Theologian: Bible About God's Character, Not Concepts

Professed Christians causing and bringing about conflict is much more than a matter of religious hypocrisy, according to New Testament Professor Rikk Watts.

Aggression by supposed Christians is really due to an "idolatry" of concepts, he told some 200 pastors and Bible teachers Wednesday at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore.

"If you think it's all about concepts, don't be surprised if we treat people bad over concepts," said Watts, who teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. "People in the name of truth will treat people badly."

The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) was a horrifying example of the implications of a Christianity baptized in science and philosophy. Comparatively speaking, the pan-European conflict was even more devastating than the Second World War, the professor highlighted.

"It's not about ideas, it's about people," he said. "Ideas were not made in God's image, people were." Christians should not imagine that faith is merely about theological description, Watts added.

People are tempted to pursue a conceptual understanding even of God because it gives them a sense of control amid a world full of uncertainty. But assurance for Christians does not come by way of their ability to describe unchanging truth, he expressed. They are secure in the knowledge of God's character.

Christian confidence lies in a God who came to mankind in Jesus Christ, who loved, died and resurrected for them, he elaborated.

Making a science out of an attempt to understand God may give people a sense of power. Yet, like science, which it resembles, theology as it is done today cannot give insight into human meaning and ethics.

Watts gave the example of a chess game. Scientific observation of a chess game may lead to some understanding of the way the game is played. But it cannot differentiate between the friendly game played by a couple and the competitive one played by opponents. Just like that, theology has become an "elite exercise that doesn't change lives," he pointed out.

Philosophy cannot address the deepest needs of humankind. That is because human beings are not just thinkers. In contrast, writers of the Bible had a better understanding of what it means to be human. Human life revolves around the story and history.

Making a point, the pastor asked: "How do you get to know somebody?

It is not by asking them about their weight or DNA composition. "You ask questions about their history," he said. That will offer a glimpse into the underlying person.

Watts explained that people get to know others by observing them in different situations. Knowing people is about knowing their character, which is revealed through their behavior.

In the same way, "we get to know Jesus because we see Him in a whole range of different situations," he expressed.

The Gospels, stories about Jesus relating what He said and did, record His encounters with an adulterous woman and chief tax collector, among others. The "bias" of His disciples who wrote the accounts of His life and ministry is not an issue, contrary to contention in some academic circles. That is because every history is an interpretation, he expressed.

Furthermore Jesus as the Bible presents Him is not a "moral police of the universe," the professor emphasized. He brings the life of God, who alone has life, to others and allows it to transform them. Jesus is also the "ultimate expression of a life-giving God," he highlighted.

Holiness is not about being good, the professor pointed out. An excessive emphasis on goodness can actually bring death to people. It can make demons of its proponents. "I think holiness has to do with whether my life brings the life of God to other people," he said. That was how the early church won over the ancient Roman world, the scholar added.

Watts made his comments as part of an annual seminar co-organized by the Anglican Diocese of Singapore and the Bible Society of Singapore to equip pastors and Bible teachers and benefit laypeople. He was addressing the issue of New Testament writers quoting the Old Testament seemingly out of context.

The scholar explained that the cases can be seen as the writers' emphasis on showing the unchanging character of God.