By now you will have read or heard about the young Adventist pastor who is embarking on a year long sojourn into atheism. I reference his case here not because I wish to condemn him; quite the contrary. As it happens, I know him quite well, and have noted with alarm his progress toward this point. He is a bright young man who is going through a real crisis in his life and deserves our compassion and merits our prayers.

I bring up his situation because his plight is instructive in my recent series of blogs. I’ve been talking about the sun in your universe; the central precept around which the rest of your belief system revolves.

In brief, I believe the only safe ‘sun’ around which too center one’s understanding is the Bible. You may have expected me to put Jesus in that position, and I would agree. But we would not have knowledge or understanding of Jesus without the Bible. It is the Bible whicht tells of his life and teachings, the Bible which he referenced to  validate his person, his calling and his mission. So if we are to center our beliefs on Christ, that means the Living Word as revealed through the Written Word. Yes, the Spirit speaks to us and we can experience Christ in our lives personally, but the Written Word is the Spirit’s sword and the standard by which we must try the spirits. There’s simply no tgetting around the written word for the Christian.

But the written word is difficult, challenging sometimes almost baffling. It’s inconvenient. And so we all, and all too often, substitute something else—something good, often something wonderful—for that difficult, challenging, inconvenient book.

We often celebrate this substitution as a sort of epiphany, a startling and helpful insight. It takes the general form of : The Bible (or salvation, etc.) is really about (fill in wonderul insight). Whatever we believe the Bible is “really” about is wonderful because it seems to eliminate all the difficulties , challenges, and especially the inconvenient passages from scripture. It provides us with the marvelous ability to say, “Oh that, what it really means is (whatever agrees with our substitute).” And when it comes to the really inconvenient passages, we simply say, “That is an indication of their limited understanding.”

Many of us pursue this course for years, never realizing that we have organized our lives around a false center. But some, like my young friend, discover that those inconvenient passages just won’t go away.  And when they discover that the Bible wasn’t really about (whatever) all along they must choose between the Bible and (whatever).

Make no mistake. This is no easy choice. They have organized their life, their beliefs, their existence around this precept, this core belief, and they have believed the Bible was, too. And this core belief is noble, elevating, and good—but it is no itself the Ultimate Good.  Inevitably—because their substitute is at best incomplete—they come to the place where they can no longer deny the conflict between this core belief and some teaching in the Bible, when they recognize that two are incompatible, they will be forced to change their view of one or the other.

That is where, I believe, my friend has come to. His core belief, what philosophers call his summum bonum—his ultimate good—can no longer be reconciled with what he sees the Bible teaching about God. To preserve his core belief, he needs to explore the possibility that God is wrong; not that a Supreme Being could be mistaken, but that we could be mistaken for believing in a Supreme Being.

I see three primary substitutes being made for the Bible as central truth. Each of them is wonderful. I’ll take those up in the upcoming blogs.