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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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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