The absurdity of dividing God’s word from God’s work

The integrity of God’s word has always been under assault, from “hath God really said” until now. For this reason, Jonathan Akin highlights two recent instances in which well-known Christians have made statements that cast doubt on that integrity. He writes:

First, Andy Stanley tweeted a link to an article where a young lady who has renounced Christianity talks about how much she misses being a Born-Again Christian. Along with the link, Stanley tweeted, “Why we must teach the next generation the FOUNDATION of our faith is an EVENT not a BOOK.”

Second, Christian singer Gungor is drifting from biblical orthodoxy. He doesn’t believe the early accounts in Genesis are historical, or that there was an Adam or an Eve or a global flood. Ken Ham pointed out that Jesus referenced Adam and Noah as historical people, to which Gungor replied that even if Jesus was wrong about the historicity of Adam and Noah that wouldn’t deny the divinity of Christ. Ken Ham responded again, and then he gives a screenshot of a Facebook comment where Gungor writes, “There is a trend in modern society, no more than a trend…a religion, an idolatry that elevates Scripture above Jesus.”

The long and the short of it is this. Here we have a pastor and a musician—both of whom are associated with evangelicalism—who drive a wedge between what God does and what God says. In Stanley’s case, the wedge may be more rhetorical than substantive. The converse seems to be the case with Gungor. Still, there are a number of problems with both of these, and I can hardly improve upon the critique that Akin offers. I encourage you to read it. For my part, I would add one analogy to illustrate the absurdity of separating God’s word from God’s work.

I love my wife very much. Suppose I come to her and tell her, “Sweetie, I love you. I am completely devoted to you and to serving you for as long as we both shall live.” As a happy smile spreads across her face, she opens her mouth to speak. But before she can say anything, I put my hand over her mouth and say, “Don’t speak. It’s you that I love and you that I want to serve. I’m not really interested in hearing any of your words. I just want to love and serve you.” Will this kind of love and service to my wife be acceptable to her? The kind that seeks to drive a wedge between her as a person and her words? Of course not. I cannot love my wife if I am indifferent or cavalier about what she says to me. If I would love her, I must love her words.

Suppose I am drafted into military service, carried away to a foreign field, and separated from my wife for two years. Our only contact with each other is the letters we write. She loves me dearly and faithfully writes me each day that I’m gone. When we are finally reunited, she discovers that all her hundreds of love letters to me remain unopened. I received every one but didn’t take the time to read any of them. She looks at me in dismay and asks why I never read any of them. I reply, “Because I wanted to cherish you in my memory. I really didn’t want my mind’s eye sullied by all your letters.” Will she feel loved by me when she finds out that I have chosen to focus on her and not on her words? Of course not. We all know the answer to that question because it is absurd to drive a wedge between my wife and her words. If I would love her faithfully, I would love her words as the necessary pathway to knowing her.

Theological liberals have for many years sought to drive a wedge between God’s word and His person and work—as if we can be devoted to the one without the other. But this is an absurdity, unless of course one does not regard scripture as the very word of God. If scripture is not God’s word, then a wedge makes sense. If it is God’s word, a wedge makes no sense at all. And it serves no one to say that “the FOUNDATION of our faith is an EVENT not a BOOK.”

For this reason, it is not “idolatry” when we set our love and devotion on God’s word. We ought to regard God’s word the same way the Psalmist does, who on Gungor’s standard might be accused of idolatry. The Psalmist writes:

Oh how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day. -Ps. 119:97

How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! -Ps. 119:103

I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
For they are the joy of my heart. -Ps. 119:111

I hate those who are double-minded,
But I love Your law. -Ps. 119:113

My eyes fail with longing for Your salvation,
And for Your righteous word. -Ps. 119:123

Therefore I love Your commandments
Above gold, yes, above fine gold. -Ps. 119:127

My eyes shed streams of water,
Because they do not keep Thy law. -Ps. 119:136

Your word is very pure,
Therefore Your servant loves it. -Ps.119:140

These are not the expressions of an idolater. They are the exultation of a Spirit-inspired worshipper of the true and living God. They are the words of someone who views God’s written word as the foundation of his faith. Indeed, the Psalmist’s love for God’s work is revealed in the Psalmist’s love for God’s word. There is no “wedge” between the two. Beware of those who suggest that there is.

26 Responses to The absurdity of dividing God’s word from God’s work

  1. Scott McCauley September 4, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    When I read “the FOUNDATION of our faith is an EVENT not a BOOK”, I hear “the foundation of our faith is not just a book, but an event that really happened in history and is recorded in a book.” I hear it as a refutation to those who think of the Bible as fiction. It seems to be thinking the worst of Andy Stanley to presume he means to diminish God’s word instead of validating God’s word as recording ACTUAL history (events).

    • Denny Burk September 4, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

      Scott, you may be right about what he believes. Perhaps he would affirm inerrancy. My point is that this kind of rhetoric can be misleading if he holds to inerrancy.

      • buddyglass September 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

        What he says is true, though. We are devoted to a living God; not to the Bible per se. As the revealed word of God there is no conflict between the two, but there were followers of God before there was a Bible.

    • Joe Wisnieski September 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

      I think your interpretation of Stanley’s words is pretty generous. Remember, his tweet was in response to an article from a young lady who no longer identifies as a Christian. At the center of her doubt was the Bible itself, as she wrote in part:

      “More and more, I realized that the Bible was a flawed, messy, deeply human book — and that in treating it as an unimpeachable guidebook for life in the 21st century, many conservative Christians were basing their entire worldviews on a text that, in my opinion, wasn’t that much different from any other historical collection of letters and stories.”

      Furthermore, for Stanley to refer to the Bible as “a BOOK” is highly dismissive rhetoric.

