N.T. Wright & Sarah Bessey 🔥

Great books came out in the past couple of months.

Hi friends!

I’m excited to share with you about two great books that came out in recent months. First, I’ll talk about Sarah Bessey’s Miracles and Other Reasonable Things. My interview with her can be found here:

Podcast Episode

I won’t take up too much space here. However, let me say that Sarah’s latest book moved me deeply. She steps into her own darkness and pain in a poetic way.

When I interviewed her, I had only made it through the first bit of this book. As a result, my questions are broad. However, the next day I had a drive to make from Seattle to Canada. During that commute, I finished my other friend’s, Cara Meredith, audio book about her journey of falling in love with the son of a civil rights icon. (More to come on this in an upcoming podcast as it is also powerful stuff!). Then, I started Sarah’s book. Listening to it brought me to tears more than once. I was truly touched by the Spirit on this trip.

I was unprepared for how powerful this short book would truly be. If time permits, I may take it up a second time. In this book, I was reminded of the provocative message of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the tender love of our Heavenly Parent. I would rank it in the top few books—when it comes to its impact—that I’ve read in recent years!

Second, N.T. Wright has two recent books added to his massive catalogue: History and Eschatology and The New Testament in Its World. Here is where I chat with him about these two projects and his ongoing work for Jesus:

Podcast Interview

The first of these is based on the Gifford Lectures from 2018, but features about 50% new content that prof Wright added to it. The second, The New Testament in Its World, is a larger volume aimed at students. It brings together all of his major works in an accessible textbook which was co-authored by Michael Bird (who did most of the compiling as well as some writing in areas that prof Wright has not focused on as much).

As many of you likely know, I’m someone who follows N.T. Wright's work with great interest. This book stands as a middle ground resource. Those who have only been exposed to his 'popular level' books (Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, Paul: A Biography, Simply Jesus, etc.) will find this book as an excellent bridge into his scholarship. You will get summaries and fresh content based on books like Paul and the Faithfulness of God and Jesus and the Victory of God.

Also, some will likely think that this book is *only* a distilled version of his other work. But two other points could be made.

  • First, prof. Wright told me that he rewrote the section on Romans because he has evolved in various areas.

  • Second, several areas have been augmented by the good work of Michael Bird, especially areas dealing with theology and the general epistles.

I hope this offers a helpful perspective on this resource. I highly recommend this book if you want to take your understanding of the New Testament and the world that produced it to a deeper level and you want to take a next step in engaging the scholarship of NT Wright.

Well, friends, I hope you will check out both of these podcast interviews and will find both resources helpful as you seek to follow Jesus in intelligent and humanizing ways.

Peace my friends!

Kurt Willems

The Bible #4: 'Til Death

A series of emails and podcasts about reading the Bible well.

This is a long series on the Bible. Here are all the previous parts, that you really need to check out in order if possible to get the full picture of what I’ve suggested about the Bible thus far.

Please Note: There is a podcast version of this series available as well.

Get Podcast Version

The Bible is central to the Christian faith but it is not the center. The center is occupied by the Trinitarian God whom Jesus reveals.

Jesus revealed that the true heart of God is immeasurable love for humankind and the whole cosmos. We will look more at that in future parts of the series with greater detail, but by now I’ve more than betrayed my bias. The Bible doesn’t belong as the Point of our faith or the Center of it.

We are part of a Movement called Christianity and the Bible tells the story of how it all got started. We are people of the Movement of Jesus, with and for Jesus; not people of the Book alone.

By the latter part of the first century, a few decades after the Jesus Event, a gospel attributed to Luke came into being. Just like Paul and John, who we looked at before, Luke hands down an account of the Jesus Event:

Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. 3 Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. 4 I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.

Luke 1.1-4 (CEB)

Luke’s main point of emphasis as he gets started is that he aims to write down something that happened. Events were fulfilled among his contemporaries which needed accounting for so that new followers of Jesus would understand the Movement they had joined.

