*This is the foreword by Dr. C Baxter Kruger from Paul’s latest book, Lies We Believe About God.
Most Christians have a deep desire to be faithful to Scripture, as do most biblical scholars. Yet what constitutes faithfulness and how to achieve it is another question.
Several months ago I read a book titled Four Views of Hell. Four scholars, determined to be faithful to Holy Scripture, presented four entirely different and certainly opposing views of the biblical teaching on hell. These writers believed they were presenting the true teaching of the Scriptures. I do not doubt the integrity of the four authors. But the differences in interpretation highlight the fact that something other than “reading the Bible” is involved.
Very often the deepest question, and the one most ignored, is how to read the Bible. What does it mean to read the Bible correctly? How do we go about deciding?
Some of my friends laugh at such questions. “Baxter,” they exclaim, “it is right there in plain English! Any honest person can understand what it says.”
Yet the fact is, we all bring our family prejudices, our personal histories, and our habits of thought into our reading of the Scriptures. Just as we cannot hear our own accents, we cannot readily see our own assumptions—assumptions that shape what we see and how we see it. Not least this applies to what we “see” in the plain teaching of the Bible. It is important to ask ourselves questions about the way we read the Bible.
N. T. Wright’s new book, The Day the Revolution Began, makes this very point.
Wright carefully lays out what he believes to be the larger, biblical picture, what many call the meta-narrative of the Bible’s story, which then guides our interpretation of the details. His big picture leads him to seriously challenge doctrines long held as “plain and obvious” to us in Protestantism. Whether or not one agrees with Wright, his book puts us in a place where (like it or not) we can hear our accents, and at least notice our prejudices—prejudices that have a profound impact on what we consider “obvious.”
My dear friend, Paul, has ventured beyond his wonderful and challenging fiction novels and here offers a more straightforward book about what he believes—Lies We Believe About God.
This is a great book, but like Four Views of Hell and The Day the Revolution Began, it, too, has a very definite framework of assumptions. How does Paul determine what are lies and what is the truth?
I can assure you, there will be places where some will throw up their hands and think, Has the brother lost his mind? When our understandings of the larger story of the Bible differ, then our beliefs about the details differ, too, and we “see” things differently.
So what is Paul Young’s baseline? What are his core beliefs? How does he see the larger story of the Bible that so shapes his outlook and determines what he thinks is the truth and, therefore, what he believes are lies that need to be challenged?
If you will allow me a paragraph or two, I will take you behind the curtain and lay out these beliefs as clearly and honestly as I am able. For here, Paul and I are brothers who walk together, and what we believe informs the way we think about a wide range of biblical and human issues.
Paul and I agree that the New Testament explodes in the joyous conviction that Jesus Christ is the Lord God in Person. He laid down His life for the forgiveness of sin and to defeat the powers of death that enslaved humanity, and that as life incarnate, He rose victoriously from the dead. The gospels and letters that make up the New Testament are attempts to explore and express the meaning of Jesus’s presence and death. The apostles, John and Paul in particular, realized the staggering implications of Jesus’s very identity as the Son of God incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended. Apostle Paul envisions Jesus as being with the Father before creation as the One in and through whom humanity is created and given the gift of grace (2 Timothy 1:9), and as the One in and through whom the Father chose us and predestined us to adoption before the foundation the world (Ephesians 1:4–5). The apostle Paul sees Jesus as the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the One who was before all things, and the One in whom everything is sustained and held together (Colossians 1:16–17).
For me and Paul Young, such thoughts are astonishing and worthy of the most serious reflection. Paul, the apostle, thinks of Jesus as there with the Father before the creation of anything, and he sees Jesus as the center of the divine plan for the entire cosmos. Indeed, he proclaims that Jesus’s incarnate life, death, resurrection, and ascension is the summing up of all things in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1:10). These are seriously radical ideas to almost anyone in the ancient and modern world.
The great apostle John agrees with Apostle Paul’s astonishing vision and thinks of Jesus as the eternal Word of God, face-to-face with the Father before creation, and as the One in whom all things were created. John is emphatic: “All things came into being by Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1–3). Think about it. For the apostles John and Paul, and I suspect the others, we will never meet anything anywhere at any time that did not originate in and through Jesus Christ and is not constantly, moment by moment, sustained by Him. It is these core beliefs about Jesus that formed the apostolic mind, informing and re-forming their vision of God, of humanity, and of creation, with the crucified and resurrected Jesus at the center of all. Jesus himself declared, “I AM the light of the cosmos, the one who follows me shall never, ever walk in the darkness, but shall experience the light of life” (John 8:12).
While there is enough here for us to understand Young’s basic framework, please allow me space to add a touch of history.
As the news of this Jesus—the crucified and resurrected Son and Creator—spread across the Mediterranean basin and beyond, it collided with existing cultures and world views, ingrained prejudices, and habits of thought. The identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, crucified and resurrected, simply made no sense to people, and the implications of His existence rocked the status quo everywhere. The news of Jesus was turning the world upside down, creating a universal, tumultuous writhing inside human thought. Explosive debates developed, even wars. Many believers were burned alive and crucified as martyrs.
