By Obbie Todd
“Know that God has not messed things up. The church is not a crisis PR firm, cleaning up the messes Jesus has made.” –Owen Strachan
As soon as it came out of my mouth, I cringed. I had become that guy: the seminary intellectual resting on his laurels. Attempting to convince a group of kids of a truth found in the Bible, and facing their incredulous stares from across the room, I’d said something that I immediately wanted to take back: “I have a Master’s degree.” With those five words, I’d gone from lowly youth pastor to pompous, lowly youth pastor. Instead of standing on the bedrock of Scripture, I was sinking in the quicksand of human accomplishment. And as expected…they still weren’t impressed.
What was it inside of me that evoked such a desperate attempt at credibility? Was it evangelism? Was it a noble defense of the Gospel? Or was it something more…self-centered? This was a Bible study. A Bible study. But for some reason I’d felt the need to come to Scripture’s rescue. For a split second, the Bible’s authority wasn’t enough. It needed Obbie’s. Unfortunately, my implicit statement about the Bible was a not-so-implicit statement about God Himself. It quickly became apparent that there was nothing I could do to bolster the truth claims of God’s own Word. I was a pastor. I should have known better. But why the lapse in judgment? Did the Bible need a character witness? There was something sinful behind my little pat-on-the-back.
So why the self-tribute? It’s the same reason I cringe when I hear someone trying to prove the Bible’s truthfulness by appealing to a couple artifacts a Western archaeologist just discovered in the Red Sea. Sometimes, for sinners, belief in God’s authority isn’t enough. We want to walk by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) Like me with that small group of teenagers, we often feel the need to self-justify. (Luke 10:29) But as a whole, the Bible doesn’t defend its veracity. It assumes it. And so should the church. The way we defend the Bible reveals the way we view the Bible. And the way we view the Bible reveals how we view its Author. One of the first indications that the church has divested itself from the inspiration of Scripture is its desperate attempt to exonerate the Bible from its counter-cultural truths.
In The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, B.B. Warfield boasts, “the trustworthiness of the Scriptures lies at the foundation of trust in the Christian system of doctrine, and is therefore fundamental to the Christian hope and life.” (121) Warfield calls this the “church’s instinct.” Unfortunately, many churches today have lost that instinct. And this tacit surrender to the authority of the world has been exacerbated by the moral and sexual revolutions. For instance, many pastors and teachers in the modern church gently skirt around passages like Romans 1, 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Corinthians 11 in order to avoid the issues of homosexuality, male authority, or the counter-cultural truth claims the Bible makes concerning gender. Consequently, churches today will offer up apologetic excuses to acquit Paul of charges of bigotry and male chauvinism – as if the Bible needed rescuing from irrelevance or worse.
However, in the words of Harold Lindsell in his magisterial The Battle for the Bible, “Anyone who professes a faith founded on a source that cannot be trusted is a fool, is naïve, or is deluded. Certainly no thinking or honest person would embrace, recommend, or progate a religion based on what he knows to be untrue.” (18) A problem with the Apostle Paul is a problem with the true Author of Scripture. We’re not called to make excuses for the Bible. We’re not even called to prove its validity. The saved are called to proclaim it. And the unsaved are called to believe it. Plain and simple. In reality, our faith in the Bible’s authority and infallibility first rests in its inspiration: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16) We don’t believe in the inspiration of Scripture because we know it to be infallible; we believe in the infallibility of Scripture because we know it to be authored by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:21) We believe. This of course does not negate the necessity for defending the faith. (1 Pet. 3:15) However, when Christian apologetics aren’t founded ultimately in the Scriptures, evidentialist (empirical proof) and classical (rational) arguments for God begin to quietly rest upon another authority – usually our own.
An unbelieving world demands an apologetical church ready to defend the faith. But before it can be apologetical, it must first be evangelistic. And one of the first indications that Christians rest upon their own authority and not God’s is the divorcing of these two Christian practices. Without the love of Christ and compassion for the lost, the defense of the faith becomes more…offensive.
Perhaps the chief testament that a church rests upon its own authority and not the authority of God’s Word is the flourishing of prop-laden, gimmick-driven, story-filled sermons devoid of God’s revelation to His people. There’s a difference between preaching the Scripture and selling it. Do we believe in the authority and power of God’s Word? Do we have confidence that it will not return to Him void? (Isa. 55:11) Do we have faith in its Author? Belief in the Bible’s inspiration becomes belief in its authority. And those who embrace the authority of God’s Word preach it unashamedly. Don’t make excuses for a book that came straight from the heart and character of God. The Bible doesn’t need our authentication. It can speak for itself. And it does. In Spirit and truth. (John 4:24)