Worldview Summer 2004
September 1, 2004
The Battle for the Bible
Derek W. H. Thomas
Turn with me to the Gospel of John, the so-called “high priestly prayer” of Jesus in John, chapter seventeen. As you’re turning to that passage, I do want to welcome some senior highs who are here, I think, this evening, and intending perhaps to join us this fall. Welcome.
This is part of a series that has been taking place all summer long. There's one more after tonight, bringing this series that we've called What in the World Are You Thinking?, a series of worldviews challenging, examining the worldviews that we encounter day by day, sometimes without knowing that we encounter them. Certainly there are students at school, particularly at college and university, who are confronting on a daily basis.
And as we bring this series to a close, we want to establish “What is our world view?” The worldview of the Christian, the worldview of the evangelical Christian, the worldview of the Reformed Christian, the Christian who subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the standard and basis of faith of this particular church, and of this particular denomination. How do we form our worldview? What is the basis upon which we examine and form opinions and conclusions about the world in which you and I live?
And of course, the simple answer to that question is that you and I subscribe to a worldview that is derived from, based upon, shaped by Scripture: the word of God. And that's why I want us to read just a little portion of Jesus’ high priestly prayer. If there was even an occasion when you would take the shoes from off your feet to read Scripture, I suppose this would be it. These are some of the most intimate words that we hear from the lips of our Savior as He engages on the eve of His crucifixion in prayer to His heavenly Father. Let's pick up the prayer at verse fourteen of John, chapter seventeen. This is God's holy and inerrant word. Before we read it together, let's pray.
Father, we thank You now as we come once again into Your presence, that You are a God who hears and answers prayer. We thank You for this, Your holy word, and we pray now for the illumination of the Holy Spirit, that we might read, mark, learn and inwardly digest what You have caused to be written. And we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Verse 14 of the seventeenth chapter of John's gospel:
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also might be sanctified in truth.”
Well, Jesus’ words then, at the end of the second part of verse 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word...” or, as in perhaps in some of your versions, ‘Thy word...is truth.” “Thy word is truth.”
Now, tonight we are going to look at the worldview of the Bible. Its own worldview, if you like: the Bible's view of itself, and the Bible has a view of itself. It's a view that's been held by Christians from the time the Bible was written. It's a worldview that's under attack, and it's under attack not just in the world out there in all the “-isms” that we have been engaged in looking at in this series throughout the summer, that Ligon and Brad have taken us through, but this is a view, a worldview, a perspective, if you like–this is a perspective that's under attack even within the church itself, especially over the last century. Really, since the close of the nineteenth century, throughout the twentieth century, in various guises the Bible, the worldview of the Scripture, has been under attack. And in the last twenty-five, thirty, perhaps forty years, this is a worldview that's been under attack in the evangelical world.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is the reason why this church and this denomination is in existence tonight. It's because of the attack that's been mounted against this worldview of the Bible, not so much from out in the world, which is where it began, and that was its origin, but because the church adopted that worldview that we've been encountering and examining these last number of weeks, which we've broadly labeled “Post-Modernity.” Well, Post-Modernity crept into the church. It got under the skin of many of the leaders of the church. We saw the fruit of that in the 1950's and the 1960's and hence this church and this denomination. It's good to remind ourselves our history. If we don't know our history, we are doomed to repeat it, somebody said. So I want us to look at the Bible's view of itself.
Now, we've got to start somewhere. J. I. Packer tells this wonderful little story. It's of a man, an open-air preacher of the old-fashioned sort that you’d find on a street corner, just like I suppose I did in Belfast. You would literally, as the law permitted, you’d stand on the street corner and have a little box and stand on it and start preaching, expounding the word of God. And here's this man, Packer says, and he's pointing to his hat. Now his hat isn't on his head, his hat in on the ground before him, and he's pointing to his hat. And the man is saying, “It's alive! It's alive!” You know, one of those things to draw a crowd, and to gather some kind of curiosity as to what this nut is actually saying. Here's this man, he's pointing to his hat, and he's saying the hat is alive. And of course, you know what's going to happen. He's going to lift the hat, and beneath the hat is a Bible. And that's his sort of cue, that's his entry upon it, to speak about the Bible being alive.
