For the Christian faith, the Authority of Scripture is a question which stands at the foundation for all knowledge and beliefs that are derived from it, hence its importance. One of the ideas most crucial to the faith, and self-proclaimed by the biblical text itself (1 Tim 3:16-17) is that Scripture claims to be authored by God himself. How does the faith rectify this idea of Scripture “breathed out” by God, yet authored in the literal sense by man?

If God can be said to be the author of the Scriptures, did God recruit the writers of the New Testament to be his secretaries, to inscribe into the world of man the things God himself spoke directly? I believe that this understanding of inspiration results in a far too narrow definition of the inerrancy of Scripture, as Rahner does.

By perceiving the Word of God as literally spoken, the diversity found in extant manuscripts from the end of the Apostolic Age until the 4th century when canon started to take shape creates a crisis. Any of the deviations we have found in these manuscripts, regardless of arguments about their intentionality, would represent changes to the “God-breathed” originals.

It also stands to reason that if God intended His literal words, directly relayed by the Holy Spirit, to be the standard for authority, He is certainly capable of communicating them in a way in which they would be immune to the infallibility of man and rightly convey such an unquestionable status.

I believe Hodge makes the strongest case for understanding the role and of both God and man and how they relate to authority found in the NT writings. By considering the influence of God on the formation of the Scriptures as the tandem effect of revelation, that is the communication of knowledge to man, and inspiration, which secures the infallibility of teaching set out by man, Hodge has given enough breathing room for man to play his part while still crediting God with His great work.

Man first needs God to reveal to him the things that are entirely beyond his rational understanding, such as the divine nature of Christ and the reason and the result of His sacrifice. Christ revealed many of these things to us himself, and they continued to be clarified and intertextually explained through other writers and inspired authors. Another consideration is that the explanation that we have of such complex and important issues as these is by measure merely adequate to relay these ideas to us in terms that we can comprehend. The ultimate effect of God’s revelation to man is that we are made to understand the things of God while still being so incapable of grasping them.

Secondly, as a whole the NT writers must be able to intertextually explain the ideas of God without confusing, obscuring, or contradicting other writings and writers. In tandem with revelation, God, through the agent of the Holy Spirit, inspired the NT writers such that their words are sufficient enough to explain their immediate purpose, be useful for posterity for the same purposes, and weave into and thereby complete the story of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament.

If Hodge rightly sets out the role and necessity of revelation and inspiration for the NT writers, what is left is the role of the human writers themselves. We have ample example of God’s use of man as an agency to bring about His will, both as leaders of His people, communicators for His people, and as oppressors of them. In the case of the NT writers, the human role was to take the revelation of God and, through the lens of inspiration, relay it in a way humanity would be able to live by it. I believe this moves beyond a mere technical aspect and towards responsibility as co-heirs to relay the great goodness, grace, and mercy of God. It was their great responsibility to give human words to the knowledge of God. This doesn’t make the Bible fallible; It makes the Bible beautiful.

The existence of the extra-canonical books is probably the first fact we learn when we begin to consider question on the canon. I know this was how it was for me, and like many my first step was learning of the existence of the Apocrypha. Of course, once you know of the existence of these mysterious books that the faith leaders around you never mentioned, you have two choices: ignore the elephant in the room or dive down the well that is what theologians know and suppose about the formation of the canon.

It’s potentially faith shaking for everyday Christians to learn about canon formation, but this is all the more reason to talk and reason about it in our churches. The internet has been the undoing of many obscure knowledge, and the church, facing the dilemma of shrinking numbers and crisis of belief in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word, should consider how to appropriately educate the membership. It’s increasingly evident that we can either choose to address these topics, or choose to let someone else educate our membership while giving up our influence on how facts are presented.