Luke claims to have access to “original eyewitnesses” who “handed down” the stories that make up what we have called the Jesus Event. He’s not simply going from his own memory but openly relies on the words and witness of other people.

Luke’s gospel was no solo project.

Luke’s gospel also didn’t come down from heaven on a golden tablet of perfection.

This gospel was part of an unearthing process for the writer. He likely drew from other gospel traditions such as Matthew and Mark. He likely had access to first hand witnesses who also gave him insights not reflected in other gospel stories about Jesus.

But here’s an important point to make: Luke tells the Jesus Event story so that those who come after him (even Theophilus [perhaps a patron?]) will be able to trust that the movement they have joined is rooted in reality.

This isn’t an “ordered account” so that we can get on with systematic theology debates. This is an “ordered account” that brings about “confidence in the soundness of the instruction” that has been received.

This instruction has to do with what it means to follow Jesus as a member of his movement. Luke often emphasizes the outcasts of society and the calling of disciples to be Jesus’ hands and feet of generosity, mercy, and justice. It’s like Luke is setting his patron up: Theophilus, you’ve done well by worldly financial standards. Make sure you hold on to that loosely. Following Jesus means opening up your hands a bit.

A Compelling Movement

The story Luke tells about loving enemies, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, offering piety through prayer, and so on combine to give us a picture of why the Jesus Event kept on propelling the Jesus Movement.

The Jesus Movement was different. Love was at the center of their communal life because Jesus himself was the center of their devotion. Although conflict and compromise existed in the earliest generations of faith, so did miraculous and merciful things that the Roman Empire could never offer it citizens and slaves.

The movement was compelling, even ‘til death.

Something happened that was so compelling that it divided the world for the next 300 years.

Two Reactions to the Jesus Event

Perhaps you remember earlier in this series where we looked at 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul gives his own “ordered account” of the Jesus Event. Not only does he emphasize the story and witnesses of the event, but he keeps his rising spiritual authority in check by remembering the past.

Paul states that he doesn’t “even deserve to be called an apostle because, I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 1.9). His life shows two of the major reactions to the Jesus Event and subsequent Movement (that gave rise to the New Testament documents and eventually led to the formation of the completed Bible).

  • Reaction #1: this event that happened was so compelling that it is worth dying for.

  • Reaction #2: this so-called event that some say happened was so destructive that it must be stopped.

None of this led the earliest followers of Jesus to stop and say: Wow, we should really get together and make sure we have our Bible all put together in a coherent way. Nope: it led them to suffering and death. It led them to follow Jesus when it was hard.

They didn’t first and foremost follow a book. They followed a person and the teachings that had been handed down as a result of the Jesus Event.

No Jesus Event—no resurrection—then no movement and eventual Bible. It is Jesus that was, from the beginning, the sole reason people gave their lives to keep the Movement going.

So, then, when did the Bible finally come together?

The Basic Flow of Events

To move us forward, here’s a reminder of the basic flow of events:

  • Jesus Event: his life, teachings, death, resurrection (the most important from an ‘event’ perspective), appearances, ascension, and future return.

  • Jesus Movement: the ongoing gathering of communities committed to worshiping the Triune God and living in the power of God’s Spirit to represent God’s Kingdom (or party, or other image for God’s values coming to bear among us)

  • New Testament Documents (or, as I said previously, “Jesus Documents”): various documents that are recognized as being Holy Scripture, although not systematically organized throughout all the churches.

  • Compiled Bible: This is finally put together in the fourth century, in continuity with what the churches throughout the known world already affirmed about a particular set of 27 documents (along with the Hebrew Scriptures).

Keeping that flow in mind, let’s go back to the Apostle Paul. He gives us an example of the two reactions to the Jesus Event that become significant for the next 300 years.

Of course there are more, but these two will do for now: either you believe the Jesus Event and give yourself to the Jesus Movement or you don’t. The worst of those who didn’t believe were glad to kill Christians for a variety of reasons since it was an unsanctioned religion according to Roman law.

