As a child, I enjoyed coloring books. Outlines of people, animals and landscapes awaited my choice of colors and craftsmanship to brighten the picture by filling in the areas indicated by the artist. It bothered me when people colored those pages without any reference to the lines. I have since discovered that some artists and child development experts believe coloring books are potentially detrimental to a child’s creative development, and that children ought not be restricted to someone else’s view of reality. It seems to me that the issue of “coloring outside the lines” is a metaphor with serious implications.
God Himself purposed to establish lines and boundaries in His creation. “Should you not fear me?” declares the LORD. “Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.”Boundaries help us to acknowledge and reverence God’s authority.
God has established lines, not only in the creation around us, but also within our own humanity, marking out moral boundaries for individuals and societies. Many people today ignore these boundary lines as though they are artificial constructs in some cosmic coloring book instead of Godgiven markers. We ignore the lines He established to our own peril. Some people transgress boundaries in the name of self-expression without understanding that we did not create our selves or our society. We were divinely designed. The boundaries set forth by our Creator were not to limit our self-expression, but to channel our own creativity in ways that lead to life and a deeper relationship to the One who made us and gave us our sense of self. God’s boundaries show us His grace and demonstrate His truth. To depart from that path is to confuse selfexpression with self-indulgence.
True freedom has always operated within boundaries set by our Creator. There is tremendous beauty and creativity to be discovered within the lines of submission to truth as revealed in Scripture. God’s boundaries are not meant to curb our potential, but to protect and promote it. When we see His sovereign control in our lives as evidence of His grace, then we can say with the Psalmist: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).
It is easy to see where people are coloring outside the lines theses days in terms of biblical morality. Lack of sexual restraint is perhaps the most obvious. It is understandable that those who do not believe in God, or in the Bible as His Word ignore His boundaries. Yet there are also believers who piously intone that it is inappropriate to “impose their views on others,” as though these lines were drawn by them, and not God.
The same can be said when it comes to basic theology, the study and articulation of what the Bible says about God, humanity, sin, salvation, etc. God’s Word provides boundaries that outline the contours of spiritual reality. In this arena, “coloring outside the lines” is devastating for the church and her effectiveness in reaching the world. Whereas I am all for creativity and “thinking outside the box,” it is important to note that thinking outside the confines of our own cultures and the trappings of our traditions is quite different from giving new interpretations to the plain sense of Scripture.
An axiom regarding creativity in theology is, “If it is true, it isn’t new and if it’s new, it isn’t true.” Yet we face the very thing Paul warned us about when he wrote, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Here are a few examples of how I see this happening.
An idea called the “New Perspective on Paul” has had a growing impact within some churches. Proponents contend that when Paul spoke of the doctrine of justification, he wasn’t referring to how God saves people from sin, but rather how people become part of the Church. The troubling implication of this position may not be immediately apparent to all, but further investigation reveals a view of salvation that is based on faith plus works, rather than grace through faith alone. Says N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop who has popularized this “new” perspective: “The discussions of justification in much of the history of the church, certainly since Augustine, got off on the wrong foot . . . and they have stayed there ever since.” (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 115). This stance seems to be one that appeals to pride.
Within some churches, “coloring outside the lines” has led to downright fanciful reinterpretations of biblical texts. In his popular “Nooma” sermon series on DVD, emergent Pastor Rob Bell contends that when Peter began to sink during his attempt to walk to Jesus on the water, Jesus’ word to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) was actually a rebuke for his selfdoubt. In other words, Peter’s sinking problem was that he didn’t believe enough in himself! If we imagine that the passage exhorts Christians to have faith in themselves, this world’s culture is coloring Christian theology, when it ought to be the other way around. (For an interesting response to the “Nooma” series, see http://thideology.blogspot.com/2005/11/emergent-church-part-i_17.html).
In another corner of the church, John Hagee marketed his latest book, In Defense of Israel with the sensational promise that it would “shake Christian theology.” The first half of the book has little to do with theology. However, in the second half, his assertion that “The Jews Did Not Reject Jesus as the Messiah,” (p. 132) states that Jesus didn’t come to earth to be the Messiah and therefore the Jewish people did not reject what Jesus Himself had never offered. Hagee wants Christians to appreciate and support the Jewish people, but has discouraged Christians from believing that Jewish people need to be evangelized (See Charisma magazine, April 2004). He has contorted his theology in a way that allows him to be perfectly content to think it unnecessary to offer Jewish people the message that Jesus is their Messiah and Savior.
In the midst of all this, some evangelical Christians have made a concerted effort to redraw the lines of our faith boldly. Recently, a document titled “The Gospel and the Jewish People: An Evangelical Statement,” has been signed and promoted by a significant number of leading evangelical Christians. Sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance, this statement reinforces important lines concerning the gospel including:
- Jesus is the Messiah and only way of salvation for Jewish people and everyone else.
- It is the duty of all Christians to lovingly and clearly share Jesus with all people, including the Jewish people.
You can read the full text of this statement in the insert included with this newsletter.
I am thankful for the bold stand taken by the Christian leaders who signed this statement. They have reinforced important lines drawn in Scripture, lines to guide the Church in helping Jewish people and others to understand the central teaching of the gospel and the Christian faith.
May we have the courage to challenge brothers and sisters who, for whatever reasons, ignore or redraw theological boundaries. May we continue to work creatively and artistically to fill in the content and color within God’s beautiful outline.