The key theological question of our age is the trustworthiness of the Bible. It runs through the major confessions and most denominations, even those traditionally associated with a commitment to infallibility, such as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention. There is virtually no seminary where it is not raised, where at least some professors do not question the view of biblical authority held throughout the ages by the majority of believing Christians, even though such reservations may not be openly expressed in publications or in the classroom. Many of us who call ourselves evangelicals are accused of such doubts (and then sometimes categorized as “neo-evangelicals”).

Of course, none of those connected with conservative denominations or institutions would deny that the Bible does convey reliable information, but many would appear to limit such reliability to matters concerned with salvation. As James I. Packer shows in his important monograph “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, not only evangelicals but the majority of Christians through the ages have accepted the trustworthiness of the Bible in all that it teaches, including history and natural science. Although the Bible is not a textbook of history or science, what it teaches in those areas, too, is truth and is to be received as such.

Does the Bible itself make any claim concerning its authority and reliability? Of course, it might be altogether trustworthy even if it did not explicitly claim to be. But as a matter of fact the inspired writers claim, not only for their own texts but for the whole of the Scripture, divine authenticity and trustworthiness (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:20, 21). It is abundantly evident that our Lord regarded the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, as the infallible Word of God, and his own teaching regarding his apostles’ authority undergirds their claims and the confession of historic Christendom that the New Testament, like the Old, is to be received as God-breathed, altogether reliable Scripture. There is no methodologically satisfactory way to distinguish between inspired, authoritative elements and less or non-inspired, non-authoritative elements without in effect repudiating Jesus as our teacher (see John 13:13), for he made no such distinction. Either we receive the Holy Scripture in its integrity as authoritative, or we set ourselves and some human standard up as judge of its authority; in that case we are supplanting its authority with our own.

Article continues below

In our own day, the question of biblical authority has largely passed from “source criticism” into the area of hermeneutics (the science of interpretation, which asks: What does the biblical text intend to communicate?). First higher criticism “determined” that much of the Bible is non-historic and factually unreliable. Thus, for example, the early chapters of Genesis are seen as myth, and Adam, Eve, and their Fall are considered merely symbolic. Apparently accurate prophecies of coming events, such as Isaiah’s visions concerning Babylon and Persia and Daniel’s concerning the succession of world empires, must be understood as later interpretations of what had already happened, projected back into the past and written as though they were prophecy.

Faced with the supposed unreliability of such records as communications of fact, the “new hermeneutics” of Rudolf Bultmann and his colleagues and pupils arose. Denying miracles, the physical resurrection, vicarious atonement, and second coming of Jesus, the doctrine of heaven, and the reality of good and evil spirits, Bultmann and his school sought to retain the spiritual meaningfulness of the biblical accounts by discovering their “actual” intent to be not in factual communication but in the disclosure of a “new possibility of self-understanding.” It is evident that this tortuous and highly abstract attempt to get at the Bible’s “existential meaning” is an effort to salvage something from the shipwreck caused by the earlier decision to discount its trustworthiness as factual history as well as “proclamation.” Unfortunately, in all too many cases, theologians, even evangelical theologians, are becoming intrigued by the possibilities of such “existentialist” interpretation without reflecting on the fact that it began with a rejection of biblical authority and can lead only to the conviction of a total disappearance of God from this world, our lives, and our thinking—what Klaus Bockmühl calls “the unreality of God in theology and proclamation.”

There are many plausible reasons to question the authority and reliability of parts of the Bible. When scholarly objections to particular texts are raised, it is proper to meet them with scholarly evidence on the other side. If we then discover, however—as frequently happens—that even when we have shown their criticism of a passage to be unfounded, certain critics continue to reject its reliability, we recognize that their objections are based on anti-biblical presuppositions and must be seen as a kind of faith (or anti-faith) rather than as scholarship and science.

