Learning to Embrace the Whole Counsel of God
According to a 2014 report, I live in the most “Bible-minded” city in America—Chattanooga, Tennessee, a place where churches cover the land as the waters cover the sea. The local newspaper publishes daily Bible verses, and public schools have privately funded Bible classes. Local radio stations air a wide range of weekly sermons, and Christian music seems to rise above the city streets in a holy haze.
It’s the Christian’s Garden of Eden—or so it would seem.
Underneath the towering steeples and “Jesus Saves” billboards, this little slice of Eden is not unlike other buckles of the Bible Belt or areas across the American landscape. Even in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle, evangelical Christians boast of their strong commitment to the Word of God. But this can be misleading. How?
Blush, Squirm, Cringe
Scripture includes many hard-to-swallow texts. Israelites stoned adulterers. At God’s command, his people killed both young and old, even animals. Slaves were told to obey their masters. Jesus said sinners go to hell. The Bible is brimming with passages that make many Christians blush, squirm, and cringe.
I’ve been there too.
Recently, while flipping through the Book of Psalms, I noticed something disturbing. I had underlined and highlighted those passages that communicated God’s steadfast love, his gracious care, and the joyful praise of his people. My pen seemed to hum along in a triumphal ink-letting until I hit something like: “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” (Ps. 139:19).
That’s when it stopped. My pen did a hop, skip, and jump to “and lead me in the way everlasting” (v. 24). Looking through other portions of my Bible, I noticed the same trend. From Genesis to Malachi, Matthew to Revelation, it seemed as though I didn’t want to encounter the offensive and the edgy. I didn’t want to ponder the scientific improbability of the sun standing still (Josh. 10:13) or why the man with crushed testicles wasn’t allowed to enter the worship assembly (Deut. 23:1).
Am I embarrassed by the Bible?
Embracing the Whole Counsel of God
If the Bible is truly God’s self-revelation—inspired by him and profitable for his people—then I must embrace the whole counsel of God in order to have a healthy, balanced, fruit-filled faith.
When I censor the Scriptures, selectively choosing which parts on which to meditate day and night, I refuse to become that tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in season (Ps. 1:1–3). I miss out on the joy-infusing revelation of God, which is living, active, and sharp (Heb. 4:12).
I fear that in our efforts to be “successful”—to be the big church on the block or to gain a respected foothold in the eyes of the watching world—we have functionally compromised our claim that all Scripture is God-breathed, holy, and beneficial (2 Tim. 3:16). Though we like the idea of being biblical—“We’re a biblical church!”—we often censor portions of God’s Word. Maybe, like me, you’ve chased a feel-good faith by cherry-picking those socially acceptable warm-and-fuzzy verses we find plastered on bumper stickers and social media. And maybe, like me, you don’t even realize you’re doing it.
But by censoring the Scriptures—functionally proclaiming only certain portions—we end up creating a fictitious faith by creating God in our image. We begin reinventing the story of creation, fall, and redemption to suit our sensibilities. As a “recovering cherry-picker” myself, I am simply suggesting we take an honest evaluation of ourselves before God.
Not a Safe Book
“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” Paul said (Acts 20:27). And the reason he preached Christ crucified from easy and difficult passages alike is because he understood that he was not the arbiter of truth.
The apostle’s task wasn’t to censor Scripture in the hope people would be (more likely) saved after hearing a partial gospel; his task was to preach the whole counsel of God because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
When we embrace the entirety of Scripture, we are freed from making our Maker “fit” our socially correct, tame caricatures of a god who seems no more omnipotent than a divine grandpa. But like Aslan, God isn’t safe. The lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered. Eternally self-sufficient, he is dependent on no one. And his Word reveals his majesty and glory from Genesis to Revelation.
Jesus didn’t summon us to a halfhearted, self-empowering journey called “Christianity”; he called us to deny ourself, take up our cross, and follow him (Luke 9:23). This is nothing less than an electric chair for our flesh. By grace we put to death our fear of man—our craving to be accepted—and return to a proper fear of God, who didn’t waste words when he gave us his Word. Embracing the entire Bible acknowledges him as the everlasting author of truth, the bulwark never failing.
Whether you have unconsciously censored the Scriptures, as I have, or you have become increasingly aware of this widespread reality among many professing Christians, let’s commit ourselves afresh to the whole counsel of God. May we take great delight in his Word (from beginning to end) and meditate on it day and night, that we might be like strong fruit-bearing trees, planted by streams of water for God’s glory and our joy.
Originally published at The Gospel Coalition, 2015. Used by permission.