In my book, I explain that I believe Adam and Eve are real people, not because the Bible says so, but because Jesus believed they were. Again, this is my approach to help people who really want to believe. They have questions and obstacles, and they're trying. As a pastor, I try to do anything I can to make it easier.
And when we use phrases like "The Bible says," we miss teaching opportunities. For instance, Every time I teach from Paul, I say, "Hey, if you're new to church or Christianity, you will love this guy, because Paul hated Christians. If you hate Christians, Paul's your guy. Paul hated them so much he wanted to put them in jail. I bet you know Christians you wish you could have arrested." Everybody laughs. "That's Paul. And then he became a Christian. Isn't that interesting? Now let's see what he has to say." To me, that's way more engaging than saying, "The Bible says."
How did this approach come about in your own preaching? Did you have an unchurched person—either a congregant, visitor, or friend—say, "Hey, when you say, 'The Bible says,' I'm offended"? Or did you realize on your own that using phrases like "Paul says" is more effective?
No one has ever complained or raised this issue. This was purely my asking the question, "How do I engage unchurched people with the Scriptures and keep them engaged as long as possible and make them want to come back the next week?"
James in, Acts 15, essentially says, "Let's not do anything to make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." That verse hangs on the wall in my office, and I look at it just about every day. So when you ask questions like, "How can I be true to the text? How can I be true to my faith and yet remove every unnecessary obstacle for unbelievers?" it occurred to me that the goal is to engage people with Scripture. The goal is to lead them to the place where they acknowledge Jesus to be who he claimed to be. They don't have to believe Noah built an ark and put animals on it to get there. In fact, the reason I believe the Noah story is historical is because Jesus did. So once I gained some clarity around that, it altered my approach to talking about the Scriptures. But it did not alter my confidence or belief in the Scriptures.
In your book, you say the Bible is not one book but a collection of books, written by over 40 men over the span of 1,500 years. You also say they all attest to one story. Couldn't that give preachers warrant for saying, "The Scripture says," or, "Scripture teaches"?
Yeah, it's not that I think it's altogether wrong or bad to use phrases like "The Bible says." In fact, I've said those before. My point is this: For preaching with unchurched people in the room, it's unnecessary and it might even be an obstacle. When I say "unnecessary," I think we can teach any passage in the Bible, we can teach any doctrine of the Bible, we can teach any narrative of the Bible without saying, "The Bible says," because all these narratives and doctrines are found in the specific books of the Bible, written by specific people for a specific purpose. In that sense it's not necessary.
However, it may be necessary to use those phrases when teaching on the authority of the text or why we believe in the authority of Scripture or why we believe Scripture is inerrant. There are times when we should do that. But when we say, "The Bible says," we should explain why.