I am going to put forward a basis thesis: the overriding narrative of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is God’s actions to redeem His people and the world they live in from the effects of evil. The way this works itself out is manifold and complex, and perhaps with a sense of development as it leads up to Jesus Christ, the One in Whom we are redeemed from the powers of sin and death.
This is not to be overly reductive about the whole Biblical narratives. There are other themes we can trace through the OT and NT: themes of righteousness and holiness, God’s power, God’s judgment God’s faithfulness, etc. are all present in various forms throughout the Bible. However, I would suggest they all ultimately narratively integrate around the idea of God’s rescue, salvation, and redemption of His people and the creation they live within.
If this is the case, then this leads to a particular conclusion: the knowledge that the Scriptures can be legitimately understood to be primarily providing is about redemption, including most significantly the One who makes God’s redeeming love visibly known to us, Jesus Christ.
There is another corollary to this though. If the primary knowledge of the Scriptures is about God’s redemption of humanity and creation, then that means that a lot of the other knowledge we think we derive from the Bible may be mistaken. For instance, we don’t get answers as the problem of evil. The closet we get is the book of Job, and even then, we are left in the end with more questions than answers if our goal is to give a clear statement about the problem of evil. Nor does the Bible give us a full account of everything that is right and good. Certainly, the Scriptures provides a basic sense of right and wrong about what might seem to be some pretty obvious things, but it never tries to give a comprehensive system of righteousness, holiness, love, etc. Nor does the Bible attempt to tell us everything about God’s ontological nature. There are statements here and there about the nature of God’s power, for instance, but it doesn’t reach to the level of the sweeping, systematic claims that can sometimes be taken from it. Nor, does the Bible even give us a metaphysics of salvation and redemption, as if we can give a precise description of what happens to people and the world in the work of salvation. The Bible does not portray itself as a scientific textbook, telling us how everything came in a way that is satisfactory for scientific narratives.
Each of these forms of knowledge I mentioned have a common theme: they are types of knowledge rooted in the ambitions to have a comprehensive knowledge about a particular domain or topic. Even as the Scriptures do speak to things that are related to the domains of evil, ethics, ontology, accounts of how people go through redemption, and science, the writers of the Scriptures never attempt to give a comprehensive account of those fields.
The drive for comprehensive knowledge is related to other ambitions: the ambition for expertise and authority. The former is related to our skill sand understanding and the latter is related to how people perceive us, particularly in relationships to these skills and the knowledge base. When you combine the ambition for expertise and authority with theology, it can become a quite potent combination for motivation to push further and further in our understanding and knowledge. Other ambitions may be that there are specific personal struggles or questions one is facing and that we brings those questions to the Scriptures, hoping to find some resolution from a confident base of knowledge we can pull from.
Here comes the problem though: when we can not find what we are looking for, we have one of two tendencies we fall into: we can either recognize that we will not get what we want or we can begin to rationalize why what we want is there in the first place. When we fall into the latter, we begin to feel the need to push our interpretation of the Scriptures deeper and further while not being careful to consider whether there are exegetical warrants for our reading. To be clear, we can all do this from time to time. However, when the ambition for a comprehensive understanding on a topic or a satisfactory answer to our deeper struggles can not be satisfied with the “it isn’t here,” there is the danger of persistent lack of discipline and care in our readings. We expect to find an answer that isn’t there.
The Scriptures do not provide this sort of knowledge in a comprehensive form. They, rather, direct us to the nature of God’s power and love for humanity and the world and the One in whom this redeeming God is made known in: Jesus Christ. What Jesus says, what Jesus teaches, what Jesus does are ultimately related to God’s redemption of us and the creation. So in faith, we trust in Jesus Christ to be the one whose teachings and life we can find the redemption that God brings. We don’t necessarily come to a complete understanding of how this redemption works, but faith has never been about a completely sure foundation of knowledge that we can explicate confidently, but rather that there is a recognition, and intuition even, that Jesus provides the way to God for us. As we walk on this journey, as we exercise the use of our bodies in following Jesus, we begin to leave behind old things and discover new things. Our hearts and minds are reformed to understand and make sense of life from a fresh new perspective and angle.
The problem is that we then often times begin to define faith in terms of these other forms of knowledge. We can often times be much more like the Corinthians, who Paul had to remind them to put their faith in God’s power and not human wisdom (1 Cor 2.5) and called them away from the type of propositional knowledge found in Hellenistic philosophy towards the specific propositions about God, Jesus, and their creative power (1 Corinthians 8.4-6). Much like the Corinthians, we can put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Fortunately, faith and salvation are not things that are exchanged only when we get faith exactly right, but rather faith is the means by which we can experience God’s redemption in Jesus.
When we wrongly substitute this trust in Jesus as the one who brings God’s salvation and redemption to a particular type of theological knowledge base, we distract ourselves from the real source of redemption: God’s glory being realized within our lives. To be clear, wrong beliefs can certainly hamper this work on redemption, but when we think redemption is about specific domains of theological knowledge, we begin to treat the Scripture as testifying to something other than what we know in the person of Jesus. We begin to lose track of what God is doing and more so begin to think we have confident answers about God, the world, other people, etc.
Here is something more to ponder: perhaps the reasons we cling so tightly to these other forms of knowledge is that we need it to secure our own confidence in something asides from the experience of redemption. Whether it be we have forgotten our own experience of redemption or we never had it, whether it be because we have given into the epistemic anxieties about certainty and confidence that the world has foisted upon us, whether it be because of a litany of other reasons: we can be tempted to cling tightly to these other forms of knowledge before the knowledge of redemption, which to be more precise, is actually God’s knowing of us first.
So, this leaves me with a final question: what are we searching the Scriptures for? This isn’t a veiled attempt to say if it isn’t legitimately Jesus, the One in whom we are redeemed, you are like the Pharisees in John 5.39-40. The Pharisees are the Pharisees for many reasons. But what we can say is that the further away we are from connecting our understandings of the Scripture to Jesus, the more we risk misunderstanding what God is doing in and through us.