Friday, August 26, 2011

Taking the Bible Seriously - Seriously?

If you have ever engaged anyone in a conversation about life, meaning, or morality, you know it can generate tension. The world loves to feign that it is completely open and tolerant when it comes to such deep subjects, but experience shows that to be more academic than actual. There is a juncture in many of these conversations where I really catch holy “heck” from my adversary. That moment arrives as soon as I reference the Bible as the source for my views. Inevitably, the response is something like, “you have got to be kidding me?” They will usually say something like, “The Bible is an antiquated book written by superstitious and religious zealots who were bigots of the worse kind.” They may say something a little more charitable than that, but the précis is identical: the Bible is nothing more than a manmade production and is profoundly archaic. For an extended period in western culture, the Bible has been under attack. When you add to this trend the fact that most churches are simply parallel reflections of the culture in which they exist, it is not surprising to find that cultural mindsets about the Bible, to one extent or another, have managed to contaminate numerous communities of faith within the visible church.

The contemporary philosophy known as postmodernism is probably the most pervasive philosophy in Western culture. In postmodern philosophy, truth is nothing more than a property of cultural propositions created to express customs, emotions, and values embedded in a community’s linguistic practices. [Moreland, J.P. Whatever Happened to Truth, 79] Hence, it follows that culture disallows any claims of absolute truth or objective reality ipso facto. When you couple hyper-individualism with postmodernism, it is not surprising that the Bible is rejected, to one degree or another, as absolute truth and the authoritative guide God intended it to be. This is practically no less true in the Christian community as it is in the world. Augustine said if you only believe the part of the gospel you desire and reject the other, then it isn’t the gospel you believe. That holds for the Bible as well. If you only believe the parts of the Bible you wish, while rejecting the other parts, then it isn’t the Bible you believe. Moreover, if we decide which parts of the Bible have authority over our life and which parts do not, it follows that we cannot rightly say that the Bible is our source of authority for faith and practice. We are!

Sola Scriptura is the principle from the reformation that addressed the issue of biblical authority. This principle serves to place the Bible as the sole authority over faith and practice in Christian living. There are many conservative churches claiming to embrace a high view of Scripture all the while denying its authority by various means. “A high view of Scripture is of little value to us if we do not enthusiastically embrace the Scripture’s authority.” [Carson. D.A. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. 47] This is the crux of the problem. Scripture is under direct assault from those who hold it in low esteem. However, it is under indirect assault from those who, at best, give it lip service, not to mention those who’s hermeneutic have so vastly changed its meaning that the message is foreign to the one given by God Himself in the text. The reformers were concerned with rebutting the magisterium on the subject of authority. God Himself deposited truth, not in the church, nor in a man, but in Scripture. Some do not take the Bible seriously as literature at all, holding it in low esteem. Others claim to take it seriously, but reveal a bias in their interpretive methodology that all but destroys its message. Still others are more subtle, picking and choosing those areas of Scripture that they will submit to and those areas they will not. All three groups essentially deny the sole authority of Scripture in one way or another. One group denies it at the most basic level, adopting an overt philosophy that is antithetical to Scriptural authority. The second group adopts certain hermeneutical methods from ungodly philosophies resulting in such manipulating of Scripture’s meaning that what they end up believing is anything but Scripture’s teaching. Finally, the last group simply does not take Scripture as seriously with their living as they do with their mouth. These, giving the appearance of pious attitudes yet make a mockery of Christ and of His Scriptures by dispensing with them at their whim. Jesus said, “why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46) Yet we do that very thing. Christians claim to love Christ and engage in homosexual relationships, obtain abortions, cohabitate, etc. We reject the very words of the person whose authority we claim to live by. God is not mocked! The reckoning is certain for those that think that God can be played the fool.

