08/22/14

The Heart of an Evangelical

Sword On Old Bible

image credit: iStock

When I was in my early teens, my father went into the hospital because he was having heart problems, probably from smoking cigarettes. His doctors recommended what was then a radical surgical procedure: a coronary artery bypass. It wasn’t known if he would survive the operation, so he was permitted to come home for what could be his last Christmas. He survived the bypass operation and never smoked again.

The heart of evangelical, Christian thinking is the authority of Scripture. Belief that the Bible is the Word of God pumps the lifeblood of the Spirit within us. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) But there is an ongoing debate about whether this evangelical heart needs its own bypass operation.

The arteries of Genesis on Creation and the Fall, of understanding the relevance of Pauline statements on gender role (and others) are thought to be blocked by the plaque of traditional interpretations. It is believed that, as these arteries are less and less able to carry the lifeblood of the Spirit to the body of Christ, the church will eventually have a “heart attack.” So some evangelical heart specialists are recommending a kind of coronary bypass operation.

One of these evangelicals is Peter Enns, currently at Eastern University. In an interview with The Christian Post, Enns said people within evangelicalism desperately want to defend the Bible against its challengers by questioning the very foundations of evangelicalism:

What they’re saying is what some of the bad guys say about the Bible makes sense, whether its evolution, whether it’s Canaanite genocide, whether it’s human sexuality, whatever. They’re saying they want to rethink some of those issues, but they’re doing it from the point of view of having a deep connection with the tradition they were raised in. They don’t want to just leave it. … They want to transform and continue the evangelical journey.

Supposedly younger evangelical Christians want to rethink what it means to be an evangelical, but are being held back by the movement’s older leadership. According to Enns, this reluctance is out of fear of the repercussions. In other words, the leaders are afraid the bypass operation won’t take. “So much hinges on getting the Bible right that giving ground on issues like evolution runs the risk of upsetting the entire system.”

Returning to the heart metaphor, if we don’t maintain a healthy sense of the ultimate authority of the Bible, of its universal and eternal truth, then the evangelical church will have a heart attack and die. It’s not just a matter of the old guard holding on to its power. “Getting the Bible right” is a life-and-death issue for evangelicalism. Francis Schaeffer understood what was at stake. In a letter he wrote to a frequent visitor at L’Abri about the knife-edged balance required in the modern evangelical world he said:

What we must ask the Lord for is a work of the Spirit . . . to stand on a very thin line: in other words, to state intellectually (as well as understand, though not completely) the intellectual reality of that which God is and what God has revealed in the objectively inspired Bible; and then to live moment to moment in the reality of a restored relationship with the God who is there, and to act in faith upon what we believe in our daily lives. (Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, p. 82)

So let there be a consultation among the evangelical heart specialists. Let us have a respectful hearing of the various procedures proposed to clear the blocked arteries. But let us not forget that an evangelical will always have the objectively inspired Bible as its heart. And if it stops beating, we die. We don’t want a success operation that ultimately kills the patient.

For further information on what it means to be an evangelical, see the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Alliance. Also look at: “What is an Evangelical?” on this website.

Is belief in the authority of Scripture the heart of evangelicalism?

06/27/14

God Breathing on Us

Creation Concept

image credit: iStock

In my turning-from-adolescence-to-adulthood rebellion years I resisted my father’s attempts to make me go to church. My mother convinced him to not press the issue. So for the next eight years when I stayed overnight on Christmas and Easter, he would ask me if I wanted to go to church with him and the family. I always declined.

One of the first changes that came over me after I made a commitment to Christ was a strong desire to know the Word of God. So that Christmas, I gave Bibles as Christmas presents to several members of my family.  I remember trying to match each person with the “right” translation. I gave my father a NASB—New American Standard Bible. I didn’t realize at the time that since he was Roman Catholic, the New American Bible translation would have been a better choice.

So from the beginning of my faith walk, the Bible has been important to me. It has been THE holy book to me. Part of the reason I chose to attend Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia was its commitment “to Scripture and to the systematic exposition of biblical truth known as the Reformed faith.”

This last phrase, “known as the Reformed faith,” didn’t have the significance to me then that it does now. I was drawn to Westminster because of reading Cornelius Van Til. I knew he had taught there and I wanted to attend the seminary where he had taught. I also had a suspicion that I would try to opt out of studying the original biblical languages if the going got tough and I could and still complete my degree.

And I was right; I would have if I could have. Westminster didn’t give me that option, for which I continue to be grateful. In frustration I once crumpled up a Hebrew vocabulary quiz and threw it towards the front of the classroom. Doug Green, my professor, quietly picked it up, smoothed it out and returned it to me. I failed that quiz, but eventually passed all the language requirements.

Now, most of the in depth bible study I do is with my computer. The power of Logos Bible Software makes up for what my linguistic skills lack. Some of the same reference works I used in print I now use electronically. Is it wrong to admit that I find exegetical work less tedious now?

I believe the Scriptures to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. This has been a personal and spiritual confession that has grown with time. These days, there is an ongoing dispute among evangelicals over the appropriateness of attaching the words infallible and inerrant to a statement of faith regarding the inspiration of the Bible.

I don’t have the linguistic or exegetical skills to contribute constructively to this debate. But I believe the end result must be compatible with the belief of the Christians who went before us. They used the terms infallible and inerrant to communicate what the inspiration of Scripture meant in their time and culture. I want future generations of believers to experience the wonder I did as I began to understand the significance of 2 Timothy 3:16. I still remember the class where Dr. Gaffin taught how Paul was saying that all Scripture was theopneustos; inspired by God—that it was God breathing on us with His Word.

Peter Enns is one of those individuals who has the linguistic and exegetical skills to contribute constructively to the work of communicating what the inspiration of Scripture means in our time and culture. I don’t agree with everything he said in Inspiration and Incarnation. But I do think he’s right that we trust the Bible because of the gift of faith. “By faith, the church confesses that the Bible is God’s Word.” If our generation ultimately decides that words other than infallible and inerrant are needed to describe the Bible as the Word of God, let it be by the same Spirit that moved previous theologians and inspired the original autographs.

“It is up to Christians of each generation … to work out what that means and what words work best to describe it.” But it must still convey a sense of theopneustos, God breathing on us with His Word.

Do you believe the Bible is inspired in the sense of theopneustos, God breathing on us?