Welcome back to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast. Last week, Pastor John, you shared with us fifteen lessons on writing from your recent six-week writing leave. And now it is finally time to talk about what you wrote. So give us a little preview of your new book.
So I started the six-week writing leave with the expectation that I would write a book on how to use the Bible to get the greatest treasures out of it. How do you look at the book and benefit from the book? I was a good five weeks into this project before I gave that up. I thought that is where I was going, and 90,000 words later, that is not where I went. Here is how it happened.
I was writing and I thought, “Well, I have got to at least say something at the beginning of the book on how we know the Bible is true, how we know it is the word of God, how we can put any confidence in it so that we are warranted in spending so much time trying to look at the book.” That initial question took over. It just took over, and that is what the book is about. And if I were to title the book now it would be A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal That They Are True or something like that. This idea of a peculiar glory is the new and fresh thing.
Window to Glory
So I tell my story in the book, my story with the Bible — my whole life, from six years old until today, on my life with the Bible. That is a chapter in the book. And the fresh thing about that chapter is that I don’t talk about how I managed to hold on to a view of the Bible through college and seminary and German liberal graduate school. I didn’t hold on to a view of the Bible; a view through the Bible held on to me.
I have this picture that I am inside an alpine chalet and there is a masterpiece on the wall, a Rembrandt masterpiece on the wall, and that can be my view of the Bible. And the questions arises of whether I can hold on to my view that this is a masterpiece as everybody tells me it is not. They’re telling me it is an ugly painting. Can I hold on and tell myself, “It is a masterpiece. It is a masterpiece.” Is that what happened through all those years? Or did I walk over to the window in the chalet and see the Alps outside so that the Bible became the window and held me not by some view that I was clutching, but rather it just continually revealed to me more of God so that I couldn’t be let go? So that is what is going on in that chapter.
Canon and Inerrancy
And then I tackle which books are in the Bible, the canon issue. And I address the issue of, Do we have the actual words? And I love some insights that I got there. I have heard people be so skeptical about, “Ah, what difference does it make if you confess in your doctrinal statement that you have an inerrant Bible in the original manuscripts? You don’t have the original manuscripts anyway, so what difference does that make? So why do you have that in your confession?” Well, it is massively important that this statement be in the confession, and I have got an analogy in there about an email, an original email that gets scanned. Well, scanners typically make mistakes. Two R’s back to back might look like an M or two T’s might look like an H. And so you send out this email to people and they get all these different versions because you scanned it on different days. And does it matter that there is an original email back there with instructions of how to get to the meeting place? And of course, somebody who has got real savvy about how scanners work puts them all together and figures out which mistakes they made, and you finally can get back to the original. And it really does matter whether we have original manuscripts or not.
And then there’s another section on the claims of Scripture. My approach, apologetically, is not to say, “Because the Bible says it is true, it is true. You have to believe the Bible. It is God’s word. God’s word said it. It is God’s word, and therefore you believe that.” That is probably true. It is just ambiguous, because the question is how you know God is talking here. That is the big question. And that is what I turn to next.
And that is half the book: the 150 pages on Edwards guiding me in two key ways. Edwards was so burdened by how the Indians, the Housatonic Indians, could know the Bible is true when they were pre-literate — they don’t have any historiographical skills. How could they know? And that drives me too. I want to know what I can say to the missionary going to Papua New Guinea to speak to a tribe from the Bible — hold a big black book in front of them, read to them from God’s paper, God’s book, and have them be able to know that it’s true, so that they can say, “I will stake my life on that.” How can that be? That is what drove Edwards.
And the second way he influenced me was he took his starting point from 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, where “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And that proved to be enormously influential in how I approached this topic.
All Glory to God
Maybe the last thing I should say just to give people a flavor is, I asked this question: How do we know there is a divine revelation in nature, which Romans 1 says there is? And the answer is glory. You exchanged the glory of God. You didn’t glorify me as God. You should have seen the glory.
Second question: How do you know there is a divine person in Jesus of the Jesus of history? How do you know that? How did John and James and Peter know this is God? Answer: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father”(John 1:14).
Third question: How do you know the gospel is a divine reality from God? Answer: there is a light of the gospel of the glory of Christ that, when God overcomes Satan’s blinding, you see the glory and you know (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And all I did in this book was ask the fourth question: Is that way of answering the question of nature, Jesus, and the gospel also applied to Scripture? And, of course, I am not new in this, because the Westminster Larger Catechism says, “How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the word of God?” And one phrase in the answer says, “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God by the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.” And in one way, that’s the theme of my book. I just tried to write three hundred pages about that sentence.