Who is Jesus, really? What does His existence mean? There were many answers. How could the apostolic vision of Jesus Christ not disturb the empire, whether the empire was external and systemic (religious and political) or internal and personal? The temptation to domesticate the Jesus of the apostles was ever present and convenient. In AD 325, bishops from the global Church were summoned to Nicaea (in present-day Turkey) to make a definitive statement about Jesus. The flamboyant and popular presbyter named Arius put forward the notion that Jesus was not God, not really God, but the first and highest of all God’s creations, through whom all other things were then created. Bishop Alexander and others countered that the apostles taught that Jesus was God of God incarnate. Eventually the debate was “settled” as the council agreed that Jesus was “of the same being as the Father” (homoousios to Patri), thereby envisioning Jesus as the fully divine, incarnate, eternal Son of the Father and the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, incarnate. It was this mystery—this culturally inconceivable proclamation that Jesus was of God’s very being incarnate (confirmed at both the Constantinople and the Chalcedon Councils)—that was handed down as the central truth of all truths of Christian faith.
The implications of this confession are mind-boggling. If Jesus is one being with God and one being with us, then His very identity as fully divine and fully human speaks volumes about the relationship between God and humanity and about everything else in the universe. Was this union of the divine and human simply Jesus’s plan B, a halftime adjustment, quickly thought up and implemented after the “surprise” of Adam’s debacle; or are we here standing before plan A, the original and only divine plan? How seriously are we to take the absolute oneness between Jesus and His Father, and His absolute oneness with us as broken sinners? Are we not here in Jesus Himself standing before the greatest news in the universe? Is there anything that the union between the divine life of God and the human life of Jesus does not address? Is it wrong (from an apostolic and early Church perspective) to throw oneself into the pursuit of thinking out the implications of Jesus’s very existence? Is not the union of Jesus and His Father the very light that informs us? Is it not the light of life? Or is it simply one among many other viable frameworks when it comes to thinking about the nature of God, about what it means to be human, about why Jesus died on the cross, about what we call social justice, and about our “global village”?
Athanasius, who accompanied Bishop Alexander at the Council of Nicaea, and later others, such as Gregory Nazianzus and Hilary of Poitiers, spent their lives defending the council’s confession of Jesus’s identity. From my perspective, working out the implications of Jesus’s identity as the eternal Son of God united with humanity in our sin is the task of truly Christian theology.
Here we find the meta-narrative, the larger story from eternity that informs and re-forms our vision of God, of humanity and creation. What, for example, are we to make of the fact that this Jesus—the eternal Son of the Father, the one anointed in the Holy Spirit, the Creator and Sustainer of all things incarnate—was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead, and then ascended to the Father in the Spirit? Are we to see ourselves, our enemies, the human race at large, and creation itself untouched by such a divine-human event? The apostle Paul proclaims that when Jesus died something happened to us and to creation. When this Jesus died, we too died; all creation died (2 Corinthians 5:14). And when Jesus rose, the apostle Paul sees that we all (who were dead in transgressions) rose with Him in life, and ascended in Him to the Father’s right hand in the communion of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:4–6). Such notions are not footnotes to Paul’s more important teaching. They are fundamental to his and to the apostolic mind. Such a stunning vision of Jesus cannot help but have implications for the cosmos and for the human race, and not least for how we understand God.
Again, is Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection merely a plan B? Or is Jesus, as the Father’s Son and anointed One and Creator and Sustainer of all things, and thus us all in Him—is He not the light that enlightens the darkness of our minds and the truth that defines lies?
After years of wrestling with the teaching of the apostles and with the writings of the leaders of the early Church, I can give you my thesis.
It is not perfect, but it is honest, and I think it will help you understand where Paul Young is coming from. Here it is:
To speak the name of Jesus Christ with the apostles and with the early Church leaders is to say, “Father’s eternal Son,” and it is to say, “Holy Spirit, anointed One,” and it is to say, “the Creator and Sustainer of all things—incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the Father.” Therefore, to speak the name of Jesus is to say that the Triune God, the human race, and all creation are not separated, but together in relationship. Jesus is Himself the relationship; He is the union between the Triune God and the human race. In Him, heaven and earth, the life of the blessed Trinity and broken human life are united. Jesus is our new creation, our adoption, our inclusion in the divine life, the new covenant relationship between God and humanity, the kingdom of the Triune God on earth.
You can see in my thesis why Paul and I regard the widespread notion that human beings are separated from God as a fundamental lie, one that denies Jesus’s very identity. We are both committed to thinking out and communicating the implications of Jesus’s identity in every way possible.
The “lies” that this book set forward are perceived as lies through the lens of Jesus’s identity and what His identity shouts to us about God, about ourselves, about creation, about our destiny, and about our future.
When I read this challenging and liberating book, I can see Paul’s vision of Jesus and hear him saying, “Therefore, God would not say this or act this way. Therefore this is a lie, or a misinterpretation.” You may disagree with his conclusions, and I am not sure that I agree with all of what Paul says, but I know his intentions. He is standing in the mainstream of historic Christian confession about Jesus’s identity, and he is attempting to work out the day-to-day implications of the very existence of Jesus Himself as the Father’s eternal Son in His incarnate union with the human race in its darkness. And he is holding our evangelical feet to the Christological fire of the apostolic vision. Is not that at the heart of what it means to be faithful to Jesus Christ? I am proud to be with him in this endeavor.
Much more, of course, should be said, and that is what Paul is doing in this book. As you read, watch Paul’s mind work. As he identifies a lie, ask what it is about Jesus that would lead Paul to think that something is a lie. Watch him think and reason out of his beliefs about Jesus. Who knows, you may even catch him making a Christological mistake!
I know this: if you are willing to give Paul a fair hearing, you will find freedom and joy rising in your heart. It is not easy having your mind blown, but that is the way the apostles tell us we are set free by the truth.
PS) Lies We Believe About God, by Wm. Paul Young, can be purchased here!