If you saw Peter Jennings’ wildly uneven
three-hour ABC special Jesus and Paul: The Word and the Witness
Monday evening, you saw, among many other people, this writer
(albeit a younger, thinner and less balding permutation). Near
the end of the special, Jennings is suggesting a tension in Paul
between a “Puritanical” strain on the one hand and
an emphasis on love, gentleness and inclusion on the other. To
evince how this tension survives to this very day in the Christianity
that Paul “founded,” Jennings sandwiches clips of
alleged Christians holding banners supporting gay rights, and
a Black minister pontificating on the necessity for “inclusion”
(one infers from the context that it is homosexual inclusion to
which he refers) with Pat Buchanan declaring that there is no
such thing as equality, and me preaching that Romans 1 declares
homosexuality to be a vile sin. In the context of Jennings’
argument, Buchanan and I represent the harsh and intolerant side
of Paul, while the banner-bearing gay-rights Christians and the
Black minister represent the loving and inclusionary side of Paul.
The footage of me was captured the Sunday in October, 1992 when
the ABC crew filmed my sermon in which I stated the controversial
thesis that for Christians to vote for Bill Clinton in the upcoming
election was a sin. In that sermon I also mentioned Paul’s
condemnation of homosexuality.
entire program was tilted heavily toward the views of the extensively
interviewed theologically liberal or radical scholars like Marcus
Borg (of the infamous Jesus Seminar), Elaine Pagels (author of
The Gnostic Gospels), and John Shelby Spong (the notorious
radical Episcopalian). Fortunately, Paul Maier, Ben Witherington,
and N. T. Wright preserved the Biblical picture of Jesus and Paul.
They were vastly outnumbered, however, and Jennings’ own
narrative was sizzling in skepticism. Neither he nor his liberal
commentators treated the Bible as a sacred text, surely not as
the written Word of God. It may be generally reliable as an historical
document (though this opinion is at points dubious), but its claims
must be tested (and rejected) in light of historical evidence.
for both Jennings and the skeptical commentators is that there
is little evidence and information of Paul and Jesus actions and
teachings apart from the Bible itself. Make no mistake: the Bible
is no ultimate document, as though it were meant to stand by itself
as an abstract religious code. It is an enumeration and interpretation
of redemptive events, especially the life, death, and resurrection
of Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible is mainly a Book of history, but
it is not only a Book of history. It is also the inspired
and infallible Word of God. It is meant in fact to give God’s
interpretation of revelatory events, which are themselves revelation.
The Bible is inspired interpretation of revelation and
is itself revelation.
if sincere at every juncture) wants an accurate historical picture
of Jesus and Paul apart from a divine revelation of that picture.
But the Bible is not merely a history book, even a very good one.
The Bible is a revelation in human language of certain events
as well as their interpretation. In short, event and interpretation
were meant to hang together. This was true with Israel. Their
history is not simply an account of a small, strange, ancient
nomadic people; it is a narrative of God’s dealings with
a chosen race. Likewise, the Gospels and Paul’s epistles
are not just accounts of what Jesus and His early followers did.
These writings are also, and most distinctively, the revelation
of God, an interpretation of the events they relate. The crucifixion
of Jesus merely as an historical fact is not of itself significant;
the Romans crucified lots of people. The momentous significance
attaches to the divine interpretation of that event: among other
things, a sacrifice for the sins of man (1 Cor. 5:7) and a public
spectacle of the defeat of Satan and his hosts (Col. 2:15). You
don’t get that significance if all you see in the Bible
is (at best) a generally reliable history.
Nor is this
to imply that dreaded “mechanical dictation” view
of divine inspiration, which discounts the distinctive personalities
of the Biblical writers, or even a view of “verbal inspiration”
that banishes to the background the history in which the events
being written about take place. But if we take the view of Jesus
and His followers, we see the Bible (both testaments) as God’s
of which is to say that Jennings and Borg will never get Jesus
right as long as they get the Bible wrong. Admittedly,
the Bible is less important that Jesus. The Bible redeems nobody.
The Bible did not rise from the dead. The Bible will not return
again in great glory. But the Bible is God’s revelation
about Jesus through which we can know with certainty what He has
done for us and what all of this activity means.
my enumeration of Paul’s execration of homosexuality objectionable
because he finds the Bible objectionable.
who knew vastly more about Jesus than Jennings, didn't.
will never be won to the Jesus of the Bible until he is won to
the Bible of Jesus.
Andrew Sandlin, an ordained minister, is president of
for Cultural Leadership,
a Christian educational foundation dedicated to reclaiming
contemporary culture for Jesus Christ. An interdisciplinary
scholar, he holds academic degrees or concentrations
in English, English literature, history, and political
science. He has written several monographs and books,
including The Full Gospel: A Biblical Vocabulary of
Salvation and Totalism, and hundreds of essays and articles,
both scholarly and popular. Andrew and his wife Sharon
have five children.