2011 will mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible. Already there are plans to celebrate that anniversary, not merely as a backward-looking, nostaglic exercise, but to show the continuing relevance of the Bible to modern life. In an initiative called biblefresh, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Scripture Union, The Bible Society and a number of other organisations are working together to affirm how the Bible can transform our lives, our churches, our communities and our world. It is a project that all Bible-believing churches should support.
I have been thinking about how our own congregation could participate in this initiative and how we could encourage more people to engage seriously with the truth of the Bible. Someone wrote on facebook recently that many Christians treat the Bible like the licence for a piece of new software. They scroll to the bottom and tick the “I Agree” button without ever reading it or realising the implications of their affirmation.
The belief in the authority of the Bible has been attacked consistently by unbelievers. What is surprising is that some of the attacks against the authority of the Bible are now coming from within evangelicalism. Al Mohler points out one of the recent developments in the debate on biblical inerrancy. He summarises the situation in his usual lucid way.
We now confront open calls to accept and affirm that there are indeed errors in the Bible. It is demanded that we accept the fact that the human authors of the Bible often erred because of their limited knowledge and erroneous assumptions about reality. We must, it is argued, abandon the claim that the Bible is a consistent whole. Rather, we are told to accept the claims that the human authors of Scripture were just plain wrong in some texts — even in texts that define God and his ways. We are told that some texts are just “down-right sinister or evil.”
And, note clearly, we are told that we must do this in order to save Evangelicalism from an intellectual disaster.
Of course, accepting this demand amounts to a theological disaster of incalculable magnitude. Rarely has this been more apparent and undeniable. The rejection of the Bible’s inerrancy will please the evangelical revisionists, but it will rob the church of its secure knowledge that the Bible is indeed true, trustworthy and fully authoritative.
Mohler is repeating a call which was made many years ago. In his sermon on Ephesians 6:14 preached in Westminster Chapel, London in the 1960s, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones alerted the church to the implications of a diluted view of the authority of the Bible.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that all the troubles in the Church today, and most of the troubles in the world, are due to a departure from the authority of the Bible. And, alas, it was the Church herself that led in the so-called Higher Criticism that came from Germany just over a hundred years ago. Human philosophy took the place of revelation, man’s opinions were exalted and Church leaders talked about ‘the advance of knowledge and science’, and ‘the assured results’ of such knowledge. The Bible then became a book just like any other book, out-of-date in certain respects, wrong in other respects, and so on. It was no longer a book on which you could rely implicitly.
There is no question at all that the falling away, even in Church attendance, in this country is the direct consequence of the Higher Criticism. The man in the street says, ‘What do these Christians know? It is only their opinion, they are just perpetrating something that the real thinkers and scientists have long since seen through and have stopped considering’. Such is the attitude of the man in the street! He does not listen any longer, he has lost all interest. The whole situation is one of drift; and very largely, I say, it is the direct and immediate outcome of the doubt that has been cast by the Church herself upon her only real authority. Men’s opinions have taken the place of God’s truth, and the people in their need are turning to the cults, and are listening to any false authority that offers itself to them.
We all therefore have to face this ultimate and final question: Do we accept the Bible as the Word of God, as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, or do we not? Is the whole of my thinking governed by Scripture, or do I come with my reason and pick and choose out of Scripture and sit in judgment upon it, putting myself and modern knowledge forward as the ultimate standard and authority? The issue is crystal clear. Do I accept Scripture as a revelation from God, or do I trust to speculation, human knowledge, human learning, human understanding and human reasons Or, putting it still more simply, Do I pin my faith to, and subject all my thinking to, what I read in the Bible? Or do I defer to modern knowledge, to modern learning, to what people think today, to what we know at this present time which was not known in the past? It is inevitable that we occupy one or the other of those two positions.
Perhaps the biblefresh initiative will help Christians think again about this important and fundamental issue of the role of God’s Word in our lives and in our world. We may even pray the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the second Sunday in Advent with new meaning and freshness:
Blessed Lord, who caused all Scripture to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through the patience and comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the hope of eternal life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.