Article continues below

The road that one takes at the beginning of a journey determines the goal he will reach. Starting with the conviction that the Bible is unreliable leads us not merely to mistrust it but to misunderstand it. The prolonged misreading of the evidence ultimately leads to views that are as unreal, abstract, and incommunicable as those of Bultmann and other “modern” theologians. The first need of Christians and the Church today is to start at the beginning, to reaffirm the historic Christian assertion that the Bible is true and trustworthy in the whole and in all its parts.

Jack Benny

Comedian Jack Benny served a great social cause in his ridicule of those inordinately attached to worldly goods. There may be reason to dispute the effect of Archie Bunker, but there is no doubt that the world lost an influential foe of stinginess when Benny died last month at the age of eighty. As a Jew he was surely aware of the three duties of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. He walked in the tradition of Judaism with regard to generosity and thereby set a good example for all.

One can only be sorry that in later life Benny occasionally stooped to the risque in his comic routines. His own forty-eight-year marriage to Sadie Marks was an implicit rebuke to love Hollywood style.

The Jury Decides

After a sixty-four-day trial, the Washington, D. C., jury rendered a verdict: John Mitchell, Robert Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Robert Mardian were guilty. They now await sentencing, something that depends, of course, upon the outcome of their appeals to higher courts.

Whether the jury’s decision is upheld or not, thousands of people will remain unconvinced of their guilt, just as enough people, in one year-end poll, chose Richard Nixon as the most popular man in the United States that he ranked seventh in the poll. This latter fact complicates the Watergate situation. Mr. Nixon has been granted a full pardon for his part in Watergate, and now his closest henchmen face jail sentences. One point needs to be made plain. Besides being convicted in the Watergate cover-up, about the need for which people may honestly differ, Mitchell, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman were also convicted of perjury. (Mr. Nixon undoubtedly lied, but he did not commit perjury because he made no statements under oath.) Justice is based upon the need for truth, and no nation can exist where truth is absent. These three men who lied when they had sworn to tell the truth should be sentenced for that breach, particularly in view of the fact that all of them are lawyers, whose business it is to uphold the standards of justice and of professional legal conduct.

Article continues below

The sooner the whole matter is disposed of, the better. It has been established that the system works and that men of power and wealth can be brought to justice. Now the nation needs to get on with other pressing matters.

Gold Rush 1975

Gold, which United States citizens can now buy and sell for the first time since the 1930s, has a long history, beginning with the remark in Genesis 2:11 about “the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.” Men have fought and died for gold. In A.D. 70, the Temple was burned during the sack of Jerusalem, and the Roman soldiers pried the stones apart to recover the gold that had melted in the fire and filled the cracks.

Gold, of course, has no more intrinsic value than any other metal. Whatever value it has derives from man’s values and his desire to possess gold. As long as people place a premium on gold it will be sought after, whether by mining or purchase, thievery or force. But gold cannot buy food that doesn’t exist, nor can it provide shelter where there is none. People have died of hunger, thirst, and exposure with thousands of dollars of gold in their possession. At last, gold, like everything else, is not foolproof. Men do much better to put their trust in God and see that their treasure is in heaven, where it cannot decay and no one can take it from them.

The Cost Of Catfish

The lengths to which we go to secure better entertainment for ourselves continue to become more and more astounding. To be sure, there is a certain sense of harmless pleasure in watching baseballs skillfully hurled. But is one human being, no matter how adept at such a routine, ever due as a consequence a contract totaling $3,750,000? That is the amount reportedly promised pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter for signing with the New York Yankees.

The Yankees obviously have a lot of faith in Hunter, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that they are just big-hearted people interested in a secure future for the North Carolina farm boy. They took the chance on him because he represents a means whereby the new Yankee Stadium will be filled with paying customers and TV viewers will buy more sponsor products. As long as the public continues to respond, the ante will climb.

Through A Glass Lightly

“It is tempting to think that the cinema leads today’s cultural consensus” by “pointing to the postulates and lifestyles which surround and subsume us all,” even though most of us live oblivious to them, begins Donald Drew in Images of Man: A Critique of the Contemporary Cinema (InterVarsity, 1974). Films are perhaps the most influential and popular art form among young people—as well as the most sensuous of the arts, and therefore the one regarded as most realistic—and Drew’s thesis merits serious consideration.