Well, the truth is that Christians have been behaving as though the Bible was dead, as though it wasn't alive. It remains at home, it's gathering dust, it remains unread and studied, and unheeded, and un-obeyed in the church.
I. Why I believe the Bible is true.
So let me turn to this question: why do I believe the Bible to be true. That seems a good question. It seems a valid question to ask. Why do I believe that the Bible is true? More especially, more pertinently, why do I believe the Bible to be wholly true? Not just partially true, but wholly true; without error of any kind in all that it affirms and in all that it denies. Why do I believe that?
You remember what John Wesley said in the eighteenth century. He said, and it's a quotation of Wesley's that's often recited, “If there is one error in the Bible there might as well be a thousand; if there is one falsehood in the word of God, it did not come from the God of truth.”
Now, there's a platform. There's a stance, if you like. That was Wesley's stance. That was the stance of early Methodism of the eighteenth century. That's where Methodists sprang from: a belief in the absolute truthfulness of Scripture. “If there is one error, there might as well be a thousand; if there is one falsehood, it did not come from the God of truth.” That's fairly clear, isn't it? That's unequivocal in terms of where Wesley stood in relation to the Scriptures.
Now let me tell you why, and then let me tell you what some of the alternatives might be to a view of Scripture, other than the one that Wesley has just given, and let me close by asking some practical questions of the “so what?” variety.
So, first of all: what is it that I believe about the Bible? And I'm putting it in the first person, but my prayer and longing, and desire and hope, and expectation is that this is your belief, too. But let me put it in the first person for now. Why do I believe that the Bible is the word of God?
I believe the Bible to be God's word. I believe it to be God's word: God's word written down in words, in sentences, according to certain rules of grammar, using nouns and verbs and adverbs and adjectives and connectives. I believe those things–the very nouns, the verbs, the connectives–I believe those to be God's word. Contrary to philosophical views from Emanuel Kant (and certainly onwards, but Emanuel Kant was the sort of watershed)–I believe that God can and does speak to us in verbal form.
Emanuel Kant denied that. There was the noumena1 and there was the phenomena, and the two shall never meet. There might be parallel universes, but there is no method of communicating between the two. If God exists, He is silent. You all remember Francis Schaeffer's book, He Is There, and He Is Not Silent. It was sort of a lock-and-load against Emanuel Kant, I suppose, because Emanuel Kant had said He may be there, and that needs to be underlined, but if He is there, He is silent. He cannot speak.
And I'm saying I believe God speaks to us, and He speaks to us in words: in verbs, in nouns, in adjectives, in adverbs that have been written down between the covers of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Now I could open Pandora's box, and it would be a significant box, and it would be a dull as dishwater kind of box, but inside that box are a whole slew of linguistic philosophers in the twentieth century, particularly in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties (and those of you who were in college in the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties, and those of you who wish you’d gone to college in the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties but actually went earlier than that), you’ll have come across names like A. J. Ayer,2 or Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Anthony Flew and others. And these are philosophers, quasi-philosophers of religion, but they were philosophers of language, who said in very complex terms that it is impossible for the infinite God (even if there is such a thing as a God)— that it's impossible for God to make Himself known in any comprehensible way in finite words, in language; because language is a sociological phenomenon. Language is something that we learn, and it evolves. It's evolved from grunts and groans to American-ese, and then to English! But, you understand, language is something that evolves. And it is a purely human phenomenon, and it's impossible for God to reveal Himself, to reveal true truth, in other words.
And I'm saying, away with all of that! I don't believe any of that. I think all of that is nonsense. I think those are a priori assumptions on the part of these philosophers, and I debunk them all. And I'm saying, God is, and He speaks, and He speaks in words, in words that you and I can understand and investigate. It's sometimes more difficult and sometimes more simple, but in words. In verbs and nouns, and adjectives and adverbs, and they are contained between the pages of Genesis and Revelation. That's what I believe.
