Unashamed of the Bible
Ten Aspirations for Christian Communicators
No matter which way my mind turns these days, I cannot escape the absolutely unique and essential role that the Bible plays in God’s purpose for the universe, and for history, and for the church, and for Christian schools, and for our personal lives, both now and in eternity.
“Without rightly discerning what’s revealed only in the Bible, we cannot know the most important realities in life.”
Our way of thinking and feeling and acting toward the Bible, and with the Bible, and from the Bible is decisive in whether our lives, schools, and churches conform to God’s saving, Christ-exalting purposes for history and for all of creation.
Think of the staggering implications for the billions of people around the world, including most of the highest and lowest educated, most of the rich and most of the poor — people of every tongue and tribe and nation, men and women, young and old, who virtually never orient what they think or feel or do around what God has revealed in the Bible.
Without the Bible
This is staggering because, without rightly discerning what is revealed only in the Bible, we cannot know the most important realities in life.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the true nature of God and the beauty of his holiness.
Without the Bible, we cannot know that magnifying God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of the universe.
Without the Bible, we cannot know that the way God has appointed for his glory to be most fully magnified is through a people who are supremely and eternally happy in him.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the eternal divinity of Christ, the Son of God, and that all things were made through him and for him.
Without the Bible, we cannot know that all things that exist — from galaxies to molecules — are held in existence by the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God.
Without the Bible, we cannot know that the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.
“If we are embarrassed by parts of the Bible, the love of human approval over God’s approval has begun to take root.”
Without the Bible, we cannot know the unsearchable riches of Christ’s achievements on the cross — his propitiation of the wrath of God, his enduring the curse of the law, his bearing the condemnation of the elect, his becoming sin though he knew no sin, his bearing the weight of the iniquities of all his people, his purchasing forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, escape from hell, entrance into eternal life, and God’s yes to all the promises of Scripture for his people.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the way of salvation by grace through faith as a gift of God apart from works of the law.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the almighty power of the Holy Spirit raising us from spiritual death, and granting us new birth, and giving us new hearts, and sealing us for God’s possession through faith, and preserving us to the day of Christ and forever.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the true path of holiness and how the Holy Spirit by faith works in us the fruits of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of the church with Christ as the head of the body, and all the hosts of heaven watching as the wisdom of God is played out in the gathering of the redeemed from all the peoples of the world.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of marriage as a God-designed drama of the covenant love between Christ and his church.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of our own physical bodies as bought with Christ’s blood for the housing of the Spirit of God.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the dimensions of literature and art which approximate ultimate truth.
Without the Bible, we cannot know the source and goal of science.
And without the Bible, we cannot know how to love anyone fully — that is, in a way that does them everlasting good.
We can know none of these things in a saving way — that is, in a way that does anyone, ourselves or others, any lasting good — apart from rightly discerning what is revealed in the Bible. And therefore, all the aims of communication, apart from a right handling of the Bible, come to naught.
Therefore, more and more, it has seemed to me that the future God-glorifying faithfulness, and Spirit-dependent obedience, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness in our churches, and in our schools and institutions, and in our lives, depend on a certain way of thinking and feeling about the Bible.
So my ten aspirations for Christian communicators, whether pastors, preachers, writers, teachers, editors, parents, or friends, are all formulated in relation to that — our thinking and our feeling about the Bible.
Hearts That Hear
Someone may ask — indeed I ask — “But don’t deep heart realities of humility, and spiritual life, and submission to God, and sensitivity to spiritual reality precede and enable a right handling of the Bible? And shouldn’t that be the goal of Christian schools and ministries — to cultivate a kind of heart and mind that creates the humility and submissiveness that then is yielded to everything the Bible teaches?”
“We cannot escape the absolutely unique and essential role that the Bible plays in God’s purpose for the universe.”
Certainly, we should have a commitment to those deeper realities. But here’s the catch: the only reason we know that such realities must exist before the Bible can be known and loved and handled as it ought to be is that the Bible teaches us that they must.
The Bible teaches us that something deeper than the Bible makes it possible for the human heart to submit to the Bible. Therefore, how will we ever articulate and justify the goal to pursue something in the heart deeper than the Bible without using the Bible?
This means that among our aspirations for Christian writing and preaching and teaching must be that we would handle the Bible in ways that make it likely for us to find in the Bible everything we need to find there in order to use the Bible rightly.
So let me suggest ten aspirations, or aims, for Christian communicators as they relate to how we think and feel and act toward the Bible.
1. Embrace Inerrancy
Let us make it our aim that every pastor and teacher, every faculty member and administrator, every writer and speaker will give joyful and hearty assent to the complete truthfulness — that is, inerrancy — of the Bible in all that it teaches.
