“Jesus loves me this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.”
We’ve all heard and probably sung this little children’s tune at some point or another, yet it is fundamentally flawed. It gets things backwards. Actually, it makes the progression linear when it is circular. I don’t love Jesus because the Bible tells me to. I love Jesus because he is God’s Son and God commands me too. How do I know this? Well, through the Bible primarily.
It comes down to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that tries to answer the question, “How do we know?” There are two main theories: foundationalism and coherentism. Foundationalism says there are certain truths that all other knowledge rests on. One of the best-known examples of this sort of epistemology is Rene Descartes’ famous cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore, I am. From that assertion, Descartes was able to reconstruct his entire world which had been torn apart by doubt.
Coherentism, on the other hand, sees facts as connected in a web and supporting each other. It allows for circular reinforcement such as we see with our faith and the Scriptures. I believe the Bible because it contains truth about God; I believe in God because I am able to learn about him through reading the Bible. Personal experience, the church, and the testimony of others also contribute to my knowledge.
This is in opposition to the view that the veracity of the Scriptures is the bedrock upon which all knowledge is built. This foundational view is flawed because it makes faith logically impossible. If we can only believe because of the revelation of the Scriptures, then either God dropped the Bible out of the sky—a doctrine of some religions—or it was composed by unbelievers. How could they be believers if they didn’t have the Scripture? Can we trust the testimony of unbelievers?
I don’t think I’m just being an intellectual gadfly here. Consider 1 John 1.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)—
Notice in the progression how the writing comes at the end. The Truth has been from the beginning. They have seen and touched Jesus. The Truth was revealed to them and they have proclaimed it to others. Now John is getting around to writing it down. The church—a body of believers—existed before the Scriptures. The Scriptures were written for the church, by the church. The church is not a product of “applying the Scriptures.” The Scriptures are a result of the church transmitting the Gospel by every means possible.