I believe that God speaks in words rather than simply in feelings. I say that because, oh, at the end of the nineteenth century the guru of all theology was Schleiermacher, and he's sort of been resurrected of late in all kinds of circles. In the sort of pop-psychology world in which you and I live, there are those who are saying that God speaks, but He only speaks by, you know, nudging you, by impressing your feelings or your affections. And I'm saying, no, that may or may not be true, but that's not what I believe with regard to the Bible. I believe the Bible is God's word. I believe the words of the Bible are God's words. All sixty-six books, from Genesis to Revelation, in Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek, they’re God's words. That God speaks Hebrew, that God speaks Aramaic, that God speaks Greek. And yes, over a period of fifteen hundred years, using forty or so different disparate authors, over two million words–but they’re God's words. They’re the words of God Himself.
Contrary to partial inspiration, I believe in full inspiration. I don't believe simply that bits of the Bible are inspired and other bits are not. And actually, I don't believe that bits of the Bible are more inspired than other bits of the Bible, red-letter Bibles notwithstanding. I believe that all of the Bible, no matter where it is, no matter what book it is...and granted, we have our favorite verses, I understand that...but I believe in old-fashioned plenary inspiration: that is, that the Bible in its entirety, wherever it is, whether it's Genesis or the Psalms, or Amos or Hosea, or Matthew or Romans, or one of Paul's letters, or one of Peter's letters, or Revelation–all of it is equally from God. It is God's word.
Contrary to the guru of twentieth century theology–let me throw out a name: Karl Barth–I believe that God and God's word is to be associated directly with the words of Scripture. For Barth, he could make the statement: “this is God's word; but if you ask Him what does He mean by that (and you've got six days for Him to answer), you’d still be confused at the end of the six days. Because somehow, some way–and you’re never quite sure how–God's word comes through the vehicle of the Scriptures, but it isn't the Scriptures themselves.” You catch God's word in the same way that you catch a virus. Like you catch a cold, Barth could catch the word of God in the Bible, by reading the Bible, by preaching the Bible, by being close to the Bible. And I'm saying that's not what I believe. And that's not what the church has believed. And that's not the stance of this church or the denomination, and it hasn't been the stance of evangelical Christians all the way back to the Reformation–and even before that, all the way back to Augustine, and I would even say all the way back to Jesus.
I believe the Bible is God's word. I maintain a worldview in which the Bible is the source of all authority, for all my thinking, and for all my doing, for all my practice. And because it is God's word, and because God cannot lie, then the Bible cannot lie. I believe that that mode of logic is acceptable. The Bible is from God, and God cannot lie; therefore, the Bible doesn't lie. It cannot be falsified in any way. It doesn't falsify itself. I'm affirming a doctrine that has been held right through the centuries, from the time of Jesus and the apostles (and actually, you could go back into the days of the Old Testament, and they believed the same about the Old Testament). I believe the Bible to be the word of God. And therefore, I subscribe to the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy, when it said in 1978,
“We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts without the whole.”
That's my view. That's where I stand. That's my Luther statement: Here I stand, I can do no other. I believe the Bible in its entirety, down to the jot and tittles, down to the least stroke of a pen. That's what I believe in regard to the Scriptures.
Now, time to move on.
II. Why I believe that.
So, secondly, let me ask, “Why is it that I believe that?” OK, that's what you believe, but why do you believe it? What basis do you have for believing that? That's what all your office-bearers subscribe to. When they subscribe to The Westminster Confession, and when they subscribe to Chapter One of The Westminster Confession, that's what they’re subscribing to.
Now, I suppose it's true that I believe that because Ligon believes it, and whatever Ligon believes, you know, I always feel safe to believe that. You understand. That's my temperament. I'm joking with you, but let me be more serious.
I believe that, perhaps, because some of the greatest men in the history of the church have believed that. And I am swayed by that. You know, I don't want to be dishonest about it. The fact that Augustine believed that, or the fact that Calvin believed that, or John Owen, or Jonathan Edwards, or John Wesley–that was their belief. Or Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that was his belief. That's the belief of J.I. Packer. You know–and if J.I. Packer believes that, if that's what he says, that's good enough for me. OK, that's not a watertight argument, I understand that. But I'm being honest with you.
Part of the reason I maintain that worldview is because it has a tradition. It has a tradition. Let me start there. The church has affirmed this, from the beginning of time. It has. It would not be difficult to prove that. I don't have time to prove that tonight, but it's out there. You can read books that are devoted entirely to proving that point: that this isn't something new. You know, this isn't something that the PCA came up with in the late 1960's. This is something that has been believed from the days of the apostles. In fact, you can go back to the time of Moses and that's what they believed. They believed in a God who spoke words, and those words were written down, and those words were God's words. And you revered those words. The church believes it.