We know that the victors get to write the history, but a particularly interesting and/or frightening idea I came across in my reading was a position taken by the scholar Robert Wilken, in his book The Myth of Christian beginnings. Wilken supposed that the idea of the apostolic age was a creation of the “great church”, or orthodoxy. According to Aichele, there is extant manuscript evidence that the first century church was far more diverse than church history indicates. A fundamental tenant of the faith, and especially that of the Churches of Christ, is that first century Christianity was simple, relatively uniform due to apostolic influence and temporal proximity to Christ, unified against and because of oppression and persecution, and the foundations are laid out in the Bible itself.

A revelation to the tune of Wilken’s position would be far more faith shaking than simply learning about the human influence on the canon. However, I imagine that a theory such as Wilken’s would need a large amount of data and proof to overthrow the more mainstream teachings on the apostolic age. Then again, maybe I haven’t reached that depth of scholarship yet and the conversation is already well underway.

I feel that coming into this class I was confident that I was heavily interested in textual criticism, and seeing the text for what it is. Questioning the text’s authenticity or authority was not something I would have thought would be on the agenda, but I find myself intrigued, and if honest, a little worried. Ultimately though, I have to trust that God has entrusted me with the tools to receive his Word and effect change in my own life and sphere of influence.

Much of the contemporary Christian community knows little about the formation of the New Testament Canon and perhaps has little incentive to discover more about it. There is much more security in the idea that God has ensured His Word rests between the cover of the “good book” than in the history that suggests that the work of man was involved in its creation. The canon was heavily influenced by the early adoption of the codex as a literary technology and a way of using this technology to speak to the value of its contents.

Technologically, the invention of the codex was of great importance in the historical creation of the NT canon. While codices were used outside of Christian literary culture, the extant codices dated to the first four centuries are comprised of 70% Christian writings. (Hurtado, 56) The use of the codex by Christianity was not accidental; it served the purpose of binding together the multiple books it contained, physically and theologically. As these bound volumes were circulated, they inherently lent credit to each other, and by extension, discredited other writings of the same category. In the case of the Gospel accounts, the non-canonical Gospels of Peter or Thomas were never bound together with the canonical four. (Elliot, 107)

Writings that were left out of these collections suffered blows to their reputation and relative status, despite the fact that they were still read aloud and reference by patristic authors. It is notable that extant versions of these non-canonical writings appear more often in book roll form by percentage than their canonical siblings. It seems that early Christians had a preference to use the book roll for these types of texts. (Hurtado, 56)

Written texts hand copied and distributed afar bring their own dangers, and so a canon became necessary to legitimize a singular understanding of the faith. The canon’s creation also served to facilitate the transmission of what had largely been an oral tradition by providing an intertextual explanation to the reader. (Aichele, 51) As canon has the innate effect of legitimizing some views while delegitimizing others, it is no coincidence that the creation of the canon happened alongside the establishment of Christianity as the religion of Rome. As the formerly persecuted became powerful through Constantine, they found themselves capable of eliminating heterodox beliefs and structuring a foundation on which Christianity could stand. (Aichele, 56)

By the 4th century, the New Testament canon had been principally established, but the choices made before this time were unquestionably influential on the final product. The attributed author and the acceptance and proliferation within the broad Christian community are perceived to have been some of the most critical factors, but the use of the codex and the decisions concerning inclusions and exclusions of texts in these codices had pre-shaped that conversation.

To me, the most persuasive approach in regards to faith and reason begins with the fact that ancient humanity could perceive God through the created order (Rom 1:20). There is a natural reason, which Vatican 1 refers to, which comes to man through the ordinary aspects of life. This natural reason manifests itself as a cumulative collection of experiences and observations, as Newman observes. Without direct communication from God that his covenant people benefited from, God was perceived to these ancient peoples by his eternal power and divine nature in the creation around them. This method of discovery still exists today and is the most basic, foundational way in which we can begin to reason about God: the creation that surrounds us is evidence of his existence.

It’s no surprise to me that in all of our pursuit of the rational ordering of the world and the entire creation, and with our ever-increasing understanding of it, humans still cannot reasonably comprehend, explain, or order how the world came into being, much less even that it did so without a creator. If the pursuit of truth, as Polkinghorne says, seeks to attain the best explanation of complex phenomena to afford the basis for a rational commitment, there seems to be an undeserved amount of animus for the Christian explanation of the world.

