agnostic in my late 20’s and took pains to tell me about Jesus Christ and His relevance to my life.  They showed me His claims, and the claims about Him, in the Bible.  They proclaimed without reservation that the Bible was the word of God and its central message was Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  By personal testimony and books, the Evangelicals conveyed to me the importance of taking these truths seriously and personally.  I will always be grateful to them, for I hold these truths dear – even to today.

Immediately after, or almost at the same time, the Evangelical were convincing me about Jesus and the Bible, the Charismatics and Pentecostals taught me the Holy Spirit.  They, too, believed Jesus was Lord and Savior and that the Bible was the word of God, but they also believed that God was still active in the world today.  They took seriously the claims of Holy Spirit activity in the name of Jesus found in the New Testament.  By a variety of means – personal testimony, books, cassette tapes, and television – the Charismatics and Evangelicals exhorted me to consider God not only true and reliable, but also active and present.  I will always be grateful to them, for I hold these truths dear – even to today.

Though I hold these particular truths dear, I no longer make any claim to being an Evangelical or Charismatic.  I only want to follow Christ.

For more about my background, see the About section of this blog.

I Left My Church by Letting It Leave Me

It was 1992 and I was pastor of Westport Church in St. Louis, Missouri.  I had just received my Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, having previously received my Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary.  Like any pastor, I wanted to grow, and I wanted my church to grow.

Our church was nondenominational, evangelical, and charismatic.  There were many such churches in St. Louis at the time and I kept close relations with many of the other pastors.  There were weekly prayer meetings as we all sought the hand of God on our ministries individually and our city collectively.  There were also periodic pastors’ conferences, near and far, to which several of us would go.  We related also to evangelical-minded denominational pastors in our region.  Our common interest was seeing the gospel of Jesus Christ magnified, and His church to grow as a result.

As pastors, we were always sharing ideas, experiences, and books with each other.  We were constantly looking for ways to bring more of the blessing of God on our congregations.  My association with Fuller Seminary was significant because it was the home of the Charles E. Fuller Institute for Evangelism and Church Growth – the epicenter of the church growth movement.  I studied under C. Peter Wagner, the protégé of Donald McGavran who was considered to have founded the Church Growth Movement.  My Doctor of Ministry dissertation was The Meaning and Mission of the Independent Charismatic Church.

I Loved the Church

My commitment to the church was as strong as it could be.  It never entered my mind that the church was not essential to living the Christian life.  All I cared about was doing church right.  I knew many pastors as well as parishioners who had been deeply hurt through church life.  I myself had been deeply hurt in a couple of earlier church experiences, but those pains never once gave me pause about pursuing church.  I just figured that such painful experiences were a result of doing church wrong – not a result of doing church.  I felt that anyone who left church because of a negative experience was simply being disobedient to God.  And even when my compassion for their pain made me understanding of their abandonment of church, I never thought they were right to leave it.

As far as what constituted “doing church right,” I looked to those pastors who had more experience than me, to books, and to my own increasing bank of experience.  By 1992, after ten years as a pastor, I was desperate for a solution to the revolving door I had seen church become.  My fellow pastors generally had the same experience.  That is, a church would begin small, would grow, and then experience turnover.  Such churches might stay the same size over a several year period but the composition of the congregation would have changed.  This was also true even for the few churches that continued to grow into what would come to be called “mega-churches.”  That is, a turnover of attendees afflicted all churches.  In fact, an adage among mega-church pastors  is that “The ones you start with aren’t the ones you finish with.”  To grow a church from 100 to 1,000 made no sense to me if you only retained 10 of the first hundred, and would only retain, say, 400 of the first thousand when you grew to two thousand.  Some pastors derisively called it “church hopping,” but most of us knew that there was more to it than that.

Growing church by growing its size was only half the answer I was seeking.  The other half, which was just as important if not more important, was knowing how you grow each person in the congregation to become more like Christ.  What good was an increasing quantity of believers if there wasn’t an increasing quality of believers?

My Search for True Church Becomes More Intense

The years of failed hopes made me more determined than ever.  I searched the Scriptures for answers like never before.  I prayed like never before.  I studied like never before.  This went on for months.  I was determined to bring all my experience and knowledge to bear and finally discover how to grow the Lord’s people and “do church right.”  It was then that I began to see something I had never seen before.

First, I came to the point where I acknowledged that in all my study and experience I had never found a church that operated like the ones in the New Testament.  Never.  All churches – denominational and nondenominational – operated in some way significantly different from those 1st Century gatherings.  The government of the church was different, and the services were different.  For one thing, we didn’t have apostles to run things and that left the door open to bishops or elders or shepherds or overseers – and no one to oversee them.  Every church, it seemed, looked to some particular verse to justify their church government, but no church could claim to comply with all the verses.  Besides church government varying from what I saw in the New Testament, the services also varied.  Even the charismatic churches, of which mine was one, could not claim to operate exactly like what you read about in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  As with the government issue, we could say we were complying partially with the Scripture but we could not say we were wholly obedient.

After realizing that there was no church which could demonstrate that it fully matched the New Testament church in government or behavior, I came to my next realization: that there was not actually enough instruction in the New Testament to actually build and operate a church.  There was no blueprint.  This hit me very hard.  I knew that God had provided Noah a blueprint for the ark, Moses a blueprint for the tabernacle, and David a blueprint for the temple.  If there was not a blueprint for the church, I needed to acknowledge the importance of that fact…and its implications.

