Most Christians are okay with not really understanding how the different books of the Bible fit together. But it really is a big problem. To miss it can end up being to miss the gospel, or to radically change it in extremely unhelpful ways. Recently someone in my church gave me the book
The First Idiot in Heaven. The basic premise of the book is that only Paul’s 13 epistles are really for non-Jewish Christians, Paul preaches a gospel of absolutely pure grace, and that leads to ultimate reconciliation for everyone – ultimate universalism. I don’t think that misrepresents book, though I didn’t read very much of it – 50 pages or so.
So I’m not going to attack the author or his views too much, because I believe you have to really understand and represent your opponents fairly. But some books just get worse the more you read them, and 50 pages into this book I was not intrigued to read further – it falls victim to a fairly old and fairly simplistic heresy. But the biggest problem, the reason its author and those that will believe it’s content are led astray, is precisely because they don’t know how to see the gospel through the Bible. It is because they don’t see Jesus on every page, and they don’t see the continuity of God’s revelation through all of salvation history. Once you see that, a claim like is found in this book – that what Paul calls “my gospel” is actually a different gospel than Peter’s gospel or James’s gospel is not only emotionally preposterous but interpretation really silly.
The thing this author attacks however is a real problem – which is why his book is somewhat dangerous. He’s getting after a real problem. He starts off the book arguing that people feel anxious in like their Christianity isn’t free but enslaving. He shows how the Bible says we should feel free, that we can be objects of radical grace, and that we don’t have to fear whether or not we are really saved or on the right track. That is something people really do feel, and when you read Paul’s epistles you realize that isn’t the way it should be. Though the apostle does recognize we’re all fighting against the sinful nature, it is he who said “it is for freedom that Christ is set you free” Galatians 5:1.
But the answer to this conundrum is not that we should interpret Paul’s epistles alone for ourselves. The answer is we need to be re-instructed on how to interpret the entire Bible. This is not just Jesus’ point it is Paul’s. One way to see this is to look at the apostles free quotations of the Old Testament as supporting his arguments for his view about present salvation for all people. Look in Romans 4 where he argues that everyone has always been saved exactly the same way – by believing God’s promise and having righteousness credited to them. The problem is not that Paul’s gospel has more grace and it than the rest of the Bible, the problem is that we don’t see Jesus and his real gospel on every page.
The problem for ultimate reconciliation is that once you recognize that, you can’t slip out of the rest of the biblical teaching on things like hell. You also can’t have a simplistic notion of grace; or of faith. Once you realize the whole Bible is meant to be put together, you actually have to do the work of putting together. Some people will argue that means we are doing mental or logical gymnastics, like the author of this book, but they are wrong. I’m not looking for a gospel that simplistic, though I am longing for a gospel that is simple.
This is why taking time to put the whole Bible together – even if it takes a year, is well worth it. This is why we need to know how Genesis 1 relates to the book of Matthew in the later chapters in the book of Romans – because they all demonstrate that all of Scripture is about Jesus and all of it is about the gospel – the good news of how God’s redeeming his people and his creation forever.
Book pictured: very not recommended