Polkinghorne notes the apparent lack of consideration in the world that has been given to Christian belief as potentially reasonable, which he says is derived from the simple “knowing” that there can be no truth in faith since it defies everyday secular expectation. Pope Francis also references a more contemporary example of a similar observation in the modern obsession with technological truth. One of the costs of our tremendous progress in science and technology is the expectation that truth takes the form of knowable certainty, and is evidenced by the collective agreement on said truth. This ultimately puts theology at odds with culture, since theology studies and seeks a universal truth that comes from beyond man.

However, if we can naturally recognize our world as the work of a creator God from the natural evidence around us and lack of more reasonable explanation, we can reasonably know that He is more powerful than his creation and is the author of all things. Having created all things including humanity and its faculties, including reason and logic, it follows that faith cannot be in opposition to reason as both are from God.

In the course of rectifying this natural reason with the rational evidence we can find in the world around us, we do encounter tension where these two forces seem to be opposed. Humanity has proven itself quite susceptible to misunderstandings, both in issues of faith and reason. Vatican 1’s opinion is that perceived tensions between faith and reason are the result of these misunderstandings of human nature, whether the error is in the interpretation of the church’s dogma or man’s discovered truths.

By structuring the interaction when faith and reason find tension as a place where both can be examined, we give theologians proper latitude in navigating the mysteries we seek to understand but cannot prove, and can ultimately help to clarify church teaching or correct bad rationality. To that end, we should welcome reasonable inquiry and exploration of faith while still recognizing the limits that prevent faith from being probed and tested in the same ways as empirically driven subjects.

If theologians are to treat biblical text as faithful, we work from the knowledge that man was intentionally made, considered to be very good, and so we can deduce that his ability to reason is from God. The natural order of creation is our first and most primitive evidence of the reasonableness of faith. Pursuing faith through rational inquiry stands to benefit the faithful and also those who are seeking a deeper understanding worth a rational commitment.

In our local congregation, we’re about to change the format and order of our worship. Our Shepards are implementing this change for precise reasons and with a comprehensive range of intended effects. I am incredibly hopeful that we can accomplish the intended purposes, and I am incredibly proud of the willingness of the Shepards to lead and the congregation to follow.

Specifically, we are implementing three significant changes; Our Sunday morning worship will begin with a shorter “time of focus,” our regular corporate worship on Sunday mornings is being modified to add emphasis to individual pieces, and our church is embracing regularly scheduled fellowship and in-home bible study. These very deliberately choices have been calculated and directed at enriching the flock’s spiritual health. With a little bit of buy-in, I’m confident in the outcomes.

In this first article, I am addressing the new way in which we will start our Sunday morning worship, the Time of Focus.

“Time of Focus”

The Time of Focus is a short, devotional-type mini-service. The ambiguity of the name is a hurdle no doubt (what will potential visitors think is going on?), but the purpose and value of the change are exciting.

For about 15-20 minutes, the entire church will gather in the auditorium to sing, pray, and read scripture before we begin our Bible classes. Well, that sounds like more of the same, you say? You’re not wrong, but the intention is to provide a slope or buffer between the ever-pressing thoughts of the world and our commitment to spending time in study and worship.

This short gathering will be organized by a church leader every week, and that person has a fair bit of freedom to execute their vision, including the format, theme, participants, and participation from those present. One week might be very kid-focused with children seated front-and-center. The next week might focus on praise and adoration through song.

Another advantage of this change is that things that are not customarily done in corporate worship can be integrated. High school age kids leading songs and prayers, young children participating, and even just a heartfelt, thoughtful reading of a few Psalms are all inside the scope of possibilities, and beneficial.

In those first twenty minutes of gathering, we all will have partaken in a moment of connection with the God we came to worship, as well as a moment of contact with our brothers and sisters. The value of these minutes, if embraced with an open mind and heart, has the potential to change the texture of our worship. We are seeking change in the texture of the hearts of the flock, a softening of hearts and soaking in of more of God’s love.

