Once again at this time of year (and we will indeed see it again at Easter), under the guise of “objective journalism”, the foundations of our faith are under assault. In the latest issue of Newsweek, a front cover story questions the reliability of the Bible. The writer tries to give the impression that he has carefully studied all sides of the issue and has come to the only logical and rational conclusion, which is that the Bible is not reliable in its current form. Therefore, nothing we say based on the Bible about homosexuality or other sin or issue is to be trusted. He does do some very limited research, but unfortunately that research comes only from one side of the equation. He does not even acknowledge another well researched, well attested viewpoint. His study concludes that, among other things, the Bible is not accurate but a product of poor copying and biased translation, the doctrine of the Trinity is a later theological construct which is not biblical, and the contradictions within the Bible make it little more than another book, though with some useful wisdom. And, because Christians do not use the Bible accurately, they cannot be trusted either. They are in fact guilty of sin. You can find a well written, detailed critique of this article by Al Mohler on his blog.
These kinds of attacks are regular, and they offer nothing new. The points the author makes are old rehashed claims of corruption in translation and irreconcilable contradiction. They have been thrown at the church for centuries. My question is how we are to respond to such attacks. We might be tempted to go to Facebook and other public venues and rail at the journalistic bias, claiming we are being persecuted. We worry that our voice will no longer be heard in our society. While these responses might not be all bad, my contention is that our response needs to primarily be “in house” rather than in the public square. Let me explain.
There are several angles we must consider. First, as good and logical as our arguments are, they will never be accepted in the public square, simply because the natural mind of man is in rebellion against God and actively “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.” (Rom.1:18f) This is not to say that we should not debate these issues publicly. I think we should. We can stand confidently on the reliability of Scripture because of good scholarship, not in spite of it. We have nothing to fear from worldly attacks on the foundations of our faith. We can and must refute the biased, one-sided research of these “objective” scholars who are in realityon a mission to render the church obsolete. The Apostle Paul did this regularly in the cities where he traveled. At the same time, we have to realize that those efforts will make little headway in convincing the world of the truth of Scripture. Those we debate dwell in the darkness of spiritual ignorance, and they simply do not have the tools to embrace the truth. They live in darkness and actually fight against the light of truth. The only way they will come to the rightness of what the Bible teaches is through a work of the Holy Spirit enlightening their minds. So, this is not the primary place we must answer our critics.
Secondly, the real danger in such publications is to the church. If the foundation of the scriptures can be undermined, then our confidence will wain when we are called upon to stand firm in our faith. Our faith will lose its moorings. Take for instance the issue of the Trinity. If writers like this are successful in producing cracks in our theology and biblical understanding on something this significant, that undermines our whole understanding of the Gospel. If the Trinity is not an objective reality, we have no faith, no salvation, and no hope. If we cannot trust this, what can we trust? So goes the slippery slope. The church must do a good job of making a case for the reliability of the Bible that those in the pews hold in their hand. What we stand on is true, rational, logical, and accurate. Our faith does not rely solely on logic and reason to be true, but neither does it fly in the face of reason and logic. We have a reasonable faith that can and will stand up to all scientific and scholarly investigation, if done honestly. The followers of Jesus must know this in order for their faith to stand firm in the heat of battle.
Thirdly, one of the biggest arguments that the writer in Newsweek made was that obviously very few, if any, Christians today have really read their Bibles. He quotes some research done by George Gallup that shows that evangelicals have only slightly higher biblical literacy than do atheists. I don’t wholly disagree with him here. We are generally illiterate when it comes to biblical teaching, which poses a great problem. We say a lot of things that we think the Bible teaches which are not there, or which are only sort of there. If the whole of our faith rests on an understanding of the Scriptures, then many of us are standing on shaky ground. Do we know what God really promises to His people? Do we know what He really commands? Do we know what He is really like, as demonstrated in the Scripture? If we say the Bible is that valuable to us, then we should demonstrate that value in how we approach it and worry less about weak and worn out public attacks.
I so wish that the public square would be a place of honest and objective debate, but it is not and never will be this side of heaven. The tables are tilted against us, and we will not be given a fair hearing. Nonetheless, we must not forego doing good scholarship, making a reasonable and rational defense of the faith we proclaim. Yet, primarily, we need to protect ourselves by being strong students of the Scriptures. They are much more than a collection of writings by human authors. The Scriptures are the revelation of God, His Word to us, that we might know Him rightly, know ourselves, and understand the world which He created. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the Scriptures guard our hearts against the constant attacks from an unbelieving world. Such lies are the weapons the enemy uses to weaken the advancement of the Kingdom by weakening our confidence in the Kingdom. We can fight these attacks by becoming good students of the Word, anchoring our faith in the solid ground of the truth of Scripture. In our study we also have the Spirit dwelling in us to give us the light of truth, testifying to our hearts that the Word is true. In the end, that is enough. To borrow words from Martin Luther, “Here we stand; we can do no other.”
Written by Ron Clegg