If you were traveling through Europe by train and needed to ensure that you caught the correct connections to reach your final destination, you would likely pay close attention to the train schedule. Finding a schedule online, you download it, pack your bags, and head to the station believing you have an authoritative resource in your hands.
Once you arrive at the station, the ticket agent affirms that you do have an authoritative schedule, but that it has some wrong information regarding the trip. Concerned? Most likely. Want to know what it off? Absolutely. Do you consider the schedule and its details an authority anymore? Not likely.
Nevertheless, the ticket agent assures you that the concept is right, it is just some of the key instructive details that are wrong, so it is still an authority that you can rely on. You press for details, but the agent sidesteps by saying that they aren’t really sure themselves; and all you need to do is disregard any instructions that don’t feel right to you or that you disagree with based upon those around you at the time. All the while, the agent insists that the document you possess is authoritative.
What do you think about the agent’s view of the schedule being authoritative, just as long as you ignore the parts of the schedule and the details that you and/or those around you don’t like? Most likely you think the agent has a messed up definition of “authoritative” and are starting to have misgivings about whether or not you will actually reach your destination.
The illustration may seem a bit silly and unrealistic, yet it is precisely how too many professing Christians view the Bible. Rather than taking 2 Timothy 3:16 as “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching,” it is twisted around to “All Scripture that is profitable for teaching is breathed out by God.”
The first (the actual text) properly places the Bible as the authoritative element over our lives, opinions, and feelings. The latter (the people often actually live out) places our opinions and feelings as authoritative over the Bible. The former says that all Scripture is profitable and we need to allow it to change our hearts. The latter says only what we like is profitable, the other parts are “in error.”
Almost immediately, any Bible believing Christian will likely object to the thought of twisting Scripture and stripping it of its authority. Yet, I attended a seminary that professed the Bible to be authoritative, but then proudly championed sociopolitical causes in direct contradiction to many clear passages in the Scriptures (they didn’t advertise this when I first applied…only afterwards did it come to the surface). They were experts at saying “Paul was wrong/misguided/overly influenced by his culture when he wrote…” or “That passage actually means the opposite of what it says in English and Greek/Hebrew because…” or “That is a purely first century construct that we don’t need to follow today because…”
I wholeheartedly agree with digging into the biblical text and doing proper hermeneutics (for example see blogs posts like these here and here and here and here). What I found telling was that I was challenged and dinged points by my graduate assistants when I would give answers that were based upon Scripture being “breathed out by God” and being the authority over current hot-button politically correct issues. It soon became clear that, like the train schedule in the illustration, the Bible was considered to be these teachers’ authority, so long as they had the freedom to override anything they (or society) found to be objectionable.
Once we go down the path of deciding what parts of the Bible have authority in our lives and which ones do not, we change the solid Scripture described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 into an empty verse and truth based upon our own twisted hearts.
Timothy Keller, in Judges for You, helps drive this point home when commenting on Judges 17:
We filter out (consciously or unconsciously) things about God that our hearts can’t accept. In some ways, this is the main sin of our time…
The most serious way we do this is by consciously, intellectually rejecting part of scriptural revelation of God. We do this whenever we say: We can no longer accept a God who does this… or who forbids this…When we use the term “no longer,” we wrap ourselves in the mantle of so-called progress…This means we, like Micah’s family, are reshaping God to fit our society and hearts instead of letting God reshape our hearts and society.
Another way we do this is simply psychologically ignoring or avoiding those aspects of God’s revelation we don’t like…
A third way we do this is by subjectivizing all morality. For example, two professing Christians may be having sex with each other though they are not married. Why? Because they prayed (good) and then “felt peace about it” (irrelevant!). They ignore the objective commands about sex and marriage which God has given them in his word…They follow God’s law so far, but they then twist or add to it so that they can do what they like.
Why is this such a problem? Because it makes it impossible to have a truly personal relationship with God. In a personal relationship with a real person, the other one can contradict you and upset you – then you have to wrestle through it to deeper intimacy. But when we simply ignore (either intellectually or psychologically) the parts of God we don’t like, it means we don’t have a God that can ever contradict our deepest desires or say “no” to us. We never wrestle with him. We never let him make demands on us. We can end up worshiping a much more comfortable God, but also a non-existent one (pp 169-170).