What About the Bible? An Autobiographical Reflection

What about the Bible? Is the Bible true? Is it historically accurate? Is it a revelation from God? We often hear such questions in popular forums and in the media. And in almost every case we would be mistaken to take such questions seriously. As I have argued in previous posts, the Bible’s authority does not become an issue for us until we accept the testimony of the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not accept the truth of the resurrection because the Bible says so. Instead, we become interested in what the Bible says about other matters when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. Today I want to look at the question of the Bible autobiographically.

Let’s look at how the question of the Bible arises for a person born into a Christian family and surrounded by a Christian culture. I shall speak from my own experience. My experience of the Bible was always that of an insider. It was our book. Though I don’t remember the word being used, it was the unquestioned authority for church life, morals, and for knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. I loved to hear stories of the Old Testament heroes of faith and the New Testament stories about Jesus, Paul, and Peter. The Bible provided texts for the preacher’s sermons. My parents owned several copies of the Bible, which were displayed on the coffee table and night stands. At an early age I received my own copy of a King James Bible with my name inscribed inside. I came to understand that reading the Bible was a religious duty, a discipline that should be maintained for a lifetime. Memorizing important texts and in depth study was also encouraged. Religious education was identical with Bible education. And the most admired preachers were those reputed to have the most extensive knowledge of the Bible. William Chillingworth’s (1602-1644) famous declaration that “The Bible alone is the religion of Protestants” certainly describes the religion of the church and family of my youth.

At some point, in my late teens I think, I discovered that there were outsiders whose view of the Bible differed dramatically from ours. I say “ours” because I had accepted the church’s understanding of the Bible without question. That is what my parents taught me, it was the belief of all the good people at church and the ministers, and it was reinforced by the consensus of Southern (American) culture. Ironically, my first encounters with external critics and doubters of the Bible were facilitated by teachers and books that wished to defend the church’s view of the Bible. They wanted to reinforce my faith that the Bible is indeed worthy of the respect given it by the church. My teachers realized that an inherited and naïve faith in the Bible had to become a reasonable faith or it would not be able to withstand the scrutiny it was sure to receive from critics. I think their intuition in this matter was correct: an inherited faith must transition to chosen faith.

But I believe they were mistaken to attempt to demonstrate apart from faith that the Bible deserved the respect that the church had traditionally given it. It is impossible to prove that the Bible deserves to be treated as the sole authority for knowledge of God, morality, and religion by arguing from its visible characteristics to its divine origin, historical reliability, and moral superiority. The Bible is a huge book, or actually, a huge collection of 66 books. It spans fifteen centuries and crosses many very different cultures. It recounts thousands of events for which we have no other sources and no independent way to confirm. It contains many writings for which we know neither the authors nor even the century in which they were written. No matter how many of the Bible’s marvelous characteristics we uncover we can never get close to proving that the Bible deserves the respect given it by the church. And the unhappy by-product of this effort to prove the Bible is creating doubt in the hearts of the very people these arguments are designed to help. We are courting disaster if we convince young people that they must transition from an inherited and naïve faith to a chosen and reasonable one but lead them to believe that in order to be reasonable their acceptance of the Bible’s religious authority must be based on rational arguments for the Bible’s perfection. Such a strategy distracts from the real decision of faith and may exile them to years of wandering in the desert of doubt and indecision. I know this from experience.

Hence in my view, apologists for the Christian faith should resist answering directly the questions with which I began this essay: Is the Bible true? Is it historically accurate? Is it a revelation from God? Why? Because no definitive answers can be given. Any answer will raise as many questions as it answers, and it will provoke endless counter arguments and follow-up questions. The only path forward is the one I charted in earlier posts. We must decide—apart from any view of the authority of the Bible—whether or not to accept the apostolic testimony to Jesus resurrection. Yours, mine, and the whole church’s respect for the Bible’s authority rightly flows from this decision and from nowhere else. But as I hope to show in future posts, the church’s respect for the Bible has not been misplaced; it really does flow from this decision. And neither was my trust in my parents and the church of my childhood misplaced.

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2 thoughts on “What About the Bible? An Autobiographical Reflection

  1. nokareon

    As an autobiographical anecdote of my own, I will never forget seeing a stained-glass image in a Texan conservative, baptist church visually depicting their take on the Trinity. God the Father and Jesus carrying out his ministry were evident in two of the thirds of the mural, but in the third? The third was an image of the Bible, front and center, surrounded by rays of light and with the image of a dove flying forth from its pages. So, to draw theology from iconography, the God of that church was the Father, the Son, and… the Bible?

    Some would actually find the equating of the Holy Spirit and the Bible unobjectionable. First of all, many conservative traditions just don’t quite know *what* to do with the Spirit. In light of this, it seems natural that these traditions, when reading Scriptures of how God intends to guide His church down through history, see them as referring to Scripture itself. This is especially true given the supremely high view of Scripture that they hold (and perhaps even the reason why they see Scripture as the third portion of the Godhead). But even though the Spirit was indeed involved in the making of Scripture, how awful would it be to confuse Her with the product that She helped to make!

    The word Bibliolatry comes to mind, which I first ran into when reading Gregory Boyd. I remember bringing up the concept of Bibliolatry in my home church only to be met with dismissal—to them, the Bible was the Word of God, so no amount of reverence or veneration given to it was too much. It actually reminded me a bit of Mariology within the Catholic Church; namely, if Mary is the most blessed among women and the Mediatrix for all humankind, then no amount of reverence or veneration directed towards her would be too much. That’s why it is very important to carefully define (re: place limitations on) the authority of Scripture within Christian faith and practice. We serve a living and dynamic God who, though certainly revealed within the pages of Scripture, also transcends the same Scripture to just as great a degree.

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      I think that the path I lay out, if kept firmly in mind, can help us treasure the Bible for the right reasons and to the proper degree. The Bible is precious because of its relation to the One it makes known. I would not level the accusation of bibliolatry. Not only is it inflammatory, it is not really accurate. The conservative doctrine of scripture is an articulation of the place and function of the scriptures in the life of the church. The Bible really is the sole authority for our knowledge of Jesus Christ and for the true identity of the triune God. And for that reason the church must point her children to the scriptures. For they are so tempted to substitute other ideas for the real Jesus. My main point is not to diminish the love of the church for the Bible but to help her keep clearly in mind why she was compelled to love it in the first place. Thanks.

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