Now, to be true and to be sure, the church has believed a lot of nonsense. True, the church has affirmed a lot of stuff that I don't necessarily affirm. That is true. But I think it's important to say this doctrine, this worldview, this weltanschaung this world and life view, this starting point: it's not something new; it's something that has history to it.
Well, let me say I believe this not only because the church has believed it, but more importantly, much more importantly, this is the view of the Bible. If you have your Bibles, turn to II Timothy 3:16,17. There are two definitive words in the New Testament in regard to Scripture. Paul is writing to Timothy. He's actually writing his swan song, and he says to Timothy,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
You’re all familiar with that proof text. It's one of the texts we often quote. And here is Paul, and the context is that it's reminding us of the function that the Bible performs. It's able, he says in verse fifteen, to make us wise unto salvation. He says in verse seventeen that it's able to make the man of God perfect.
Now, why is the Bible able to make you wise unto salvation? Why is the Bible able to make the man of God perfect? Because Scripture is inspired by God. Now, it's somewhat unfortunate we use the word inspired, because in the–and I'm deliberately reading out of the English Standard Version just now, because I think it's a great translation–“all Scripture is breathed out....” It's not the idea of breathing into someone; it's actually the idea of God breathing out. Inspiration is a word that comes from the Latin, the translation of this passage in the Latin Vulgate, and hence we still use the word inspire. But actually, expire would be a better translation, except that we tend to think of expire as dead, as somebody dying. So we tend not to use that word. The idea is, the Bible is the product of God's breathing out.
You know, when you stand on a cold morning–not often here in Mississippi–but if you stand on a cold morning and breathe out, you can see water vapor in front of you. Well, the Bible is like that water vapor. God breathes out, and what you've got is the Bible. All Scripture...all Scripture...all Scripture is inspired by God, but notice “all Scripture...”– and not as the RSV, the Revised Standard Version, tried to say, “All inspired Scripture is breathed out by God...” as though there were some bits that were inspired and some bits that weren't, you understand. Actually, what Paul is saying, and the grammar is very, very precise–no, he's saying that this quality of being breathed out by God is true of all of Scripture. It's an affirmation of the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture.
So, what are we saying? We’re saying I believe this truth because this is what the Bible itself teaches. Now, you say, but that's —you know, that's circular reasoning, isn't it? I believe the Bible to be the word of God because the Bible says it's the word of God. And there's something a little odd and strange about that, isn't there?
But it is of the nature, and follow with me–we're going to go down, and hold your breath for just a couple of minutes–but it's of the nature of truths like this, it's of the nature of ultimate truth claims, that there is no greater objectivity by which to verify its truthfulness. You can't prove God is true by bringing some greater objectivity than God: there is no greater objectivity than God. So proving the existence of God by something that is outside and greater and more objective than God is impossibility. Well, it's the same with the Bible. If the Bible really is the word of God, there is no greater objectivity than the Bible. So we need to see that the claim of the Bible is, it's the word of God. That's what it claims for itself. You can't adhere to this book very comfortably unless you subscribe to its own notion about itself.
But I want to say more than that. Because not only is it that which the Bible claims for itself, but I want to say, this is what Jesus believed. And you know, for me that's the safest ground of all to be on. I know that sounds simplistic. You know, I know that doesn't get me a PhD in Philosophy, but I believe the Bible to be the word of God because Jesus believed the Bible to be the word of God. And you know, it doesn't get more basic than that. Because at the end of the day, my belief, my worldview that the Bible is the sole authority for all faith and practice, my worldview comes from Jesus Himself.
Now, you can't be a follower of Jesus and think that Jesus was wrong about certain things. I don't want to be a follower of Jesus if I think He was wrong about certain things. My view of Jesus is not that He was just a man of His own time, that He adopted the views of His own time. Jesus affirms the verbal inspiration and authority of Scripture (John 10). In a fairly offhand remark on the part of Jesus when His authority was being questioned, He makes this statement: “Scripture cannot be broken.” He's quoting from a Psalm, Psalm 89. And He's trying to prove something. It needn't concern us now what He's trying to prove, but as an offhand, throwaway line He says, ‘You know, your own psalms, your own Scriptures teach this and this, and you know the Scriptures cannot be broken. The Scriptures cannot be torn apart.’ Jesus says about the Scriptures, that they are infallible. They can't be torn apart. They are law. They are to be obeyed.