And kill they did. Here are some “highlights” from those 300 years:

  • 64 CE: Several Christians in city of Rome killed by Nero after the fire

  • 66-70: First Jewish revolt in Judea; Jerusalem destroyed. Many Jewish followers of Jesus forced to flee and end up in places like Asia Minor.

  • 95: Executions under Domitian (but not directed only, or perhaps not at all, against Christians)

  • Date?: Killing of the “witness” (martys) Antipas of Pergamum (Rev 2:13)

  • 112: Execution of some Christians in Amastris, Bithynia by the governor, Pliny the Younger

  • Exact date?: Ignatius of Antioch taken to Rome and executed

  • 132-135: Bar Kokhba Revolt

  • ca. 150: Execution of teacher Ptolemaeus and of Lucius in Rome (reported by Justin Martyr)

  • ca. 156-57?: Polycarp and 11 others executed in Smyrna

  • ca. 162-68: Justin and 6 others executed in Rome; Killing of Carpus, Papylas and Agathonice (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.15.48; and Acta); Bishop Publius in Athens is killed (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.23.3); Killing of Sagaris in Laodicea (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 4.26.3)

  • ca. 177: Executions of almost 50 Christians in Gaul (Lyons and Vienne)

  • ca. 180: Executions of 12 Christians from Scilli (Acts of Scillitan Martyrs)

  • ca. 180-185: Beheading in Rome of Christian philosopher Apollonius (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 5.21 and Acta)

  • 202-206: Around this time there were arrests and deaths of Christians in Carthage (Perpetua, Felicitas and others in 203), Rome, Corinth , and Alexandria (father of Origen, Leonides and several others)

  • 206 – 235: Relatively few major incidents against Christians

  • ca. 236: Political oppression under the emperor Maximinus I

  • 238 – 249: A Decade of Relative peace under the next two emperors

We haven’t even made it to 250 CE yet and look how long this list is already!

Here’s the big idea: Christianity spread, even under persecution, without a compiled Bible.

Something happened that was so compelling that over and again, Christ-followers were willing to suffer and even die rather than forsake the Jesus they had come to know and follow.

The Bible, although it is wonderful, isn’t the primary motivation for this sort of faith commitment.

Very few people will die for a book alone, but many people are willing to lay it all down for a Movement.

For these early, and many modern Christians throughout the world, when they joined the Jesus Movement they were saying: ‘til death.

The Bible #3: Not a Book Club

A series of emails and podcasts about reading the Bible well.

This is a long series on the Bible. Here are all the previous parts, that you really need to check out in order if possible to get the full picture of what I’ve suggested about the Bible thus far.

Please Note: There is a podcast version of this series available as well.

Get Podcast Version

The Bible is not the foundation of our faith. It is not why Christianity exists.

There, I said it. There’s more to the story, but we need to keep this clear.

So often we confuse our sacred book as the sacred center of our faith.

It’s not. Not even close.

I have little desire to degrade Holy Scripture. I believe the Bible is holy, set apart for an important purpose. But decentering the Bible is certainly something I’m passionate about.

Here’s what I’m not saying:

  • I’m not saying that the Bible isn’t inspired by God’s Spirit.

  • I’m not saying that the Bible isn’t our ultimate guide for how we practice our faith as followers of Jesus.

  • I’m not saying that the Bible isn’t trustworthy.

  • I’m not saying that the Bible shouldn’t be at the center of our teaching content within the church.

  • I’m not saying that the earliest generations of Christians had no interest in studying the New Testament documents that they had access to, of course they did.

  • I’m not saying that the Bible isn’t transformational for the lives of individual people who read it. It’s transformational in my own life with God.

  • I’m not saying that the core beliefs we hold, which the Bible gives witness to, are relative or need updating (I affirm every bullet point of the Apostles’ Creed, including the bodily resurrection of Jesus).

I’m saying that the Bible is not the point but does its job best when it points to the Point. Jesus is the Point. Jesus walked out of a grave in a resurrected body and launched new creation into the world. The Bible could never accomplish such feat.

The Bible tells the story of the Jesus Event but is not the Event itself.

