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  • Writer's pictureM.B. Christiansen

View of Scripture: Why does it matter?

Updated: Jan 7

Often when comparing and evaluating different Christian denominations or local congregations, one of the questions asked is “what is their view of Scripture?” Generally, the answer which is given by many who would fall under the umbrella of orthodox Christianity is that they hold a high view of Scripture. But is a high view of Scripture enough? What do we mean by that?



A High View of Scripture


Throughout my life I have been part of a diverse array of congregations and denominations, and my experience has led me to believe that a generic “high view of Scripture” does not go far enough if the goal is following Christ to the level that God desires. For someone seeking to get plugged into a local church (if you’re looking for a church that faithfully follows God), the words to listen for when Scripture is concerned are words like inspired, authoritative, and inerrant.


The problem is that someone can have a high view of something while still not allowing it to have the final say in one’s life. For example, I have a profoundly high view of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the body of supporting literature fleshing out the lore of Middle Earth. But my high view of Tolkien's work means only that I appreciate the extensive work and care he put into his world building and that I think his story has some valuable moral lessons we can learn that could, in some situations, apply to daily life. I can say with integrity that I hold a high view of Tolkien’s work while at the same time understanding it to be a work of fiction which is completely detached historically from the world in which I live.


Certainly the belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture will necessarily cause one to have a high view of Scripture, but more seems to be needed if we consider the claims that Scripture makes of itself. Middle Earth presents itself as a fantasy world, but the Bible is a historical record of God's interaction with real human history. My purpose for this article is to point out why one’s view of Scripture matters in the way one practically lives out their faith. The next two articles will flesh out what we mean when we say that Scripture is inspired and inerrant, respectively.


Defining Terms


It will be helpful to explain what we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and inerrant.


To say that Scripture is inspired is to affirm that the Holy Spirit influenced the authors in such a way that it is really God’s divine words which are written down, not merely human opinions. The original manuscripts were written by human hands, but were dictated (so to speak) by God.


The authoritative nature of Scripture flows directly from the belief that it is inspired. If God has inspired people throughout history to write his truth as a form of revealing himself to humankind, the things that he has inspired them to write must carry more weight than other mere human writings. Scripture has authority because it is God’s Word, and is therefore the thing against which we measure our own values and ideas.


When we describe Scripture as inerrant, what we mean is that it is literally without error. What Scripture claims to be true is true. The belief is that, since the Bible is inspired, there is not information contained within that is factually incorrect. More will be said about this in a subsequent post, because to pinpoint exactly what we mean by this is more complex than it may seem.


For a more in-depth treatment of these concepts and how they are broadly understood by modern Evangelicals, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a helpful resource. It should also be pointed out that the ideas that Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and inerrant are not merely human ideas that developed in a vacuum. The reason these are virtually unanimously held doctrines throughout church history (until the twentieth century) is that Scripture claims these things of itself.


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 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

 

The Historical-Critical Method


As I have alluded to in other articles, a fundamental change occurred in the twentieth century which has had a massive impact on how the Bible is approached. As the world entered modernity, biblical scholars desired an approach to Scripture which would not seemingly fly in the face of popular scientific theories like Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The theistic worldview of the old world was being replaced by the naturalistic worldview because of the accelerating strides being made in the various scientific fields. Perhaps another article will address its development more fully, but theologians in the 1900s began to embrace an approach to biblical scholarship called the historical-critical method.


One of the distinctive traits of this method is that it aims to approach Scripture with enlightened modern eyes, armed with the knowledge we now have of how the world really works. This method operates under the assumption that Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct and by extension, that humankind in its current form is the highest and most intelligent it has ever been. This allowed well-meaning theologians who wished to be taken seriously by the Academy (comprised largely of naturalists) to approach Scripture with “fresh” eyes, assuming that they understood the nature of reality far better than the original authors of Scripture, whose insights were inhibited by their scientific ignorance.


The result was what Rudolf Bultmann championed as a “demythologizing” of Scripture. Employing this method, the modern theologian was able to read Scripture not with a humble, teachable posture, but from a place of superiority. We know what the original authors of Scripture meant better than they did.