  2. Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski) September 4, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I’ve heard Andy expound on his sentiment in several sermons and don’t believe you’ve fairly expressed his position. It’s easy for Christians to use “the Bible says” in various ways. Andy’s argument is that the foundation of the Christian faith is the resurrection – which seems to be central in Pauline theology as well. One of the reasons we believe the Bible is because Jesus believed the Bible.

  3. Edward Gross September 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Michael and Scott, you’re missing the point. There IS no separation between God’s Word and Jesus because Jesus IS the Word made flesh. “God was the Word” is the way Tyndale translated John 1:1c, and accurately. It isn’t just that “Jesus believed the Bible”, Jesus is the Word. The faith we have is the biblical faith; we would never know anything about Jesus or His cross and resurrection without it. The statements by Gungor and Stanley are upside-down; they presume to know a Christ apart from the book, when the only way we know Him is the revelation He both is and gave.

    • scottmccauley64 September 4, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Edward, the apostles spread the good news of what they had witnessed – Christ’s resurrection. People heard, believed and were saved before the New Testament was written. The events were real. Emphasizing the reality of the central event of the Gospel does nothing to diminish the importance of God’s special revelation to us about that event. On the contrary, it highlights its significance for our eternal souls. God’s word is our means of knowing God. For that reason, we love His word because it draws us closer to Him. We read in God’s word that God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (the event).

    • Chris Ryan September 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      This really dodges the question though. John 1:1 is true enough, but to Buddy’s point there were thousands of Christians saved before the Gospels were written, and millions of Christians saved before the Bible was written. And which Bible are we referring to anyways? Pre-Guttenberg, post-Guttenberg, post-King James.

      The other thing is that the Bible is not a history or science book–in no way shape or form. Whole epochs of history are left out of it–the Ice Age, Neanderthals, etc–I presume intentionally.

  4. Paula September 4, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    I had somewhat of a tussle of a conversation with a pastor last year and he looked at me so strangely and asked, “Do you worship the Bible?” I was floored and have thought about that question for the longest time. Your article goes a long way to helping me put into words what I wish I’d been able to say at the time. I love God’s word because I love God. Simple and yet so many miss it.

  5. James Giordano September 5, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    I can have my Bible in front of me and read it and savor it and love it. I completely agree that it is the eternal, inerrant, and God breathed (inspired) word of God. But I dare say that seeing Christ face-to-face will far exceed the Bible that is not Him but testifies of Him who saved me. The Bible is not Christ. Christ is the embodiment of the Truth and Authority of God Almighty. It is in that sense that I understand John 1:1. God’s Word is Truth and Authority and is eternal. The Bible contains a perfect record of that but the Bible did not die on the cross for me nor was it raised from the dead nor did the prophets prophecy of it in the way that they prophesied about our Lord and Savior.

  6. Michael Snow September 5, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Agreed. But when will we evangelicals recognize that Ken Ham ALSO drives a wedge by making the Bilble say what it does not? He putts stumbling blocks on the Narrow Way. We let a high school science teacher disparage otrhtodox expositors of God’s word.

  7. brendt September 5, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Stanley has repeatedly stated, at length, what he believes regarding this topic. To “discern” what he “really” means in an 89-character tweet, completely contradicting much fuller statements — now THAT’S absurd.

    • Ethan Smith (@EthanASmith) September 5, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

      Brendt, you are probably right, but then again Stanley probably shouldn’t be submitting 89-character tweets that cause confusion like this. Or he could at least link to a sermon or fuller explanation. His tweet as it stands sounds like a false dichotomy.

      • buddyglass September 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

        I don’t see the dichotomy as a false one. The foundation of our faith is either an event or a book. Or something else entirely, I suppose, such as perhaps “a person”. As believers 2000 years removed from the events of the New Testament the nature and practice of our faith is primarily informed by the Bible, but it is not founded on the Bible. There’s a difference.

  8. Luke Johnson September 5, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Hi Denny,

    What do you make of C.S. Lewis’ take on an incarnational Bible, He seems to have viewed the old testament similarly to Gungor (I don’t know anything about Gungor than whit I’ve read in your post).

    Would you classify Lewis as a theological liberal? I’m asking that earnestly. I’m just trying to understand the spectrum. Thanks.

  9. Don Johnson September 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    God’s word and God’s work(s) are the 2 ways we can learn about God, but both need to be interpreted. I agree with Kitchen’s “On the Reliability of the OT” where he starts with the most recent events and goes backwards, giving historical evidence for things found in the Bible when they are available. By the time he gets to the Patriarchs (Abraham, etc.) he is reduced to plausibility arguments in that there is nothing stated in the stories that forbids them from being based on what happened.

    The basic challenge then is what to do with the stories in Gen 1-11:26? Faithful believers can come up with different answers here, just like they can come up with different answers when discussing the future. Believers can come to different understandings on the genre of the relevant texts, let alone the amount of poetic language and the meaning of various words from the range of meanings. My take is the hill to die on in terms of one’s faith is Christ crucified and resurrected and not to add to that.

  10. dawnweaver September 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I love the analogy: “Don’t speak. It’s you that I love and you that I want to serve. I’m not really interested in hearing any of your words. I just want to love and serve you.” Thank you for your clear thinking on this critical theme, and for giving us this analogy to pass on as need arises!

  11. John Lujan (@jlujan69) September 6, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    Psalm 138:2—2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

  12. Robert Nash September 7, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    Bob Nash
    The first thing that comes to mind is Deuteronomy 8:3, which states that man cannot live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of The Lord.
    Additionally, of all created creatures, man is the only one made in God’s image and made to verbalize with God and other people.


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