Article continues below

The film industry makes a strong philosophical impact on our society. Serious film intends more than entertainment, though that is essential to convey its messages. Drew, from a thoroughly evangelical perspective, considers cinema as both entertainment and philosophy. He describes the shooting and editing of a film, analyzes some messages of contemporary films, and suggests ways of “developing a Christian perspective” on the celluloid medium. Drew also warns Christians to bring sharpened critical faculties to the cinema. Through film we receive valuable insights into man’s image of himself today, but we need also to guard against its subtle influence. Images of Man will help us hone our minds to do both.

Faith And Finance

The current economic recession brings grief to a great many people, but we do not need to look very far down the road to perceive it as an eventual blessing.

For one thing, a budget cut, whether in a family or a church or a business, certainly helps us decide upon priorities, and how we all need to do that. It behooves us to curtail spending not across the board but in things that, while perhaps desirable, are not essential to our best purposes as Christian believers. Here the Scripture becomes particularly appropriate that asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

The Lutheran Church in America has served notice that because of financial pressure it may not be sending any new missionaries overseas in 1975. That is bad news, because outreach is what the Church is all about. Has this great denomination really determined that there is nothing else more expendable? If rank-and-file contributors were given a voice as to what programs to curtail, is the missionary enterprise investment one they would choose, or would it be among the last to go?

The big pinch also encourages the trend to live with less, which an increasing number of conscientious Christians have been advocating. Signers of the Lausanne Covenant who regard themselves as being in affluent circumstances agreed to “develop a simple life style.” They did not bargain to get so much help from circumstances so soon! God may well be taking them at their word, and we would all do well to make the same commitment for our own sake and for his.

Article continues below

In these days of inflation and recession, not to mention such perennial problems as nasty weather, ill health, ungrateful friends and relatives, and wayward offspring, it is easy to be depressed and frustrated. We need constantly to remember, and apply, the inspired teaching of the Apostle Paul. Many passages are pertinent, but consider, for example, Second Corinthians 4:16–5:7.

Those who portray the Christian life as always jolly must overlook 5:2—“Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling.” Or 5:4a—“For while we are still in this tent [a temporary abode], we sigh with anxiety.” Paul does not deny the reality of difficulties! Nevertheless, he is able to say, “So we do not lose heart” (v. 16a) and “So we are always of good courage” (v. 6a).

How can Paul do this? How can his mood be one of confidence when all around him points logically, from a human point of view, to despair? It is not because Paul had it easy. A few verses earlier he says he was “afflicted in every way,” “perplexed” and “persecuted” (4:8, 9). A few verses later he speaks of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger,” and of being treated in “dishonor,” “in ill repute,” and as an impostor (6:4, 5, 8).

Paul was able to have a mood of confidence, to have continual joy and peace, not by avoiding unpleasantness, not by pretending it didn’t exist, but by enlarging his field of vision. That is, in evaluating his circumstances, both rationally and emotionally, Paul noticed not only what his physical senses revealed, but also what God has revealed about the life to come. “We look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen” (v. 18a); “we have a building [a permanent abode] from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1b).

Paul affirms what should be true for all Christians: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (v. 7). That is, we carry on step by step, in the light of what God has revealed to us of the total picture, not just what we discern with our limited perceptions. When we do take this enlarged view, we recognize that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 17). Paul doesn’t deny affliction, but however weighty and prolonged any affliction is, it is but “slight” and “momentary” when compared with the glories of eternity.

Article continues below

Paul is not talking about this faith, this enlarged range of vision, as some sort of blind leap; God “has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (v. 5b) that these wonderful revelations of glory are not the product of wishful thinking. The present experience of the Holy Spirit, though it does not remove us from the troubles of this life, is the assurance to us that the glory is indeed real.

The very same Holy Spirit who enabled Paul, in the midst of his troubles, to be confident rather than despair is seeking to do likewise for believers today. Are we allowing him to?

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.