I’m always nervous when I meet a Christian who has ideas about God I cannot find in scripture. Because there are lots of neat ideas about God out there—or gods, or the gods, or the spirits—but I have some boundaries in my thinking that separate what I can hang onto firmly and what I can only entertain as “pipe and bar” talk.

If I cannot find evidence for my beliefs in the scriptures, then I cannot trust what I believe. If I think God must be a certain way, or behave in certain patterns, and yet cannot substantiate those claims from the Bible, then I’d better hold them loosely. On the flip side, if I find scriptural examples that contradict my thoughts about how God is supposed to be, I should let go of my opinions immediately.

Because I’m not the final authority.

I’m not more moral than God, and if God decides to do things I don’t like or behave in ways that embarrass me, I’m the one out of line. Not God. And the only way I have to adjudicate whether I’m wrong is scripture. I can block out the voice of the Spirit and deny the conviction God sends. I can deceive myself and others. But I cannot eliminate what the scripture teaches. It’s there, in black and white (and sometimes red or green), for the entire world to see. And when I depart from it, there are millions of believers who cry foul.

Adapted from Then. Now. Next.: A Biblical vision of the church, the kingdom, and the future.