My World Turns Upside Down

While I could not find a blueprint for church structure in the New Testament I found a repeated exhortation to be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  You could almost say that every time I went to the Bible to find out about how to build church, the Bible spoke to me to preach Christ.  I had always thought that my call was to do both:  preach Christ and build His church.  But then I remembered that Christ said, “I will build My church.”  If He was going to build it, what was there for me to do?

My fellow pastors and I had periodically rested in the Lord’s promise to build His church when we were trying to grow our own, but this was a newfound respect for those words of the Lord that I had.  I came to see that His church was the new wineskin, while our churches were the old wineskins that could not hold the new wine (Matthew 9:17).  The natural human response to this is, of course, to say, “But, Lord, how will we keep the people?”  That’s when I began to remember God’s call to Pharaoh, “Let My people go!”  I began to see how all these years I had been seeking to hold on to the Lord’s people when I should have been letting them go to Him.  I thought I was building His house, but I was really seeking to build my own.  Each of us as pastor was trying to build his own house instead of the Lord’s.  There were many more such scriptures the Lord began opening up to me.

Equally important, all the Lord’s teaching about the kingdom of God began coming back to my mind.  No wonder the kingdom of God was His central theme.  It described the way we were to live for Him!  The kingdom of God was everywhere at all times.  Therefore, a person could live for Jesus all the time through the kingdom of God, whereas church could at most be a part-time experience.

I changed our name from “Westport Church” to “Westport Ministry.”  I changed my title from “pastor” to “minister.”  I told the people I would continue preaching Christ and teaching the kingdom of God but I would no longer try to contain them in a structure – whether physical or sociological.  There were steps along the way and I did not come to all this understanding instantly, but by 1993 the metamorphosis had become complete.  In the end there were only three families that continued supporting us, and we eventually told them to stop.  I had left the church by letting it leave me.  I released the Lord’s people to Him.  Though it spelled the end of ministry as I had known it, I have never regretted it.  I was being obedient to the understanding that the Lord had been kind enough to give me.

Related posts:

To My Pastor and Minister Friends

About (my background)

Faith Sanctifies; Churchgoing Doesn’t

I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point

(This challenge is for atheists, agnostics, and anyone else who believes that Jesus Christ is not who the Bible says He is.)

If you want to attack and defeat an enemy you look for the most efficient way to do so.  If it’s a country, you go after its capital because through victory over that one city you can control the entire nation.

The central focal point of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel, raised from the dead.  I could not have this faith were it not for the historical reliability of the New Testament.  That is, I take the New Testament documents at face value.  If it says “Matthew’s gospel” I believe it was written by Matthew.  If a letter reads as if it was written by Paul, I believe it was written by Paul.  On this basis, I read the New Testament and either accept it or reject it as a whole.

I don’t pick and choose which parts of the New Testament to trust and which to doubt because in order to do that I’d have to trust Bible scholars and they never unanimously agree.  They exist across a spectrum from liberal to conservative, and if you want to be choosy about what you believe, there is always a Bible scholar to be found who will support your view.  Reading the New Testament collection of documents as they present themselves, I find them logical and persuasive.  Having accepted the New Testament, I fully accept the Old Testament because the New Testament bears abundant witness that the Old Testament is the word of God.

To summarize the key point: in the New Testament I find a collection of testimonies from people who claim to be eyewitnesses that I can either accept or reject as a whole.  To reject parts of their testimony, I’d have to trust myself or a Bible scholar to know more about those points than the person who claims to be an eyewitness.

Let me spell out the sequence and development of my faith: 1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

Notice that regarding the New Testament as the word of God was not the way I began, but rather the way I ended.  I only began with “Here is a set of documents from antiquity which are presented to me as historically reliable; I will read them and see what they say.”  I found nothing in my reading of these 27 documents that was self-contradictory in any material way.  On the contrary, I found their cohesion and consistency – given the variety of authors as well as the variety of circumtances which gave rise to the various documents – to be stunning and awe-inspiring.

Nonetheless, if you were able to demonstrate to me that these documents were falsified in any material way – that is, written falsely or edited falsely – you could completely undermine my faith in Jesus, which is to say undermine my faith in God, the supernatural, life after death, and on and on.  Therefore, I invite you to challenge me at my most vulnerable point.  Herein is “the capital,” by which if you capture it, you will have won the whole country.

Apparently, there are a number of people who think that the New Testament documents were either completely fabricated or else are extensive embellishments of original documents which presented a different Jesus that we read about now.  If you are one of them, here’s your chance.  I’m inviting you to attack me at the most strategic point of my faith.

I will tell you at the outset that all I have heard so far along these lines have been preposterous propositions, so you had better present some reasonable explanation of how such a falsification was pulled off.  If you can do so, you would have solved the crime of the century…no, make that millennium…no, make that millennia since it’s been almost 2,000 years since this caper was supposedly pulled off.

Until then, we’ll call the theory that the New Testament documents aren’t the work of Jesus’ honest and faithful apostles, “The Great Hoax That Never Was.”

POSTSCRIPT:  Someone (Hendy) posted below that he didn’t completely understand the challenge and wanted me to clarify or elaborate.  I’ve done that below.

For an update on the project’s status as of January 11, 2011 see below.