Western society used to be basically divided between people who (1) respected the Bible as “the truth” but didn’t follow it, (2) believed and followed it devotedly, or (3) rejected it as simply a book of legends and myths. Things are changing.
To begin with, the first group is rapidly declining in size. And the relationship between the second and third group has become charged in a new way. In the past, if you believed in the full authority of the Bible, your skeptical neighbors would have disagreed and explained why they couldn’t accept the Bible, and maybe even laughed at you in private. But they would not have felt the need to examine your ways of understanding and regarding the Bible and loudly ridicule them and try to shame you for them.
Today, as never before, the character of the Bible is publicly attacked as cruel and oppressive and those who uphold the historic view of its truthfulness are seen in the same light. There’s enormous social pressure on Christians today to abandon the historic understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Scripture and the role it should play in our lives.
This is why in September Redeemer will conduct a short, three-week sermon series on the Christian doctrine of the Word of God. On September 13, 20, and 27 we will consider the reliability, authority, sufficiency, and finality of the Bible. Both believers and skeptics are unfamiliar with what the Church has historically believed about the Scripture and what the Bible says about itself. Coming to grips with this is always crucial, but, in our time it is more important than ever.
We must not, however, be so intent on getting our doctrine of Scripture right that we neglect its proper role in our lives. At Redeemer we have no desire to swell the ranks of people who believe in the truth of the Bible in principle but do not know its power in our lives. Jesus told the elites of his day that they “understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Hebrews 4:12 says that the Bible is “alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” How is it alive and powerful? There are many ways, but here are two.
The Word of God is the primary way we come to understand the truth about God. The second of the Ten Commandments forbids the making of images — pictorial representations of the Triune God — for use in worship. Why, we might ask? If pictures and statues of God help you in prayer, why would the commandments forbid them? For centuries, the Protestant church (and especially the Presbyterian and Reformed churches) have argued that it is through the reading and teaching of the Word of God that the Holy Spirit is given free reign to illumine the mind and heart with the truth. Images hijack that truth, and present a pre-digested version of God’s character.
The New York Times recently ran an article “Turn the Page, Spur the Brain” that presented empirical findings showing that reading to children, even infants, was crucial for brain development. They found that exposing children to a video or a picture short-circuited the child’s imagination. One expert said: “They’re not having to imagine the story [for themselves]; it’s just being fed to them.” Another pointed out that children who were exposed to reading “showed significantly more activity in the areas of the brain that process visual association, even though the child was listening to a story and could not see any pictures.” In short, verbal communication makes your mind and heart do the work of grasping and imagining the story for yourself. Images tend to feed you what some other person’s imagination has created.
I am not denigrating visual arts in general. But this simple article about reading to children supports an ancient Protestant understanding about the power of the Word to capture our hearts with the truth in a way nothing else can. 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 4:6 says, remarkably, that right now by faith we can “behold the glory” of Christ. And this beholding is linked to the Spirit’s work in our hearts as the Word of God is read and heard (2 Corinthians 3:12-16).
For years I thought that God could be active in my life through the Spirit and that the Bible was a book I had to obey if God was going to come in. I now realize that Bible is the way that, through the Spirit, God is active in my life.
The preachers at Redeemer this month will be leading the congregation to consider this topic, so culturally and personally critical to us all.