Logistically, the main obstacle will be that our Sunday mornings will begin 30 minutes earlier. A new start of worship is no small challenge for many people, but the change is coming about as we simultaneously are removing the Sunday night service, which is transitioning to fellowship and small groups. (Which we’ll discuss in subsequent articles.)

I am glad that we have adopted it on its face value, but I also believe that it will help the Shepards identify the sheep who may be spiritually struggling. Too many of our past years of worship were missing the opportunity to recognize that a congregant may need spiritual encouragement. While there was some manner of encouragement towards attendance, people in pews is not the last measure of a healthy local church.

Although I am proud of the bold direction that the Shepards are taking in this regard, I am prouder still of the willingness of the local body to adhere to change. It is fair to consider that many may have approached this with a wait-and-see attitude or other mild forms of skepticism. Overall, however, I genuinely believe that the members are ready to get on board for positive change.

Next, we’ll discuss the changes to our corporate worship services, the reasonings for their implementation and what outcomes I hope to see.

At some point during the mid-20th century, the Churches of Christ were incredibly busy packing every piece of the doctrine into a package labeled “Things Required for Salvation.” I am unsure about the cultural forces that drove a segment of the Restoration Movement in this direction, but the concept has not aged very well into the 21st century. It has left, in my opinion, the Churches of Christ in a position that is increasingly hard to stomach for the Christians who are now ascending to leadership roles.

Growing up as a Church of Christ kid in the 1990s, I was peppered continuously by the questions from other kids that rooted from these decisions made decades ago. “Do you think that you’re the only ones going to heaven?” was by far the most prevalent, but I still fielded many others on the use of a piano, why we had no fellowship hall or gym, etc.

Some of these positions are sound in theology but get entirely crossways in the messaging we use to defend them. This confusion most often appears when we speak about the theological position from the point of what not to do. Many of these positions are much easier to illustrate when we use language and descriptors for how we arrive at what we can do.

A great example of this would be the common points made about musical instrumentation during church worship. The de facto standard is to fall back to Ephesians 5:19 as evidence of the absence of instruments, and thus continue the train of thought that suggests that we then rightly deduce that they cannot be used.

Whether it is theologically sound or not to use instruments in worship, there is undoubtedly no arguments being made in modern day Christianity that the lack of instruments is displeasing to God. Reframing our objections to a particular principal into affirmative statements as to our own choices keeps us from putting into the salvation box things that ought not to be there.

For this example, we can better communicate our theological position by merely stating that the elders of our autonomous congregation have decided to sing a cappella. There is no ground to stand on to refute this position, and we can start to focus on essentials instead of necessarily defending our view because of our messaging.

Even worse in my eyes are the divisions between our brothers and sisters within the Restoration Movement. The division over supporting para-church organizations like colleges and orphanages could have only come to be by requiring the decisions of every autonomous congregation to be forced in the “Things Required for Salvation” box.

For a movement that began with a call for unity in essentials and liberty elsewhere, it is quite a fall to divide over things we should be embracing freedom concerning. After all, the eldership at every autonomous congregation will have to answer for the decisions that they made for their flock, whether good or bad. If you are not of that flock, or even more specifically of that eldership, you have little to be concerned about for yourself.

Support of para-church organizations is again an example of a problem that is able to be reframed by changing our messaging. We don’t even have to change our principles or convictions on either side of the theological discussion.

By merely stating that the autonomy of congregations allows the freedom to separately choose whether we will support para-church organizations, instead of convicting each other over the legality of such, we can move past yet another instance where liberty should reign and move back to agree on essentials.

The continued need to stand and divide on these less defensible positions leaves our church in a less capable place to fulfill the mission that is given to us by Christ. If we instead want to focus more on work that produces results, we should file these disagreements under the column of liberty in non-essentials and collectively unite to reach out to the many lost souls around us every day.

Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm. Not only is it the longest Psalm (176 verses!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture. Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word.

David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word:  commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc.  These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch).

Thus, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture.  It is the Word about the Word.