2. Be Unashamed
Let us make it our aim that we will be unashamed of everything that the Bible describes as the will of God as it was or is to be done when God appointed for it to be done. For example, unashamed of God’s command in the book of Joshua that all the Canaanites be killed. Unashamed of his permission of polygamy and divorce and slavery in the Old Testament. Unashamed of his command that Isaiah walk around naked. Unashamed of the inspired writers’ holy hatred of wicked people — in the Psalms, for example. Unashamed of the creation of the world six thousand years ago, if that’s what the text teaches. Unashamed of the command that spiritually qualified men, rather than women, be the elders of churches and the heads of two-parent families. Unashamed that there is only one way of salvation — through knowing and believing the gospel of Christ. Unashamed of the teaching that those who practice homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or reviling or swindling, and are unrepentant, will suffer eternally in hell.
For if we are embarrassed by parts of the Bible, the love of human approval over God’s approval has begun to take root. And this root is the source of much defection from biblical truth, especially in the academic life (John 5:44).
3. Pursue the Authors’ Intentions
Let us aim to be committed to all the teaching of the Bible in such a way that congregants and readers and students are equipped to pay detailed attention to its words and phrases and clauses and logic, and to penetrate through these human instruments to the authors’ mental, emotional, and behavioral intentions, and to the great realities that they are trying to communicate.
4. Build a Biblical Vision of Reality
Let us aim to build teams that reflect so deeply on the realities of Scripture in relationship to all other observations in all other disciplines that students and readers are enabled to see the profound relevance of the biblical vision of reality for everything they think and study, so that there will be no embarrassment whatsoever that we relate everything to Scripture, and test everything by Scripture, because we have discovered that God’s revelation about the world can never be superficial or irrelevant.
5. Speak with Precision
Let us aim to handle the Scriptures with such precision, and care, and insight, and spiritual illumination, and experiential authenticity, that we do not default to speaking in vague generalities about God’s will and God’s way, but actually are able to point to specific verses in the Bible where glorious reality is revealed and where the will of God and the ways of God are made explicit, and can do so in such a way that we happily cite the very words of Scripture with little concern whether we are criticized of proof texting. In other words, let it stand as a continual warning that for the last hundred years those who reject the reality behind Scripture have done so while continuing to use Christian language, but avoiding precise textual citations.
6. Love the Languages
Let us aim to put a high premium in our pastoral training on the mastering of Greek and Hebrew to the extent that future preachers have sufficient confidence that when they interpret the Greek and Hebrew text of the Old and New Testaments, they are extracting the author’s intention, and are in touch with the reality God is revealing behind and through the text. Let us never allow the pragmatic pressure for pastors to be more immediately helpful to diminish our confidence that the teaching of Greek and Hebrew will, in fact, make them even more helpful in the long run in the church of Christ.
7. Cultivate Habits of Heart
“The Bible teaches us that something deeper than the Bible makes it possible for the heart to submit to the Bible.”
Let us aim to make the Bible so foundational and so pervasive in all aspects of our college and seminary curricula that it is never seen to be the purview of only one department, like biblical studies, rather than being essential to every department, such that students really do perceive that the serious study of Scripture deepens their capacities in six habits of heart: observation, understanding, evaluation, feeling, application, and expressing. Let us seek to make the Bible so prominent and so pervasive and so profoundly relevant in dealing with every kind of subject matter that students grow in their confidence that what can be known only through the Bible enhances and deepens and clarifies and empowers everything they learn from other sources.
8. Celebrate the Relevance
Let us aim to handle the Bible in such a way that the Bible will always stand out to those who read what we write, and hear what we say, as a source of utterly timely, relevant, and indispensable divine revelation concerning the world we live in. Let us never give the impression that this Book is somehow dated, or passé, or irrelevant, but in fact is brimming with the kind of human, historical, cultural, social, psychological, relational wisdom that goes deeper, and lasts longer, than the passing trends of all the humanities and social and physical sciences.
9. Display Contagious Esteem
Let us aim to teach and explain the Bible in such a way, and live the Bible in such a way, as to encourage and equip and empower future pastors and teachers and writers to communicate in a way that those who hear them will recognize their highest esteem for the authority and wisdom and value of the Bible, and will be thankful, and even amazed, at the treasures that they share from Scripture for the living of the Christian life with all its joys and sorrows.
10. Pray Earnestly and Continually
Let us aim to cultivate an ethos of earnest and continual prayer for the God-given humility and illumination that not only opens us to the deepest and richest meaning of what the Bible teaches, but also enables us to see the self-authenticating glory of God in and through the text, which provides the foundation of our unshakable confidence in the divine origin and authority and universal relevance of the Bible.
If God would be pleased, in his mercy and power, to fulfill these aims in the years to come, I believe that the God-glorifying faithfulness, and Spirit-dependent obedience, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness of our churches and ministries and academic institutions would exceed all our expectations.