How should Christians view the Bible? What is the right perspective? Are differing views concerning the nature and veracity of Scripture all acceptable, as long as one is sincere or as long as modern scholarship presents radically differing views as being a valid alternatives?
Of course, all professing Christians of all groups and denominations, from all walks of life, profess to believe the Bible is the Word of God. From the most conservative fundamentalist Baptist that exists, to the high-church Anglican Hebrew and Old Testament scholar at Oxford University, all are unified about the Bible being God’s book, in some basic way. If each were asked the question, “Do you believe the Bible is inspired and is God’s Word?”, virtually every answer would be, “Yes.” A person who would answer “no”, should not and would not even be considered a Christian, because believing that the Bible is divine and inspired is at the very root of professing any evangelical faith. Without that, there is no true Christianity.
But once a person affirms the Bible is God’s Word, then a further question arises of equal importance. What does it mean for the Bible to be the Word of God? Is it all actually the Word of God or does it contain the Word of God? Is it inspired in a general way, yet not scientifically and historically accurate, or is it inerrant? Was there a supernatural working of God in the writing of it by the authors of Scripture that produced a verbally inerrant Bible in its original writings that was pure, perfect, without error, and can actually be called the very words of God Himself? Did the Holy Spirit guide the original authors of Scripture in their choice of words, in order to include exactly what was to be said?
It is not being legalistic, narrow-minded, or too conservative to define our view of Scripture. How we view and reply to the above questions about the Bible completely determines how we view the Scriptures. And how we view the Scriptures will determine everything about our faith, doctrine, and Christian profession. There are not two alternatives views, both of which have validity. The correct view of the Bible is that there is only one way to view the Bible, and any departure from that position begins a decline, an apostasy, and a denial of Scripture as God’s Word.
With the arrival of the mid-19th century, alternative views regarding the doctrine of Scripture began to take hold. The contemporary attitude toward the Bible began to develop as a downgrade, a gradual holding less and less to the Bible as the perfectly inspired Word of God, which is supernatural in nature and perfect in all issues of faith, doctrine, science, and history.
Iain Murray’s newest book, Evangelical Holiness, contains a chapter entitled The Attack on the Bible, which goes to the heart of this issue. Murray shows how, in the last three centuries, the Bible has come under a scholarly scrutiny which has attacked the very core of how Scripture is viewed.
How should we understand the Bible? What is true of its inspiration, its contents, its teaching, and its trustworthy? This attack has been called the critical approach to the Bible. Others might use terms such as scholarly or liberal. Whatever one calls it, what is important is to see is what view of Scripture as a whole is set forth as either being totally reliable and perfectly inspired or not. Every person holds to one or the other view, but not both. Every person either views the Bible as being completely inspired, trustworthy and supernatural, or as being mixed with mistakes and errors, though containing truth in different ways. One either believes the Bible is perfectly trustworthy, and therefore authoritative, or they do not.
While the Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Methodists and Independents of the 18th and early 19th centuries held to a solid and high view of the verbal inspiration and authority of the Bible, the weakened view certainly began, in modern terms, in the 18th century and gradually gained ground and popularity right through the 1930’s and onward until today.
Professor A. J. P. Taylor of Oxford University, in his volume English History 1914-1945, write of the decline of belief in Christianity which took place in Britain by the 1920’s. He goes back over a thousand years before he finds an alteration in national life which he thinks equally momentous. The decline of Christianity, he says, was a change ‘as great a happening as any in English history since the conversion of the Anglo Saxons to Christianity.’ And what cause such a great change? He lists ‘the higher criticism which discredited the verbal inspiration of the Bible–a hard knock especially against Protestantism’.
‘The higher criticism which discredited the verbal inspiration of the Bible’— this phrase speaks to the heart of what happened beginning in earlier centuries. Iain Murray says that, as a result, ‘we are living today in the aftermath of a changed view of Christianity which has come into the British Isles’. [and obviously in Western Europe and North America as a whole–M.T.]
Change in Three Stages
Murray says this change occurred in three stages. The first was the 20 year period between 1860-1880. A new approach to Scripture began to take hold in Britain. As Murray points out, ‘It did not come without controversy, but for the most part, the teaching produced no general alarm’. The change was a change in attitude and philosophy toward the Bible as an entire book. A German student in 1852 returned home from his university and told his minister—“You do not read the Bible. You turn over its pages, but you do not analyze it and compare book with book and part with part. In Germany, we study the Bible as we do any other book, and we find in it what you have not discovered–we find it’s literary blemishes, historical inaccuracies, and contradictions.”
Mr. Murray then summaries the heart and essence of this view: “This young man was a forerunner of the many who would come back from mid-nineteenth century Germany convinced that they were at the fountain head of Christian scholarship. The opinion spread that for ability in understanding Scripture, the German universities were leading the world. They proposed a new starting point–instead of submission to the biblical text, [which had always been the traditional view], it [the Bible] should be read as ‘any other book’. This approach needed a new name. Those who favored it called it ‘the new apologetic’. By others, it was designated ‘the higher criticism’ method of viewing the Bible.
The term ‘apologetic’ used above has nothing to do with today’s use of the term, regarding defending the Christian faith, but rather with hermeneutics–how we view the Bible as a whole, how we interpret it, and the nature of Scripture itself. The new apologetic taught by the German theologians and biblical professors affirmed that the Bible is not supernatural, but rather is just like any other historical book. It is no longer to be submitted to as authoritative and to be believed and trusted, but rather is to be evaluated, critically inspected, and judged by modern knowledge and scholarship, in order to see within it what is true and profitable, and what is erroneous and faulty.
With this new apologetic, Murray says, the opening years of the 1860’s saw specific views coming forth from leading British theological and ecclesiastical circles, view such as—
“Scripture should be interpreted like any other book” and “the Old Testament cannot possibly be taken as being historically accurate.”
From the conservative side, men such as Dean Burgon replied, “The Bible is none other than the Word of God, not some part of it more and some part less, but all alike, as begin the utterance of Him who sits upon the Throne–absolute, faultless, unerring, and supreme.”
But Germany, then western Europe, then America continued to crank out bright minds who convincingly persuaded its students and, as a result, European and American churches, embraced a different view of Scripture altogether. The apostasy and departure from the Bible was clear.
Thus, a steady flood of liberal views of the Bible began to trickle and then sweep into all evangelical theological circles and denominations. Irreversible damage was done. The doctrine of Scripture was altered and changed completely. A wrong view of the Bible was increasingly accepted, as Baptists gradually accepted a weakened view of Scripture. Presbyterians, likewise, who were once the champions of holding to the highest view of Scripture, could decline to such an apostate position, that their institutions such as Princeton Seminary, would completely apostatize and abandon true Christianity, all because of its decline away from viewing the Bible as the very Word of God. Methodists, as well, once firmly holding to Scripture as being supernatural and true, rejected the Bible as being inspired. This is the specific battle that C. H. Spurgeon, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Francis Schaeffer and others were fighting as their lives came to an end– to defend the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
– To be continued