The faith that came to be known as Christianity is not a book club; it is a Jesus Movement. The Jesus Documents come as a response to the Jesus Movement which is the response to the Jesus Event.

Don’t Join a Book Club. Join a Movement.

Why the Bible? Something compelling happened.

Early on, writers like Paul, Peter, John, the other John, Jude, James, the Gospel writers and the author of Acts, and the author of Hebrews added their voices to a series of first century documents that had a basic purpose: to give witness to the Jesus Event.

They wanted to document what had happened among them so that others who would come after them would understand the origins and the nature of the Jesus Movement that they were joining.

Each New Testament document is written for the sake of the Jesus followers who joining the Jesus Movement in the first generation, or for those who would join shortly after the witnesses to the Jesus Event had all passed on. (Sure, some nuances could be noted, but the gist of this idea is what is important for our purposes.)

What has happened in recent generations, however, is that we’ve tried to make the book itself the compelling part.

Read this book. It will change your life.

But it was quite a different emphasis during the first century.

Join our Movement with Jesus. It will change your life.
(And since you will need guidance, here are some written accounts of why we live the way we do.)

Think about this: until the printing press made the Bible readily available, the average Christian didn’t have access to a personal copy. There weren’t Wednesday night Bible Studies at Jacob’s house (don’t forget to RSVP to our Sign-Up Genius for the potluck!).

Personal devotions were prayer practices, not book studies.

Sitting in a circle and talking about the current chapter and verse of the current book in your ongoing book-by-book study of the whole Bible was simply not a thing people did.

I’m beyond grateful for the fact that I own a dozen different Bibles now (which I likely could stand to read and pray through more often).

Book clubs are great, especially ones that invite us to engage with Scripture in theological and practical ways.

But this is not why the church exists. The church exists as representatives of God’s renewal of heaven and earth which we anticipate in every act of love, mercy, truth, and justice. The church is a Movement on a mission, not a book club. The Bible exists to propel us into a life with Jesus and a sharing in his mission in the world.

Decentering the Bible

So what do we do with the New Testament and its role in our lives? Yes, decenter it.

We need to rid ourselves of a subtle idolatry that can take place when we center Scripture. At the center is Jesus because he is the full revelation of who God is and Jesus is the one who sends the Spirit.

Sometimes I wonder, as the old matra suggests, why some of our churches don’t pray in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Bible. Why not make it explicit? The truth is, we all know why: the Bible is not the center even when we treat it as though it is.

The Bible is central to understanding our Movement with Jesus, but it is not the Movement itself.

The Bible is a product of the Jesus Movement.

As a reminder from a the previous part of this series: The order of events matters. In short:

Jesus Event —> Jesus Movement —> Jesus Documents —> Bible

In the New Testament, we get some helpful cues to the purpose of the 27 documents that we consider Christian Scripture. One of my favorite places is the prologue to 1 John:

We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. 2 The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3 What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

1 John 1-3 (CEB)

Notice the senses that John invites us to experience with him. He—and his community of disciples (along with the other witnesses to the Jesus Event)—announces something that was revealed to him directly.

John heard, saw, and engaged tangibly with something compelling that happened.

This Event led to the formation of communities that used the word “fellowship” to describe their relatedness to one another. This fellowship was ultimately defined by a shared union with God, the God who disrupted human history with the launching of a resurrection movement.

So, John, in a community where he knows that he won’t be around forever, writes down important aspects of the Jesus Event as it pertains to this pocket of the Jesus Movement receiving his document. For John, this and the next generation matters.

For John, Jesus matters. The definitive center of the “fellowship” of those in the community was not the completed Bible, but the shared “fellowship” they experienced connected to the source of their common existence: God as revealed by Father and Son.

John shows us that the source of our “fellowship” as Christians is the God revealed by Jesus. Knowing Messiah Jesus and stepping into his Movement of new creation is the reason we organize our lives together.

Jesus gave early Messiah-following Jews a new lens to read their holy texts in light of the Events that took place in the first century.

