This is the second part of my review of Brian Zahnd’s teaching at The Meeting House. You can read Part 1 here. In this series I will be reviewing Zahnd’s sermon and a Roundtable podcast he participated in during his visit to The Meeting House in October of 2017.
His sermon was called “Bad Idea: The Bible Trumps Jesus” in which he argues for what can only be described as an incoherent view of Scripture and authority. To Zahnd, the Bible is inconsistent, contradictory, and contains erroneous “assumptions” about God. Because of this, he advocates that we interpret all of Scripture through the lens of Jesus.
In Part 1 I gave an overview of Zahnd’s message, and pointed out that he abuses the biblical story of Christ’s transfiguration.
In this post, I want to call attention to Zahnd’s use of a specific text, and point out that his incoherent view regarding the authority of Scripture forces him to be completely arbitrary in what he is willing to lend authority to.
Kids in a Cafeteria
To reinforce his point that Scripture is just an inconsistent, unreliable guide with varying levels of authority when it comes to revealing God’s character, Zahnd spends a considerable amount of time exegeting the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 (starting at 20:35). His argument amounts to accusing Jesus of ignoring or breaking the Law of Moses.
I am not necessarily criticizing anyone who would want to use this text for any reason, but Zahnd’s particular use of it only adds confusion to his already incoherent view of scriptural authority. I’ll explain.
Anyone familiar with this text, the Pericope Adulterae, knows that there is compelling evidence that it is not original to the New Testament. It is not in any of the earliest manuscripts. Even where it does appear in the manuscript record it contains variations within the text, appears in different places in John’s Gospel, and even appears in Luke in some manuscripts. Zahnd doesn’t acknowledge this fact at all. Nevertheless, Zahnd gives this particular text authoritative status in his attempt to argue that not all of Scripture is equally reliable and authoritative.
Again I ask the question, by what standard do Zahnd and Cavey determine what is authoritative in Scripture and what is not? Obviously, some of it is and some is not. According to Zahnd, the Scriptures contain erroneous “assumptions”, so those texts are not authoritative or reliable even though they are considered God’s word. But, on the other hand, the Pericope Adulterae is treated as authoritative and apparently inerrant. Zahnd trusts that text to be truthful and uses it as authoritative to dismiss texts that actually belong in Scripture. WHY? All I’m looking for is a little clarity and consistency in how this is supposed to work on Cavey and Zahnd’s view.
You see, unless these guys can provide some objective standard by which they know what God intended to be taken as true, you and I have absolutely no means of actually testing their claims. Even if they were right, we could never know. Not only that, they have no way of defending their claims, either! The biblical command to test teaching by Scripture and reject what is false cannot possibly be obeyed on this irrational, incoherent view.
The way Zahnd and Cavey treat scriptural authority is like my kids in a cafeteria. They know what is attractive to them. They know which individual foods they enjoy. They run through the line just grabbing stuff they want and rejecting the stuff they don’t. Not having the maturity to assemble a meal that makes any sense, the end result is a bunch of stuff which individually may be tasty, but together it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s disgusting. No mature person with any knowledge and appreciation of a proper diet would find it appetizing.
Cavey and Zahnd give some texts authority because they like them and reject others because they don’t. I have yet to hear any clear, consistent reasoning as far as why they accept or reject any text. They never treat the Scriptures as a harmonious, consistent, coherent whole because they just don’t want to. It’s as simple as that. Since the Scriptures are actually consistent and coherent when everything taken into account, they just don’t take everything into account! Their theology thrives on making it appear that the Scripture is inconsistent and unclear.
It seems to me that this is what Scripture is talking about when it warns about false teachers who serve their own appetite. You can know them based on the fact that they teach contrary to biblical doctrine. They do not serve Jesus Christ, they serve their appetite, their desires, their preferences. They know ahead of time what they want their conclusions to be and they use the data however they have to to achieve their desired end. The heart of the naive, undiscerning hearer is deceived by their smooth talk and flattery. Paul warns us to watch out for people like this, identify them, and avoid them.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. – Romans 16:17-18
In the end, the view of scriptural authority promoted by Bruxy Cavey and Brian Zahnd is completely incoherent and indefensible. When your theology requires that you handle Scripture the way these men do, it is an admission that the Scripture does not support your position.
If you are expecting Zahnd’s message to make more sense as we go, you will be disappointed. Incoherence an inanity are the hallmarks of this message. Part 3 coming soon. (It’s posted now)