When the four Gospels unanimously agree that Jesus actually walked on water, the enlightened academic knows that people can’t really walk on water. We understand the molecules that make up water and we understand how buoyancy works, so we know that they didn’t really mean that Jesus literally walk on water. It must have been a myth invented to make some point about who Jesus is. According to the historical-critical method, we must wade through and de-mythologize what Scripture says and interpret it in creative ways that do not challenge the current zeitgeist (the prevailing ideas of a given period of history).

 

Why does it matter?


Not surprisingly, this method became wildly popular and is still embraced by the majority of mainline protestant denominations (especially in North America). But is this really the way Scripture was intended to be approached? Is it there for us to correct and reinterpret to make it more palatable to our modern sensibilities?


Theology matters because it directly impacts the practical outworking of one’s faith in Christ. The historical-critical approach to Scripture, while attractive, directly compromises the inerrancy of Scripture. The very premise of this approach is that we need to correct the seeming mistakes made by the biblical authors. If one follows this idea through to its logical conclusion, the modern reader is set up in place of God. With a little creative thought, the reader is able to dictate what God’s Word really means in order to coerce it to affirming whatever agenda the reader wishes to advance.


An alarming number of theologians, pastors, local churches, and denominations have watered down and even rejected core doctrines of the Christian faith as a direct result of employing the historical-critical method. Many have progressed to the point where they no longer bear any meaningful resemblance to the historical Christian faith.


Foundational doctrines like the severity of sin and the necessity of repentance, and the idea of God's righteous punishment of sin in hell have simply been brushed aside in favour of a more universal faith system which sees everyone redeemed regardless of their repentance. The justice of God is abandoned in favour of the love of God. To set oneself up in God’s place is to effectively reject God’s truth and substitute it for our own. It is little wonder that the historical-critical method has become so enthusiastically embraced.


Does this premise not sound eerily familiar? If we return to the Garden of Eden in Genesis (which gives the liberal theologian fits), the very lie offered by the serpent to Eve is to challenge her preconceived notions of what God has clearly said. “Did God actually say…?" (Genesis 3:1 ESV, emphasis added).


Observing the rise of the historical-critical approach through its prominence in Academia to the practical impact it has had on the majority of the mainline protestant denominations in North America yields important theological insight. It serves as a perfect case study to demonstrate why the inerrancy of Scripture is so critically important.


Inerrancy Matters


Christians throughout history have virtually universally recognized that when God speaks, his voice overrules whatever thoughts or desires humans have. God is holy and set apart, and as the creator of the universe he alone has the authority to dictate reality. It is not an issue of not being allowed to call the shots. The finite nature of any given human being makes them simply incapable of filling the role of God.


The inspired, authoritative, inerrant nature of God’s Word makes good sense when we consider the story and ideas presented by Scripture itself. As creator of the world, God reserves the final say on virtually anything for himself alone. We see, throughout Scripture, that the God who has revealed himself to humankind is above reproach. Of course the information he has revealed is factually accurate. This is often not overtly stated, but rather is intuitive.


Of course the God who created everything in existence - who is himself separate and independent from creation, and who has fine-tuned the universe to a staggering degree - has authority over the fleeting and easily changeable human emotions of any given moment.

The God who has revealed himself through Scripture is inescapably correct, to the degree that often when he intervenes in human history, it serves to correct and rectify some human shortcoming.


The very nature of God is truth, which makes the doctrine of inerrancy important if one really desires to follow God to the degree that he himself requests. Scripture's inerrancy makes it authoritative. To really submit to God and to follow him with the selfless abandon that Jesus demands, it is a fundamental requirement that one acknowledge that God’s Word, which he has revealed to us through Scripture, is true.


And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”


Luke 9:23-26 ESV


By Jesus’ own words, here and elsewhere throughout Scripture, the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture are implicit. Without the force of authority in Jesus’ directive, what reason is there for anyone actually take up their cross and follow him?


 

Post Script: On a concluding note, it is important to distinguish again that the idea of inerrancy and authority are not foreign concepts to the message of Scripture which have been added by humans with power-centric agendas. The ideas of inspiration, authority, and inerrancy come from Scripture itself. While the skeptic may demand that citing the Bible to support the Bible is circular reasoning, I do not believe this to be the case because of the uniqueness of Scripture among all other extant literature. When Scripture is approached objectively, there can be no denial that – whether one finds it palatable or not – those who have interacted with God’s Word throughout history have understood it to be absolutely true and to have the final authority in every area of one’s life.

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