Bruxy Cavey is an author, speaker, and Pastor of The Meeting House - one of Canada’s largest and most influential churches. Bruxy is a man that I have personally admired for more than fifteen years. His giftset is incredible. He’s brilliant theologically and an unreal communicator. I’ve heard Bruxy speak many times and have grown in my faith because of it. I’ve read (some, not all of) what he has written, and I’ve had the privilege to meet him twice. Less than a week ago Bruxy posted an article entitled: ‘Radical Christians & the Word of God (Part 1 of 3): Authority’ (Click HERE for the full article). It would be fair to say that nothing in this article was new but what was there was extremely concerning to me and, to be honest, disheartening to read from a Pastor, teacher, and Jesus-follower like Bruxy.
Before I begin I’d like to make clear that my motivation in writing this response is to serve the people of Westside Church in Vancouver where I have the great privilege of pastoring. I have no desire whatsoever to argue over minor or unimportant theological nuances. But nothing about what Bruxy wrote in this article is minor or unimportant.
As a way to frame the conversation (and assuming you’ve read the article, if you haven’t—please do it now), let me start by highlighting what I believe are the primary concerns Bruxy means to address.
If you’ve ever heard Bruxy speak you’ll likely know that he’s passionate about followers of Jesus actually following Jesus. I love that about him and share this concern with all my heart. This is why I loved the first line of the article: “We believe in the authoritative, inerrant, infallible Word of God—and his name is Jesus.” At Westside our mission is ‘To Make Jesus Known’ because we believe the exact same thing! Jesus is the greatest revelation of God that humankind has ever been given (Col. 1:15-20) and by making disciples of Him we keep Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the centre of our ministry. The article gets even better a little later on when Bruxy writes, “Radical (as opposed to ‘reformed’—again, read the article) Christians believe that, as disciples of Jesus, our central commitment is to learn from JESUS as his apprentices.” It seems to me that this is Bruxy’s primary concern and I share it.
In addition to this—or more accurately, in light of this—Bruxy is concerned that Christ-followers live lives which emulate “the nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus.” In other words, Bruxy believes that a clear understanding of who Jesus is will lead those who follow Him away from violence of any and all kinds. And again, we’re on the same page here too! The Bible presents a clear call for Christians to pray for our persecutors, love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), forgive those who wrong us (Matt. 18:21-35), and leave vengeance to the only just judge that exists—God Himself (Rom. 12:19).
But sadly, this is about where our agreement ends. As Bruxy goes on to challenge followers of Jesus toward these two ends he does it by setting up an unhelpful, unwise, unnecessary, and extremely dangerous false dichotomy between Jesus and the Bible. The separation between the two begins very subtly when he writes,
“Protestants tend to talk about the Bible in ways that Christians should really talk about Jesus. Many Protestant Christians say things like ‘We follow the Bible’, or will talk about the ‘authority of the Bible,’ or say that Scripture is ‘inerrant.’ As a Radical Christian, these are things I would tend to say about Jesus first and foremost. I follow Jesus. Jesus holds all authority. And Jesus is the perfect one, without error.”
I can’t imagine anyone who believes that Jesus is God and desires to follow Him disagreeing with Bruxy on any of this.
Yes, we follow Jesus!
Yes, Jesus holds all authority!
And yes, Jesus is perfect, without error!
But sadly, without saying it, Bruxy has just begun to undermine God’s word as found in the Bible by holding up Jesus, the one the Bible points to. This continues just a few paragraphs later when he writes, “Anabaptists (Radical Reformers) read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize and meditate on the Bible. And yet, we don’t think in terms of following the Bible – we follow Jesus.”
So here’s the million dollar question—why? Why would Bruxy (a Bible teacher!) want to set up a distinction between following what the Bible says and following Jesus? He gives three reasons in the article. The first two are very similar:
“Firstly (he writes), Jesus-following is our identity as disciples of Christ. We are Christ-ians, not Bible-ians.” He finds support for this in Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus says “Come to ME, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take MY yoke upon you and learn from ME, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light.
The second reason he gives is that, “Jesus said clearly, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ I’d like to look at these first two together before moving and onto his third reason. The most important thing to notice here is that neither of these first two points or the Scriptures used to back them up give any support to downplaying the authority of the Bible whatsoever. The fact that Jesus calls us to follow HIM doesn’t undermine to importance of Scripture, it elevates it! How are we to know who Jesus is or how to follow Him without the word He’s given us? The Bible, at every point, points to Jesus (as Bruxy later points out). This is why, after His resurrection, Jesus was able to walk His disciples through what we now call the Old Testament and show them that the whole thing points to Him (See Luke 24:13-27). On top of that, Jesus promised that His disciples who would later become Apostles would be given a very special gift by the Holy Spirit of being able to recall all that He had said to them (John 14:26). What that means is that the Old and New Testaments are both all about Jesus! Again, the distinction between following Jesus and following the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible is a distinction that Bruxy is coming up with on his own. There’s no biblical support for it and nothing in the life of Jesus that would support it either. And apparently Bruxy would disagree with that. Which is why the third reason he gives for setting up his distinction goes like this.