Just as the Hebrew Bible helped them to know what it meant to put God at the center (through Torah obedience, etc.), so also the documents that would emerge as a byproduct of their Movement (New Testament) would bear witness to the Jesus Event.

Thus, the Jesus Documents offered a wonderful resource—with Hebrew Scripture—to discern together what it meant to keep Jesus himself at the center of their “fellowship” together as their Movement added new members to their fold.

The New Testament tells us about the story of what happened 2,000 years ago. The Jesus Event was and remains utterly compelling.

Reading the Bible in study settings is a great thing, in light of that thing that happened. It is one of many wise and necessary responses to Jesus.

So, go join a bookclub centered on the Bible. But don’t call that church. Don’t call that the main thing. It is a thing that supports and augments the main thing: acknowledging Jesus at the center and joining his Movement.

May our book clubs augment our Movement but may they never become the definitive center.

Besides, if we learn anything from the trajectory of the Jesus Movement in the early centuries it’s this: the Jesus Event, carried forward by the Jesus Movement, is worth suffering and possibly even dying for.

Even the holiest of books isn’t worthy of that kind of allegiance on its own.

The Bible #2: Why the Bible?

A series of emails and podcasts about reading the Bible well.

This is a long series on the Bible. Here are all the previous parts, that you really need to check out in order if possible to get the full picture of what I’ve suggested about the Bible thus far.

Please Note: There is a podcast version of this series available as well.

Get Podcast Version

Part two of our series on the Bible needs to begin with a core motivation of mine: I’m not trying to deconstruct or degrade the Bible in any way. I love the Scriptures (and the way they point us to Jesus) too much for that!

So, I invite you not to look at one part of this series as though it represents the whole, there is too much to build to put down in one reflection. See totality of this series as the ‘whole argument’ or reflection, if that makes sense.

The hope is to carve out a path forward for honoring the Scriptures as our witness to the teachings of the Apostles which preserved the teachings and overall Event of Jesus. Then, we will know what we are stepping into when we read the Bible.

When the Bible is framed like that, it sounds like a big deal (because it is). But if we’re honest, when it comes to motivation to read, the Bible isn’t always an always an easy sell for modern people.

But we convince ourselves that we are supposed to read it.

We read it because…

  • We’re supposed to so that we can know what we need to know to grow.

  • Jesus.

  • It’s inspired. (What does that even mean?)

  • It’s our Christian duty.

  • It’s the answer book for life that we all need.

  • It’s the only way we truly can hear from God personally (Lots of issues here: #HolySpirit. Also, what about the 1500 years or so before the printing press when Bibles weren’t available for personal use?)

  • Insert your own reasons (especially if you disagree with them now) in the comments!

None of these really get to the heart of the matter.

Why the Bible? Something happened. They wrote it down because it was worth passing down.

Something happened that launched a movement.

Documents were produced and distributed among the earliest Christian communities. They came, early on, to recognize that although these were very human documents that in some unique they had been inspired by God to preserve the core truths of the Jesus Event.

These documents eventually become the complete Bible (with the Hebrew Scriptures). But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Let’s take the time to notice the sorts of things the New Testament claims about itself. We won’t find anything in these 27 documents about a theory of Divine Inspiration. We won’t find words like “inerrant” or “infallible” as though the New Testament stands or falls based on just how non-human it is.

Why not? Because the New Testament documents aren’t theological treatises. They aren’t systematic theology books. They are documents written as a response to something that happened. They were important to the life of the Jesus communities of the late first century and beyond.

The 27 documents in our Bibles were utilized in the churches early on (it isn’t like they used to utilize “Thomas” or other sensationalized gospels (thanks Da Vinci Code) and then in the fourth century forced them out). The New Testament wasn’t available as a collected whole in the earliest of times because the Movement was scattered and under-resourced for such a task. Some may have had Matthew and Luke. Others had Corinthians and Revelation. And in a few cases, some communities had access to larger collections as time went on (especially leading into the third and fourth centuries).

