Two birthdays fill me with thankfulness because of what they signify about the truth of God’s word.
On June 22, Bethlehem Baptist Church turns 137, and the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society turns 50. This is a cause for thanksgiving and an occasion for Bethlehem as a church to renew with joy our vision for faithful ministry under the authority of God’s inerrant word.
One reason we should be thankful that God has preserved and grown the Evangelical Theological Society (to over 4,000 members) is that its defining doctrinal commitment is the inerrancy of Scripture: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”
A second reason for thanksgiving is that the present leaders of the society and its journal still believe that this foundation is not only true but supremely important both for the vitality and faithfulness of scholarship and for the health and power and faithfulness of the church. Here is the way the present editor, Andreas Köstenberger, summarizes the first presidential address by Ned Stonehouse given fifty-one years ago:
The first address by Ned Stonehouse bore the title, “The Infallibility of Scripture and Evangelical Progress” (1957). In this address, Stonehouse combines a very keen intellect with a firm commitment to biblical inerrancy. In essence, Stonehouse argued that, contrary to what some allege, rather than being a hindrance to true evangelical progress, a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture is actually an indispensable prerequisite to it. In this he turned the tables on his opponents who argued that inerrancy presents a hindrance to the open-minded investigation of Scripture. To the contrary, Stonehouse believed that the evangelical commitment to the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture would prove to be a liberating and energizing force by which we “lay hold with all our powers upon the word of God in order that all our thoughts and ways may come under his control.” I believe Stonehouse was exactly right and he and others like him left us an important foundation on which to build the house of responsible, faithful evangelical scholarship. (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2008, p. 14)
A third reason for thankfulness is that this conviction about the liberating and energizing force of inerrancy has proved true in evangelical scholarship. The last fifty years have been explosively productive in the publishing of serious biblical scholarship by evangelicals. Even those evangelical scholars that are tragically losing their grip on inerrancy owe more of their fruitful scholarship to the roots and foundations of inerrancy than they know.
A fourth reason for thanksgiving is that for 137 years Bethlehem Baptist Church has been built on the foundation of Jesus Christ revealed infallibly through the inerrant Scriptures. Today the Elder Affirmation of Faith has four paragraphs on the Scriptures. The first two are:
1.1 We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.
1.2 We believe that God’s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.
Give thanks with me, as Bethlehem turns 137 years old on June 22, that God has preserved among us the conviction of Jesus: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
Rejoicing in the Rock of God’s word with you,