This is the third part of my review of Brian Zahnd’s teaching at The Meeting House. In this series I will be reviewing Zahnd’s sermon and a Roundtable podcast he participated in during his visit to The Meeting House.
He preached a sermon called “Bad Idea: The Bible Trumps Jesus” in which he argues for an incoherent view of Scripture and it’s relationship to Jesus. 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 his particular view of Jesus. Zahnd later tells us “Jesus saves the Bible from being just another violent religious text”.
Bruxy Cavey and the leadership of BIC Canada apparently thought it would be a good idea to have Zahnd in to address their people. It’s not surprising considering most of the stuff he said I have heard in one form or another from Cavey himself. The statement addressed in this post is certainly something I have heard from Cavey. This is not just a critique of Brian Zahnd, but Bruxy Cavey as well as an indictment on the leadership of BIC Canada and The Meeting House.
In this post I’m going to address a specific statement in Zahnd’s sermon. This statement refutes his own position. Furthermore, his view makes nonsense of the text he cites.
The Infallible Capacity of the Fallible Scriptures
Zahnd makes the following comment on his view of Scriptural infallibility citing John 5:39:
“What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus. Jesus himself said this. He says to the Pharisees in John 5 ‘You search the Scriptures because you think in them that you have eternal life but it is they which bear witness to me.’ What the Bible is to do is not be an end in itself but bring us to Jesus.” – Bad Idea #3: The Bible Trumps Jesus (15:11)
Again, Zahnd arbitrartily grants a text he likes, John 5:39, authoritative, inerrant status over other texts. As usual, he gives no justification for this, he simply assumes it.
To his point, it’s not wrong to say that the Scriptures infallibly point us to Jesus. But that is very different from saying the Bible is infallible. What Zahnd means in saying that Scripture infallibly points us to Jesus is that the Bible itself is not infallible, but without fail points it’s reader to Jesus. But, on Zahnd’s view, especially in the context of the text he cites, such a claim is exposed as irrational and incoherent.
Zahnd refutes Zahnd
First, Zahnd’s view here is self-refuting. On Zahnd’s view, the Old Testament Scriptures actually contradict Jesus and contain erroneous “assumptions” about God. There are even explicit commands which Jesus repudiates. How then, can the Scriptures infallibly bring the first century Jews to Jesus? Would not a Jew who really believed the Scriptures necessarily reject Jesus as a false prophet? If Jesus came around, claiming to be God, correcting Old Testament theism’s “assumptions”, the Jew who held to the entirety of the Old Testament as being true would be obligated to reject him on that basis. They would be entirely justified in their accusation that Jesus was a liar and a blasphemer, that he was trying to lead them after false gods based on their belief in the Old Testament Scripture. Yet, Christ holds the Jews accountable to believe in him on the basis of these Scriptures. On Zahnd’s view of the nature of Scripture, the Old Testament would infallibly point those who believed it away from Jesus.
Imagine if today, someone came and claimed to be Jesus. How would Brian Zahnd and Bruxy Cavey know that such a person was lying? They would appeal to Scripture, of course! What if “Jesus” simply claimed that the texts of Scripture to which they appealed were actually in error, the false “assumptions” of the writers of Scripture? As far as I can tell, Zahnd and Cavey would have no defense against such a person since they have already said that this is exactly the position the Jews of Jesus’ day were in. I’m not saying they wouldn’t reject a wacko claiming to be Christ today, I am saying that they have destroyed any objective foundation for doing so.
Jesus Refutes Zahnd
Furthermore, John 5:39 itself refutes Zahnd’s position and exposes something frightening about his own view. John 5:39 is not a verse unto itself, it is a statement that Jesus made in the middle of an argument in the midst of a certain context. Let’s look at John 5 quickly.
In John 5, the Jews are accusing Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and for claiming to be equal with God. They were rejecting him the grounds that they understood him to be blaspheming and breaking God’s law regarding the Sabbath (v 1-18). Jesus is rebuking the Jews who do not believe in him. He says that John the Baptist, his own works, and the Father himself bear witness that the Father sent him (v 19-37), but that the Jews did not believe because they did not have the Father’s word abiding in them (v 38). He then says that even though they search the Scriptures for eternal life, they do not realize that they are speaking of him (v 38) so they refuse to come to him for life (v 39). Not only do they not have the Father’s word abiding in them, they do not have the love of God within them (v 42). They cannot believe as long as they receive glory from each other and not God (v 44). Jesus tells them that if they had believed the Scriptures, specifically Moses, they would believe him, but they do not believe Moses and so do not believe him. He even says that Moses will testify against them to the Father because they did not believe him (v 45-47).
We see that Jesus was confronting the Jew’s unbelief. By accusing Jesus of blasphemy and breaking God’s law they were not believing the Scriptures, specifically Moses who gave the law. Their understanding of Moses was unbelieving and wrong. The Jews were not guilty of believing Scripture too thoroughly, allowing it to inform their understanding as their ultimate authority, and “trumping Jesus” with it. No, Jesus said the reason they didn’t recognize him as the prophesied Messiah was that they didn’t believe Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was in perfect harmony with the Old Testament, with Moses, and those who believed it believed him. This runs contrary to Zahnd’s (and Cavey’s) position.
The Jews read the Scripture, of course. Jesus says they even searched the Scriptures. Apparently, they believed that Jesus’ ministry was inconsistent and contradictory to the Old Testament. They said that Jesus broke the law of Moses and blasphemed God by doing and teaching that which was contrary to the Old Testament revelation about God. Zahnd believes the same thing, he just chooses Jesus where the Jews chose their understanding of the Old Testament! Jesus said this was unbelief due to not having the word of the Father, nor the love of God within them. What does this say about Zahnd’s spiritual condition based on his understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures as they relate to Christ? Just ask yourself, would Moses testify that Zahnd does not believe what he wrote?
Zahnd’s statement about the infallible capacity of the Scripture to lead a person to Christ and his use of John 5 in the light of his overall view of the nature of Scripture itself is very revealing. Not only does he refute himself, but he ends up on the side of the unbelieving Jews in John 5, not Jesus.
All of Scripture carries all of God’s authority and is a consistent coherent whole. Not only did Jesus teach this, but his teaching in places like John 5 becomes absurd and incoherent when we jettison that understanding. Zahnd disagrees, but he’s unable to do so without refuting himself. Could there be a clearer mark of a false teaching than the fact that it refutes itself and makes nonsense of the very texts used to support it?
In my next post I will be dealing with Brian Zahnd’s examples of what it looks like to “trump Jesus” with the Bible. We will see that Zahnd simply will not handle Scripture fairly, and seemingly cannot reason logically. Stay tuned… (It is now up)