Scripture is self-attesting. Scripture needs no argument from the standpoint of human reason to establish it as the sole and ultimate authority for faith and practice. That is to say, there are no arguments that will move a person from point A to point B on the matter of Biblical authority. In other words, one does not begin to take the Bible seriously because of a sophisticated, superior, intellectual argument. The shift toward Biblical authority in the mind is far more profound than that. Now that does not mean that we give up the premise itself that the Bible is self-attesting and that people should take it more seriously. The issue is that unregenerate men will always require a method for establishing the “authority” that reflects the fact that they themselves are really the authority. The minute we point toward something else outside the Bible as a reason for why it is authoritative, that something displaces the Bible and IT becomes the authority. By its very nature, the Bible must be self-attesting. Otherwise, Sola Scriptura fails at its foundation. William Whitaker makes this point when he says, “If the Scripture had divine authority before any public judgment of the church, then it hath of itself in respect of us, canonical authority, and its authority does not depend upon the church.” The point he makes is that the Scripture does not derive its authority from the church or a council. The authority of Scripture is in the nature of the thing that it is: divine revelation from God Himself. The Scripture, set before us, is an act so profound that it is nearly impossible to appreciate. This fact is lost on almost all Christians today. A proper response to God’s word brings God’s favor: “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Isa. 66:2)

Skeptics do not take the Bible seriously. They maintain that the Bible is an artifact of the biases, prejudices, and superstitions of men from a variety of cultures. Its ethic is nothing more than the ethic of the culture that produced it. It is filled with fairy tales, inaccuracies, and repulsive stories about a bloody and violent God whose time has come and gone. To the skeptic, no self-respecting intelligent, cultured individual would even consider accepting it as the product of the divine God that is. The pressure in Western culture to dismiss the seriousness of the Bible is extreme. The Christian churches that have adopted ideas about doctrine and theology that indirectly down grade the role of the Bible in one’s relationship with Christ has wreaked havoc on many Christians’ ability to stand up to this assault on Scripture.

Most seminaries do not take the Bible seriously adopting hermeneutical methods that deform the text to the point that it is unrecognizable on the one hand, and having adopted views of communication that make it all but impossible to acknowledge that there is an objective meaning in the text on the other. These men take up views postulated by men like Gadamer, Kant, Derrida, and others that result in the admission that the whole world is really nothing more than human projections to one degree or another and the idea that we can conceive of and understand the “other” is simple and naïve. While I am hesitant to make this point for fear of being accused of over simplify matters, I cannot help but wonder, given the so-called progress of hermeneutics in modern times, how it is that Peter and the first century Christians were ever able to understand the divine revelation that is the Old Testament. Thiselton writes, “In terms of their world-view, it may be tempting for Christian thinkers to dismiss the work of the three so-called masters of suspicion, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche, as incompatible with the claims of Christian theology.” Thiselton observes that the insistence of these men that the human mind can deceive itself agrees with Christian theology. While this observation is certainly true, it does not follow that we should adopt their philosophy of hermeneutics or even bits and pieces of it. This endorsement runs the risk of accepting a kind of naïve neutrality in hermeneutics. Neutrality is a myth and no biblically thinking Christian can accept it. The effects of sin on the human intellect are comprehensive. The Christian must subject their hermeneutical method to the Christian ethic just as it is applied to every other area of thought. Christian scholars need to understand that they are not free, even in the name of the academy, to play around in any area of thought without also submitting it to the Christian ethic. While I recognize that Christians can make some use of secular theories of language and meaning, we must exercise great care in doing so. Vern Poythress writes, “Christians will not serve themselves well if they adopt such theories wholesale. Because of common grace, non-Christians offer us insights about this or that aspect of interpretation. But acceptance of such insights must be tempered by radical criticism of the idolatrous roots of the theories in which they are embedded. [Poythress, Vern. The Supremacy of God in Interpretation. 336]

The Bible is divine revelation. Unbelievers are prone to reject it to one degree or another. You can defend the Bible from attacks of historical inaccuracies and you should. You can defend the Bible from attacks of contradictions and you should. But you cannot construct an argument that will establish in the mind of an unbeliever that the Bible is an accurate copy of the divinely inspired Scriptures given to man by God Himself. The conclusion that the Bible is miraculous is the product of divine activity on the human mind. It is not the result of some ingenious argument created by a really smart apologist or theologian. It is a work of grace, nothing less.

We take the Bible seriously when we believe it. When we believe it, we extend unconditional obedience and allegiance to it. We see it as God’s word to His elect, corporately as well as personally. We do not question its authority even though we may inquire always about its content. When we take the Bible seriously, seriously, other people recognize it. Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples (adherent, loyal, dedicated students) of all nations. Without the Bible, that task is not possible. The student studies Christ! The student studies the life of Christ. And, that life is captured in no other place outside the Bible. Much of the world does not take Christians seriously these days. If Christians spent more time taking the Bible seriously, perhaps the world would spend more time taking Christians seriously. It is at least worth a try.


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