But it wasn’t the collected Bible (Hebrew Scriptures plus New Testament documents) that came first. They were a witness-bearing response to something that happened. Simplifying some, we can say:

First the Jesus Event.

Then, the Jesus Movement. (And no, not that post-hippy thing that happened in the 70s when it was finally cool to wear sandals to church again. Think resurrection/Pentecost forward.)

Then, the individual documents that come to be recognized as Holy Scripture.

Then, the compiled Bible, readily available to local church communities throughout the Roman Empire.

When we get this order wrong, we get all messed up.

In short: Jesus Event —> Jesus Movement —> Jesus Documents —> Bible

In part #1 we briefly described the Jesus Event. Here I want to sketch out a few thoughts on the earliest Jesus Movement.

The Jesus Movement that Existed Before the Bible

Perhaps the best place to start the conversation is from Paul’s first letter to the Jesus Communities of ancient Corinth. In that letter, he says the following:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

1 Corinthians 15.3-9 (NIV)

Something happened that was so earth-shattering that two basic responses emerged in the early days—especially among Jewish people.

For those who passed on this message to Paul, they believed that Jesus had risen from the grave after being executed by the Roman Empire (elsewhere he says that his revelation about Jesus was directly from Messiah [Galatians 1], but in this instance he is likely alluding to an early Christian liturgy or creedal summary that he would have received).

These followers of Jesus may have been eyewitness to his resurrection. Paul states that at least 500 people saw Jesus—alive!—after he had experienced the torments of capital punishment on a torture device that we now wear around our necks for show.

The other reaction, of course, was that of Paul.

Hatred. Violence. Zeal.

Paul, and those like him, believed that God had judged Israel for their lack of exclusive devotion to God. This is why they were occupied by Rome. The proper response to bring about the future deliverance and glorification of Israel was corporate piety.

In other words: if Israel would be more perfectly Torah observant then God would reestablish the throne of David. Thus, zeal was the response to anyone who threatened that vision.

The Movement Paul Joined

As we know, even from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s change of heart leads him to becoming recognized as an apostle. He spends the latter half of his life as both a model and voice for the movement he hated.

His letters, and the writings of other leaders and apostles, quickly become recognized as more than authoritative: but somehow as new sections of the Hebrew Scriptures.

But something needs to be clear at this point: These early Jewish followers of Messiah Jesus were not joining “Christianity” because a book convinced them (although the Hebrew Scriptures certainly were being read in light of the Jesus Event). No, those who joined the early Messianic Jewish movement joined because of what Paul formulated in 1 Corinthians 15.

As time went on the Jesus Documents became more important for preserving memory and as a rule of faith and practice. But the Event is what both made the Movement happen and the Documents valuable.

They joined the Jesus Movement based on eyewitness testimony and oral traditions about a Messiah who showed them how to be fully human, how to love even enemies unto death, and how God has acted in the world afresh by raising Jesus as a signpost pointing towards a renewed heaven and earth.

Being a Christ-follower was the result of a movement that proclaimed the most irrational-yet-beautiful event in the history of the cosmos since the first explosion of God’s creativity eons before when the universe first began to emerge.

First the movement, then the Bible.

Why the Bible? Something compelling happened.

In fact, it was so compelling that many in the Jesus Movement would willingly lay down their lives for King Jesus than give into the pressures of zealots like Paul or the madness of the Roman Imperial system.

Paul would eventually face the same fate that he helped bring upon other Jesus-followers in the early days: He would be persecuted and eventually executed because of his experience with the Jesus of the Movement.

Paul didn’t die with a Bible in his hand. Paul died convinced of the Jesus Event and how that Jesus had transformed his life.

The Bible #1: A Movement, Not a Book

A series of emails and podcasts about reading the Bible well.

This is a long series on the Bible. Here are all the previous parts, that you really need to check out in order if possible to get the full picture of what I’ve suggested about the Bible thus far.

Please Note: There is a podcast version of this series available as well.