“Thirdly, in the Bible we see examples of Jesus taking authority over the Bible.” From there Bruxy goes on to list texts like in Matthew 5 where Jesus uses the pattern of “You have heard it said...but I tell you…” He references Jesus’ claim of authority to forgive sins apart from the Jewish sacrificial system and Jesus reversing the dietary laws of Moses, just to name a few. It’s amazing to me that Bruxy attempts to use these texts as support of His position when, according to Jesus Himself, they do the opposite! In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
Jesus didn’t undermine the authority of our Old Testament when He taught that He was the fulfillment of Old Testament law. And He didn’t undermine the Scriptures when He called people to look only to Him for salvation. Jesus stood on the Scriptures to point to the validity of His Messianic claim. Which is why the way we read of Him handling the Old Testament is as entirely authoritative. It’s why He could defend the reality of bodily resurrection by appealing to the tense of a verb from Exodus 3:6 (Matt. 22:32). It’s why He defended the sanctity of marriage by appealing to Genesis 1. It’s why Jesus could say, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt. 5:18). And it’s why those who aim to follow Jesus in every area of life have to come under the Scriptures as authoritative just like Jesus did!
Bruxy obviously gets the tension that exists here which is why he goes on to state, “Now let me be as clear as I can. In the category of written documents, the Bible is uniquely and absolutely authoritative.” Now, at first this sounds really good. Especially coupled with what he says only a few sentences later that, “...because the Bible is uniquely breathed out by God we trust it and use it, as Paul recommends in 2 Timothy 3:16.” That sounds great - until he adds this, “But remember, as Christians, no written document is our absolute authority—Jesus is!...The Bible is not a Christian’s ultimate authority, but our penultimate authority, pointing to Jesus as our ultimate authority.”
WHY THIS MATTERS
I understand if this sounds like just a matter of semantics to you. But nothing could be further from the truth! To separate the authority of Jesus from the authority of the Bible is to separate the authority of God from the word of God. It’s like telling a child to obey his/her parents while giving permission to ignore what those same parents have said. The real problem with undermining the authority of the Bible (which, by the way, is where we learn about Jesus) is that we become the authoritative ones instead. If we give ourselves the allowance to reinterpret Scripture based on our understanding of Jesus, with what do we govern our understanding of Jesus? See, we need something solid to tether our understandings of Jesus to. If that anchor point isn’t the Bible then it naturally becomes us! Now we get to say, “this is my view of Jesus” and run with it because the Bible is less authoritative than our personal picture of who Jesus is! This is another repackaging of the age old attempt to make God in our image instead of submitting to Him as the only authoritative one.
WHY BRUXY’S POSITION IS AN ATTRACTIVE ONE
Bruxy encourages those who listen to and respect him to undermine the authority of the Bible but not just because he says so. He does it for three primary reasons:
The first is past abuses of biblical authority. He writes,
“History has shown us that when a group of Christians champion the idea of the “authority of Scripture” as did the Protestant Reformers, they get no closer to following Jesus on some very important issues, like the issue of the nonviolent, enemy loving, peace making way of Jesus.”
He then goes on to detail very real errors that were made during the reformation period in the 16th century. By the way, he’s not wrong. Many of the reformers made serious errors in the name of God and twisted Scripture to support those errors. But it has to be said—this is NOT a reason to minimize the authority of Scripture, it’s a reason to call the Church back to it! Just because the Bible has been twisted in the past to justify evil doesn’t mean we should twist it in the present to justify goodness. It means we should teach our people how to interpret it properly, in light of Jesus! As Christians, Jesus has to be our interpretive grid. That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t authoritative, it means that Jesus has to be at the centre of every interpretation and application we make! Bruxy also uses a modern example where an unnamed Protestant Christian Pastor used the Bible to justify Christian participation in modern day violent acts. Again, a clear perversion of Scripture and another reason to hold onto the Bible’s authority not undermine it.
A second reason comes from the reality that it’s possible to hold the Bible as our authority and miss Jesus altogether. As Bruxy points out,
“Jesus says it is possible to follow the Bible, love the Bible, study the Bible – and never hear the voice of God. Furthermore, it is possible to memorize and meditate on the Bible, and never have God’s “word dwell in you”. Let this sink in. Unless we use the Bible as a pointer to Jesus, and then come to JESUS for our life, we are misusing the Bible.”
Once again, I could not agree with him more on this point. But to think this justifies the minimization of biblical authority is ludicrous! This is the very reason that we must always make it our aim to interpret all of Scripture in light of the person and work of Jesus unlike the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
Finally, he writes that, “...we are not ‘People of the Book’ as much as we are ‘People of the Person’. We are not (or at least, should not be) a bookish faith, lived out primarily by reading.” By this point, we’re beating a dead horse (...I just realized how horrible an analogy that is). If we want to be ‘people of the person (Jesus)’ we have to be people who obey what He says. This doesn’t mean we hold passages that speak directly about Jesus in higher regard than those that don’t. It means we see Jesus in all of Scripture Just as Jesus told us to.
Bruxy’s article didn’t sadden me because there’s ongoing theological disagreement in the church (surprise, surprise…). It saddened me because the majority of self-professing christians in our country already have little to no place for biblical authority in their lives and here’s one more piece of encouragement for them in that direction. If we want to make disciples of Jesus we need to call people back to the only authoritative word on Jesus that we have. It breaks my heart that yet another Bible teacher has decided to spend time and energy encouraging people to think less of the Bible as if that would aid them in thinking more of Jesus.
Matt Menzel is the Lead Pastor at Westside Church. Matt is married to Melissa.