Who is reading this fluff? I cannot possibly comprehend the demographic that Relevant Magazine is writing for. Virtually all of the posts that I have seen from this site are trivial. Any organization that pretends to be Christian that has a name like “Relevant” is inevitably trendy, pretending to be profound while giving facile commentary. Half of their posts on God and Christianity are pathetic excuses for intellectual thought and aid in confusing its readers. A recent post that I read, written by John Pavlovitz called, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible” is a great example of my frustration with this magazine.
To “admit” something is to confess something reluctantly, something that you previously did not wish to acknowledge. Therefore, the title of the blog implies that Christians are generally reluctant to acknowledge the truth of five specific propositions about the Bible.
The purpose of using the word “admit” is to create the false assumption that all Christians are thuper scared of being “authentic,” “real,” and “messy,” that all Christians promote a false image of themselves as “having everything figured out” and “having it all together,” so to speak. In opposition to this faux dilemma, here comes Pavlovitz to save the day! He will tell us everything wrong with our actions! He will expose our shallowness! He will save us from the crippling fear that all of us experience! He will courageously say what no one else has the guts to say! And…Well, what does he say? Not only does he start with this baseless assumption that Christians will not “admit” certain things about the Bible, his five examples are hilariously vacuous.
1. “The Bible Isn’t a Magic Book”
This is Pavlovitz’s first proposition which he says Christians do not “admit” about the Bible. Brilliant. So Christians are thuper scared, trembling in our boots in fact, to admit that the Bible is not a “magic” book? This assumes that Christians assert that the Bible is a “magic” book; I would like to ask Johnny, who are the Christians who claim this? However, I am getting ahead of myself. “Magic” is a vague word to begin with, so clearly Pavlovitz must contextually define it. Once we know what he means by “magic,” we will know what he thinks Christians generally claim about the Bible.
Definition of “Magic”
The title of this first section is as bewildering as the definition he places upon the word “magic.” When one reads this section, the only main point that Pavlovitz gives is that the Bible is made up of 66 books, with a variety of authors, and written in different genres of literature:
“[The Bible] isn’t really a book at all. It’s a lot of books…Its 66 individual books run the diverse gamut of writing styles…diverse writers each had very different target audiences”
Essentially, the only thing that Pavlovitz means by Christians regarding the Bible as a “Magic Book” is regarding the Bible as a “Single Book.” All Pavlovitz has accomplished is using a silly word to criticize an imaginary demographic in order to convey a truth that is manifestly obvious. How Pavlovitz could possibly twist the definition of “magic” to mean “Christians wrongly view the Bible as a single book and not made up of many books” is absurd on its face. Even if Christians did view the Bible as a single book without taking its diversity into account, no one could seriously say that this is equivalent to viewing it as a “magic” book. I view George Orwell’s novel 1984 as a single book; does this mean that I regard it as a “magic” book? Of course not.
The other problem with his analysis, which I already implied, is assuming that Christians do not know that the Bible is made up of many books, written by various authors, in different writing styles and genres and languages. What “Christians” is he referring to? Who are these people who will not “admit” that the Bible is composed of 66 books? They do not exist.
2. “The Bible Isn’t as Clear as We’d Like It To Be”
The second proposition that Pavlovitz wants Christians to “admit” is that the Bible is not clear. He says that the Bible is unclear and complex, and then appeals to the fact that people disagree on various topics in order to prove this. This criticism is fallacious because it assumes that the foolishness and misunderstandings of people prove that the Bible is unclear. In reality this proves the total depravity of humanity, not Biblical incoherence; Pavlovitz’s own explanation contradicts his claim that the Bible is unclear:
“Often, (especially when arguing), Christians like to begin with the phrase, ‘The Bible clearly says…’ followed by their Scripture soundbite of choice. Those people aren’t always taking the entire Bible into account….the answer may not be as clear and straightforward as we like to pretend it is.”
On the one hand he is criticizing that Christians will not “admit” that the Bible is unclear, and then he contradicts himself by saying that Christians ought to take the entire Bible into account when making dogmatic claims. Either the Bible is unclear and we cannot draw definitive conclusions from it and therefore the Bible is the problem, or the Bible is clear and we can draw definitive conclusions from it and therefore the problem is people not reading it in context. Which is it?