Get Podcast Version

It is great to be writing fresh newsletter content again. For those of you who have waited for a season, thanks for hanging with me. I’m excited for this new phase of our journey together, especially around the topic of Scripture.

I’ve had an interesting relationship with the Bible. Since I was a kid, I’ve trusted it to be true in some unique way. The “true” part and the “trust” bit have both been in process as I grow, but my love for the Bible has only increased.

That being said, the place of the Bible in my own Christian identity has changed. I used to believe that the Bible was the center of the Christian faith. I was a Bible-believing Christian (as opposed to who?).

Now, I’ve shifted my understanding of the center: The center of the Christian faith is not a book, it is a Person. Jesus is the center. He is the point. This idea will come up multiple times in this series, but I think it is important to be upfront about it at the beginning.

Jesus is the Point. The Bible points to the Point but is never the point in and of itself. It functions like John the Baptizer (shout out to Brian Zahnd who I first heard use this analogy) saying: Look over there, I’m not the guy. The one you are looking for is so much greater than me. I’m not the point, I’m merely a signpost to the Point that we are all looking for!

That leaves us with an important question then,

Why read the Bible?

The short answer: something happened.

Our faith was never a book-based thing at all. If we look back at the first century CE and forward into the early church, the last thing that the Jesus movements could be called were book-based. The early church was event based: something happened.

The Jesus Event, as I will call it throughout this series, is in short:

  • The God of Israel has heard the cry of humanity

  • This God, forsook privileges, and incarnated as the Son of God

  • Jesus showed us how to live fully human lives and called for the renewal of the Jewish people

  • Through his radical teachings, death for his enemies, defeat of the powers of evil (including Sin and Death) through the cross and by his resurrection, appearances, ascension, and enthronement as the world’s true Lord, a movement was born

  • This movement believed that Jesus had risen in an incorruptible physical body and appeared to hundreds of his followers before returning to the heavenly sphere of reality.

  • The movement propelled forward, beyond eyewitness testimony, as the Holy Spirit came and empowered them in all wisdom, boldness, grace, and truth. This Spirit is Jesus’ ongoing presence with all who follow him.

  • The expectation of this movement is that a time will come when Jesus will return to judge, purge, heal, and resurrect humanity and the cosmos by bringing the realities of heaven to bear on creation itself.

This is a brief summary of what I mean when I say the Jesus Event. The core of that event, of course, is the resurrection itself.

No resurrection; no movement.

No movement; no Bible.

A Movement First, A Bible Second

The movement spread over the next 300 years throughout the known world. They proclaimed the good news of this Jesus event.

They did not have a Bible as their center, they had connections back to eyewitness testimony and an experience of the Holy Spirit that propelled them.

The Jesus Event was the reason they were Christians.

The Bible had yet to be compiled.

Some communities might have access to a couple of copies of the documents that are in our New Testaments. For instance, I can imagine the churches in Ephesus having copies of Paul’s letter to the city and perhaps John’s Gospel and Revelation. Maybe the communities of faith in Rome had a copy or two of Romans and Luke’s gospel. These are all guesses.

But what isn’t a guess is this: the availability of a full compiled New Testament was not readily available until at least the fourth century CE.

The early church was movement-based. It was not Bible-based.

I want in on the movement first, with book as a witness to the movement I’ve joined.

So often, however, Christians place the Bible in the center (and specifically interpretations of that Bible), when it was never meant to be there.

Don’t hear me wrongly. I trust that the Bible, all of it, is inspired by God and is our final authority when it comes to discerning things that are true and ethical (although, this takes a lot of work, especially when we get into the Hebrew Scriptures). I LOVE the Bible. I just want to put it in its proper place.

The Bible is worth reading because something happened.

The Jesus Event is the center. And specifically, Jesus himself is the center in communion with the Father and the Spirit.

Why the Bible? Something happened.

The Bible is the product of the Movement. It is not the center of the Movement.

This needs to be unpacked in the next installments of our series.

Recommended Resources about the Bible (I may not agree with everything in these but I definitely see them as valuable contributions)

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