not just a Book of Virtues

Published January 19, 2013 by Andrew Lindsey in Bible study

Responsibility. Courage. Compassion. Honesty. Friendship. Persistence. Faith. Everyone recognizes these traits as essentials of good character. In order for our children to develop such traits, we have to offer them examples of good and bad, right and wrong.

The above quote is from a synopsis on The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. This book contains stories from American history, Greek mythology, English poetry, fairy tales, modern fiction, and the Bible.

The synopsis continues:

[T]hese stories are a rich mine of moral literacy, a reliable moral reference point that will help anchor our children and ourselves in our culture, our history, and our traditions — the sources of the ideals by which we wish to live our lives.

Now, the point of this blog entry is not to throw rocks at Bill Bennett’s book. Rather, this information about The Book of Virtues is given because just as Bible stories are given in this book to provide moral examples for us to follow, many people seem to think that the point of all the Bible is to give us instructions on how to live good, virtuous lives. But this thinking is fallacious to the core, as explained by Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

You cannot view the Bible the way a rabbi would. You view the Bible the way Jesus does: it is about Him. And yet so much that we see in terms of the teaching and the preaching and the discipleship of the Bible is not really Christ-focused. And when you remove Christ from the picture, what do you have left? You have moralism. You have exactly what so many of us have seen in childrens’ Sunday School. Jesus calls the disciples– Jesus had friends — you have friends. The little boy gives to Jesus the loaves and the fishes– he shared– you share [you see how this kind of teaching subtly and consistently shifts the focus away from Jesus and on to people]. The little boy gave the little dab that he had and Jesus was able to multiply that– you give the little dab that you have and Jesus is able to multiply that– that’s true; that is not the point of the passage. Indeed, for all that we know, this little boy is screaming on the ground, ‘Don’t take my fish and loaves away from me!’ He’s not presented as an example! That text is about something: it is about Christ.

You see this whenever we go through the Bible and you’re using the Bible simply as examples of the way that we really ought to act. Whether that’s in a liberal church going through the Bible and saying, ‘Now, all of you know that you should be recycling,’ or whether it’s in a conservative church where we’re going through the Bible teaching on sexual abstinence without explaining why.

But the Bible does not do this. Notice, for instance, in the book of Ephesians, in Ephesians chapter 5, when the Apostle Paul starts talking about marriage and sexuality– starts talking about this one flesh relationship and he says, ‘I’m speaking to you about a mystery.’ Now, Paul here is not stopping his discussion and saying, ‘OK, now we’ve talked about all the purposes for the universe, now I want to give you marriage tips.’ He doesn’t do that. He says, ‘I am speaking to you,’ in verse 32, ‘a mystery that is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.’ What Paul is not doing is saying, ‘You know, you really ought to be faithful to one another, you really ought to have a good marriage, and a marriage between a man and a woman is kind of like– I don’t know– the sun and the moon/the stars and the ground, no, that’s not it– it’s kind of like Christ and the Church, that’s it!.’ That is not what Paul is doing. Paul is not using Christ and the Church as an illustration. Paul is saying, ‘When God designs a man and a woman and puts them together in a one-flesh relationship: that is the illustration.’ It is pointing you to a mysterious relationship between Jesus and His body. It is about Christ.

[Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2004 Collegiate Conference, Plenary Session 1, MP3]

In all of the Bible the focus is on Jesus- on who He is, on what He has done, on what He is doing now, and on what He will do. If you do not understand this, then you do not understand the Bible at all. When this truth is understood, it becomes obvious why biblical theology must be Christ-focused theology and why right actions must flow from right beliefs.

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