What is most troubling of all is not the inherent contradiction in Pavlovitz’s reasoning, but his attack upon the clarity of scripture. Attacks upon the clarity of scripture are made by Roman Catholic heretics, charismatic mystics, and everyone that does not derive their theology from the Bible. Saying that scripture is, for the most part, obscure or mysterious is an excuse to believe false doctrine. Martin Luther would know; Erasmus made this same claim 500 years ago in order cling to his false free will-Roman Catholic theology. Here is some of Luther’s criticism against Erasmus on this point:
“what is the design of the apostles by proving their preaching from the scriptures? Is it that they may obscure their own darkness by still greater darkness? What was the intention of Christ, in teaching the Jews to ‘search the scriptures’ (John 5:39), as testifying of him? Was it that he might render them doubtful concerning faith in him?” (Bondage of the Will)
If the Bible is obscure, then we have nothing. It is the pinnacle of arrogance to insult God’s revelation when the problem is our own. If Pavlovitz had a clue about what he was arguing, he would realize that demonstrating the existence of improper Biblical interpretation is not equivalent to proving that scripture is unclear.
3. “The Bible Was Inspired by God, Not Dictated by God”
Here again Pavlovitz gives us an incoherent argument. He reasons that God inspired the Bible but he did not dictate it. Once again, just as in the second point, Pavlovitz is attacking the authority of scripture whether he realizes it or not:
“The Bible is ‘God’s Word,’ but we need to be careful about what we mean when we say it was ‘written’ by God. These are the words of men who were compelled by God to tell, not only what they claim to have heard God say, but things happening in and around them—their struggles, personal reasons for writing and specific experience of God. Of course they were inspired by God, but they remained inspired human beings, not God-manipulated puppets who checked their free will at the door and transcribed God’s monologues like zombies.”
Definition of “Inspiration”
From what I gather from the drivel above, Pavlovitz appears to be using the word “inspired” in a similar way to how artists find “inspiration” for their works of art. Just as a cloud can “inspired” me to paint a picture, the prophets’ and apostles’ personal experiences with God “inspire” them to write about him. This completely throws all historical understandings of the inspiration of scripture out the window. With this definition, my writings about God are just as “inspired” since anyone could say that God “inspired” them to feel or think a certain way. This is exactly what charismatics and people like Sarah Young do. When Pavlovitz pretends to hold to Biblical “inspiration,” he commits the fallacy of equivocation by deceitfully applying a definition to the word “inspiration” which is different from its common usage. With this new definition of “inspiration” he is not even on topic, but posits a different theory of the origin and meaning of scripture altogether.
Pavlovitz’s description of Biblical inspiration amounts to apostasy. I say this with all seriousness. He rejects that scripture speaks the actual words of God. Every place where it describes God speaking in the first person, or any section in the Bible that begins with the phrase “Thus says the Lord,” are not really God’s words, but “what [the writers] claim to have heard God say.” This is heresy, yet those who write for so-called “Relevant” Magazine are touted as impressive thinkers who give their audience unique insight into God, faith, and the Bible. In reality they are liberal enemies of the faith and ought to be opposed and refuted, or otherwise, encouraged to repent.
Free Will and Scripture’
Free will does not exist. Free will is the complete inversion of the Christian worldview. The human will since the fall of Adam has been in bondage to sin and cannot think, will, or act in a way that is pleasing to God until one is regenerated. Furthermore, not only is the will in utter bondage to corruption and sin, God controls people’s wills since he “works all things after the council of his own will” as Ephesians 1:11 states. The Bible is replete with examples of God hardening hearts, sending lying spirits into the mouths of false prophets, and determining all events for his own purposes. The free will vomit that shoots forth from the mouth of modern evangelicalism is a further evidence of our culture’s complete rejection of the Protestant Reformation, and acceptance of apostasy.
To get to the issue, Pavlovitz claims that those who wrote scripture were “not God-manipulated puppets who checked their free will at the door and transcribed God’s monologues like zombies.” It is abundantly evident to any critical thinker that words like “puppets” and “zombies” are wholly vacuous in the context of this discussion. Let me try to reduce the argument to make it more clear:
(1) Pavlovitz is under the impression that people have free will (which he does not define).
(2) Pavlovitz claims that people become “puppets” and “zombies” if their wills are determined by God.
(3) Since people are not “puppets” and “zombies,” and since people possess this undefined notion of “free will,” God does not control people’s actions, thoughts, or wills.
(4) Since God does not control people’s wills, the writers of scripture were inspired when they wrote, but God had no control over what they wrote.