Now, to be sure, Jesus was saying that about the Old Testament. Yes. About the Old Testament, the book that liberals have been saying for centuries that's full of ethical quagmires, that's full of problems in morality, and there's a primitive view of God in the Old Testament as opposed to a more mature view of God in the New Testament. And Jesus–Jesus says of the Old Testament, mind you, “that it cannot be broken.” That it is the word of God.
What am I saying? This world and life view based upon the principle of the authority of Scripture is the worldview of Jesus. And I'm saying it's a matter of discipleship. It's a matter of discipleship. If you don't adopt this worldview, if you don't get on board this train, and if this worldview doesn't become your worldview, then you are in rebellion against Jesus. You must understand that. Whatever the Bible says, Jesus affirms to be the word of God. However difficult that may be in terms of what the Bible is saying. If the Bible is saying something about the role of women in society, or the role of women in the church, I must get on board if I'm to adopt the same worldview as Jesus. If the Bible says something about the ethics of homosexuality, I must get on board if I'm to adopt the worldview of Jesus. It's a matter of discipleship.
Now where are we? I'm saying this is God's word, and I'm saying all of this is God's word, from Genesis to Revelation; and I believe that because the church says so, and I believe that because the Bible itself says so, and I believe that because Jesus says so.
III. Now. So what? So what?
Well, number one: If that is true, if all of that is true, if that is my ...I've got this German word stuck in my head, weltanschauung, but if that is my world and life view, then my conscience must be bound to the word of God. Wasn't that Luther's great statement at the time of the Reformation? “My conscience is subject to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” Isn't that what our Confession says? “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men.” You know, if the Bible isn't your worldview, if the worldview of the Bible isn't the paradigm of your worldview, of how you relate to the world of politics and arts, and sociology and science, and whatever else that's out there–if that isn't shaped by the Bible, what have you got? You've got tyranny. You've got tyranny, because you are being manipulated by the mood and idiom and prejudices of ministers or bishops or fellow Christians or whatever. And the only way of true, true, liberty is that your conscience is bound solely to the word of God.
It means, secondly, that my view, my worldview for everything is established by Scripture. My worldview of science, my worldview of politics, my worldview of the arts, my worldview of sociology–whatever it is, it is to be bound entirely by the worldview of Scripture. Not that Scripture speaks directly to all of those areas. It gives principles and directions. But that is to be the governing worldview.
Thirdly, it means that my worldview of what the Christian life looks like is to be governed by the Scripture. What does the Christian life look like? And it is to be governed by the Scriptures. You know, at the end of the day, what does this mean? Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. And in that book there's a very moving section where he wakes up in the morning to hear a fellow prisoner, and he's reciting a portion of Scripture, and he's reading from this little book that he's had smuggled into the prison. He's in prison, and his worldview is the Bible. And he loves his Bible, and he wants to read his Bible, and he wants to learn from his Bible, and he wants to hide it within his heart.
You and I are not in prison tonight. We’re not in prison. We’re in the land of freedom and opportunity. We’re very conscious of that, and that that is under assault. But that's not where we are tonight. We have freedom to gather, and you've got a Bible in your lap, the greatest gift that God has given to you. It's more precious than your car, and it's more precious than your beautiful home, and it's more precious than your job, and it's more precious than your family. And it's more precious than your college, and it's more precious than football. But do you understand what I'm saying? If this really is our worldview, Oh! how we would treasure the Bible, and we would be in it day and night. We’d treasure it more than our necessary food.
That's it. Let's stand and pray.
Gracious God, we thank You for the Bible. We thank You that You have spoken to us, and that there is a trustworthy record of every word You want us to know about Yourself, and about this world, and about ourselves, and about the way of salvation, and about eternal life. We thank You, Lord, that You have kept Your word pure through the ages, so that we can read our Bibles in an English translation and be assured that it is Your word. And we ask, Lord, that You would shape and mold our minds to reflect that worldview more and more, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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