Monday, January 15, 2018

Is The Bible True All The Way Through? - part 1

The Bible is a controversial book. Some proclaim it as the Word of God and others deny it. This is not news to most people. Additionally, most Christians have been aware that in our elite academic institutions there are few, if any, scholars in the departments of religion that believe the Bible to be true. They no longer believe in the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus nor that He is the Son of God.

Luke Timothy Johnson in his book, The Living Jesus, says that whether or not you believe that Jesus is alive determines how you will approach the Scriptures. A believing scholar will look to the Bible as revealing to us the truth about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. An unbelieving scholar will bring his own presuppositions to the Bible and tell us what he thinks is true or not true according to his own logic and reasoning. He will develop methods that will try to ferret out, for example, what they believe Jesus said or did not say. What Jesus did or did not do. Some of Jesus sayings they accept as authentic and others they believe have been added by his followers. The miracles, naturally, get short shrift. Of course, to them even if they accept something as coming from Jesus that does not mean that they will accept it as true. These methods are together called the historical-critical method, or simply Critical Scholarship.

I was born-again when I was 15 years old, but did not read my Bible or go to church until I went to college. So for a long time I was unaware of these divergent ways of studying the Bible. Wanting to learn more about the Bible, I took a college class on the New Testament. I had no idea what I was getting into. The class was taught by the chaplain of the college, an ordained minister, a professor in the Religion department. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. The textbook laid out the methods of Critical scholarship which questioned everything written in the New Testament. They questioned whether Paul had written all the letters that bear his name. They questioned whether Jesus said this or did that. They questioned what "really" happened after Jesus died, implying that he could not possibly have been raised from the dead. They brought doubts about the "miracle stories" without even considering that they might be true. While today I could easily defend my faith against this barrage of unbelief, back then it felt like I was drowning. But I did not give in. I simply refused to use the Critical method and I knew that the professor could flunk me as a result. Too bad. I defied him. (And I passed.)

Fortunately, I had help. My youth group at school led me to resources and to believing scholarship that affirmed the truth of the Bible. I read apologists like C.S. Lewis and great Christian thinkers like Pascal. The leadership of our youth group was firmly grounded in the Bible and the foundational truths it contains. I learned much from them and I am very grateful for the foundation they put in my spiritual life.

On the other hand, they were Calvinists. I was introduced to their theology based on notions of double predestination and the denial of free will in salvation. However, I did not simply dismiss their theology because it is so contrary to the way we think today, but I studied it thoroughly and determined that it was wrong in key respects. Their theology regarding the Bible and justification were very good and I accepted that. But they were wrong in what we call Calvinism, the idea that God only chooses certain individuals to be saved and He damns the rest. His is sovereign and He makes all the decisions.

I have to say, though, that Calvinists are nothing if not persistent in their views. They are not really happy unless you become one of them. So many arguments with them ensued. At one point, I ended up having a debate at a lunch table with many witnesses against a world famous theologian, John Gerstner. He was one of the most prominent Calvinist theologians of that day. He was a mentor to R.C. Sproul, who just passed away, and to our adult youth leader.

So I ended up having to battle both an unbelieving professor and my Calvinist friends. And I do mean that I consider them to be friends and brothers in the Lord. I appreciate the firm stand they take for the Bible and for justification by faith. God has used them greatly in this area.

So, it used to be simple. You had the unbelieving skeptics of the Bible who denied the deity of Christ along with His atoning death and resurrection, and you had Bible-believing scholars and church leaders who accepted the whole Bible as God's Word. Unbelievers were interested in the Bible had their scholars; we believers had ours. We tend to stay in our own circles often vaguely aware of each other. In most of the churches I have attended these things did not even come up. We agreed that the Bible was true. We just had to let the Holy Spirit teach us and apply it to our lives while unbelievers tried to figure everything out in their foolish heads.

Those were the good ol' days. Things are more complicated now. Today, we have those who hold to the historic truths of the Christian faith - Christ's deity, death and resurrection - but who use and accept the methods of Critical scholarship. Part of the goal is to show the unbelieving scholars that their methods do not have to lead to unbelief but can even support the things the church has believed right along.

What could possible go wrong? {We will pick this up in the next post.}

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