These claims are anti-Christian. Lets examine a text of scripture and see if Pavlovitz’s reasoning holds up:
“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Despite Pavlovitz’s anti-Christian claim that scripture is not clear in objection number 2, and also despite his arbitrary objection against citing verses to support one’s theology, I am going to use 2 Peter 1:20-21 to refute him from a scriptural perspective. The phrase found in verse 20, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation,” refutes Pavlovitz’s claim that the Biblical books “are the words of men who were compelled by God to tell…what they claim to have heard God say.” The authors of the Bible were not merely giving their own interpretations about what they thought God was saying, but they wrote what God was actually saying. Furthermore, verse 21 eliminates Pavlovitz’s free will theory. The writers of scripture most certainly did not possess free will when writing and pronouncing the prophecies of God, since Peter plainly states, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man.” How can scripture be produced by a prophet’s imaginary free will when no prophecy is produced by the will of man? It cannot. The authors of scripture were clearly directed by the Holy Spirit, constrained to speak and write the words God caused them to speak, since “they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Many other texts speak of God’s control over the will of the individual prophesying. “Free will” has nothing to do with it:
“And he answered and said, ‘Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?'” (Numbers 23:12)
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)
“He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”?” (Matthew 22:43-44)
God caused the writers of scripture to say what he wanted them to say. All that is in scripture is given to us for instruction by God, and was not produced by the will of man. The reason real Christians will not “admit” that “The Bible was inspired by God, not dictated by God,” is because Pavlovitz’s view of scriptural inspiration is heretical and wrong.
4. “We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe, Preach and Defend”
This complaint is hardly distinguishable from number 2. Yet again he guards against “cherry-picking” the Bible, and writes this blog to exhort Christians to “admit” our misapplications of scripture. No one ever thinks that they are cherry-picking, so why write a blog to exhort people to admit that they are wrong when they obviously do not think that are wrong? Anyone can accuse anyone of “cherry-picking.” That is not the issue. The issue is arriving at the proper understanding of a text, not blindly accusing people of picking and choosing. “Cherry-picking” is perfectly acceptable if the verse succinctly addresses a particular issue and is exegeted properly.
Pavlovitz creates this fourth complaint so that he can now object to people applying scripture to their lives and theological disputes. Whenever anyone, like myself, opposes Pavlovitz’s assertions with scripture, he now feels justified in accusing his opponents of “picking and choosing” what we want to believe from a Bible that is hopelessly unclear, when in reality we are properly applying the teaching of scripture, and in reality Pavlovitz picks and chooses what he wants to believe by rejecting the Bible. All of Pavlovitz’s facile objections and challenges are really just manipulative language used for the purpose of confusing believers and justifying false doctrine, nothing else. If you refute Pavlovitz, inevitably he will accuse you of “cherry-picking.” If you quote scripture to Pavlovitz, he can now utterly disregard you, reasoning that scripture is “complex” and “unclear.”
However, he is right that many professing Christians pick and choose what they want to believe. This is why not all professing Christians are Calvinists, and why so many blindly believe that free will exists.
5. “God Is Bigger Than The Bible”
Once again, Pavlovitz uses vague language for his titles, so they must be defined contextually in his explanation:
“I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its most perfect and inspired, is a collection of words about the ocean. They are not the ocean itself….The Bible is not God.”
Pavlovitz uses the ocean and its vastness as a metaphor to describe God. This guy thinks that Christians do not confess that the Bible is not God. I cannot even comprehend how stupid a claim this is. Pavlovitz seriously thinks that he is teaching us something by telling us that the Bible is not God… Moving on:
“The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words are filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.”
Pavlovitz’s attack on scripture is now complete, given that he denies that the Bible can give us any knowledge of God whatsoever. We cannot know anything about God, what he is, who he is, what he has done or what he will do since Pavlovitz claims that words are insufficient. Therefore, we cannot know Christ, we cannot know the Gospel, we cannot know God’s will, we cannot know God’s attributes, we cannot know that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Pavlovitz not only claims that the Bible is unclear, but that the Bible is not revelation. The Bible, so he says, is not the word of God which reveals God’s character and revelation, but is merely “some frame of reference.”
What is so ironic, is that in order to know that God is so vast and unknowable, Pavlovitz would need a reliable source of revelation. Since he rejects that the Bible is divine revelation and claims that it is merely a frame of reference written by “men who were compelled by God to tell…what they claim to have heard God say” and do not to say what God actually said, Pavlovitz cannot even know that God is big and vast. Since the Bible is a worthless resource that cannot properly describe God, it likewise would not be able to tell Pavlovitz that God is vast and unknowable.
Pavlovitz presents us with a confused, misdirected, and heretical analysis of what he thinks Christians do not admit and ought to admit about the Bible. I would encourage him to repent, or to at least severely clarify himself. I would exhort brothers and sisters in Christ to steer clear of Relevant Magazine unless your attention given to it is for the purpose of criticism. Perhaps I have not reviewed all of what it has to offer, but with articles such as these, I am not optimistic that the magazine is any better than what I think of it now. With all of this said, I offer my blog post up to criticism and interaction, and wish you the best.