theology

When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks

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Our words about God’s Word matter. From the carefully crafted confession and creed to the prepared preaching point to the thumb-typed tweet, we should tread carefully when speaking of what God has spoken and how God has spoken. Jesus warned that we will give an account for every careless word that we utter (Matthew 12:36). How much more so when those words are about God’s Word?

The Christian twittersphere erupted (again) when Andy Stanley recently tweeted, “The Christian faith doesn’t rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.” To Stanley’s credit, the tweet was removed.

My aim in this article is not to examine Stanley’s words in their original context of a preached sermon. Nor is my aim to crucify Stanley for a tweet (or to crucify him at all, for that matter). I’ve personally found some of Stanley’s teaching on both leadership and life greatly helpful, and many times unquestionably clear. Nor is my aim to exhaust the issue of inerrancy. My aim is to remind Christians that the thought expressed in this tweet is not new, and I aim to encourage Christians to examine their own approach to the Christian Scriptures. My prayer is that in a few short words I might help Christians remember that when the Bible speaks, God himself speaks.

Our words about God’s Word matter.

Augustus Came Before Andy

Church history is telling. Both orthodoxy and heterodoxy have forebearers. There really is nothing new under the sun. And when it comes to creeds and confessions, ‘new’ is almost certainly not improved. As one preaching professor warned, “If you are the first person to believe this, it’s probably heretical.”

Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836-1921) was one of the most influential Baptists in the Northern region of the United States in his day. Gregory Thornbury’s helpful essay “Augustus Hopkins Strong” in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition provides readers with an insightful introduction to Strong. My references to Strong’s works throughout this article come from Thornbury’s article.

Stanley suggested that the credibility of Christianity should not rest on the credibility of scripture. Eerily similar are Strong’s words written in 1899: “I am not willing to stake the Christian faith upon the correctness of even the original autographs of Scripture in matters so unessential,” as errors of science or history (126). Strong and Stanely both hint, if not outright imply, that the Christian faith does not require an inerrant Bible. But the correctness of the original autographs of Scripture has never been optional.

Reading Thornbury’s article will expose the reader to the modernist influence on Strong with a striking resemblance to current pastors like Stanley. Thornbury writes, “In an unpublished address given in 1893, Strong exhibited a remarkable candor on the issues of inspiration and inerrancy. Strong began his address by affirming modern theology’s tendency ‘to emphasize less the authority of Scripture and to emphasize more the authority of Christ’” (Kindle location 157).  Such approaches create an either/or dichotomy where a both/and cooperation exists.

Thornbury explains the gradual slide of which Strong was part: “The post-Reformation philosophical tradition which theological conservatives had come to rely upon contained internal conflicts which resulted in an unraveling of their dependence on divine revelation as the central epistemological axiom for theology” (Kindle Page 148). The philosophical tradition they embraced unraveled their confidence in Scripture. This was long before smoke machines clouded their sanctuaries.

Thornbury summarizes the trajectory of Strong’s approach as he writes, “Throughout his career Strong continued to soften his position on inspiration to allow for the discoveries of biblical criticism and scientific discovery” (Kindle 155). A softened view of inspiration will not produce a strengthened biblical faith. Yet Thornbury shows charity to Strong and draws the circle of orthodoxy wide enough to include Strong. Thornbury summarizes, “I have argued throughout this essay that Strong pursued a methodological course which produced unorthodox conclusions in what was, on the whole, an orthodox theology.” (Kindle page 159). Oh that such charity would make its way to the twittersphere!

An understanding of Strong helps us to navigate Stanley’s tweets. Church history serves us in faithful ministry. L. Russ Bush and Tom Nettles write in their classic book, Baptists and the Bible,

  • “Lack of historical awareness will lead a denomination to walk down some of the same roads they have walked before. A strong historical identity, on the other hand, should give them the ability to correct their directions where necessary and to move forward with strength and unity. The Baptist contribution to the Protestant community in the area of biblical authority can only benefit the people of God if it is clearly defined and expressed.” (1)

This isn’t the first time that Christians, either Baptist or others, have had to work for clearly defined and expressed convictions regarding inerrancy. And it likely won’t be the last.

God has not stuttered. 

When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks

Christian history has been carried by men and women with deep and abiding appreciation for the inspiration of Scripture. With them we rejoice in the authority, sufficiency, necessity, and clarity of Scripture. God has spoken. He has told us what we need to know. We know him precisely because he has revealed himself in his word. And as he has spoken, he has done so clearly. God has not stuttered.

We thank God for authors who, rather than tweeting unclear statements about Scripture, help us to dig our roots deep into the God-breathed word, including Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God At His Word, Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited, and others. But the convictions surrounding the inerrancy of Scripture go deeper than Kruger and DeYoung. These convictions pass beyond B.B. Warfield’s seminal work The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible and beyond Martin Luther’s bold declarations at the Diet of Worms in 1521 (“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…” and “My conscience is captive to the Word of God”).

We take our stand with Peter who referred to Paul’s letters as ‘scripture’ as much as other recognized scriptures which we know as the Old Testament. (2 Peter 3:16). We stand with Paul who recognized that the very written words of the Old Testament were breathed by God (2 Timothy 3:16). We stand with Jesus who quoted Genesis 2:24 with the explanatory phrase, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said…” (Matthew 19:4-5). God did not audibly speak in Genesis 2:24. Moses wrote Genesis 2:24. Yet Jesus refers to Moses’ written words as God’s spoken word. Wayne Grudem thus concludes, “This suggests that Jesus could quote any passage from anywhere in the Old Testament and claim that ‘God said’ the words of that passage, whether or not the Old Testament passage contain the words ‘thus says the Lord’ or any similar claim” (65). When the Bible speaks, God speaks.

To believe that when the Bible speaks, God himself speaks is to believe what the Bible says about itself. That is, to take the Bible’s own claims as authoritative. One of the fundamental flaws of the thought expressed in Stanley’s tweet and in Strong’s words is that such a thought places us in authority over the Scriptures. In this line of thought, we determine both the truthfulness of its claims and the importance of its truthfulness. But we never stand above Scripture. This same flaw is expressed when we suggest men formed the canon of Scripture, choosing which books were scriptural and which were not; as though the canon was man-created. No, the books included in the biblical canon were recognized and received for the authority they inherently had as God-breathed. Recognized and received. Not created or declared.

Convictions about the Word of God flow from convictions regarding the person of the Triune God. The Bible is not merely another book which may or may not include inaccuracies or errors. The Bible, as it claims, is the very Word of God. God has spoken. He who cannot and will not err has spoken. He in whom there is no falsehood has spoken. He who is the Alpha and the Omega has spoken. We must not entertain doubts about His Word any more than we would entertain doubts about His person. He, and by extension His Word, can be trusted.

Baptists and the Bible

Baptists have long stood with a Bible in their hands. Southern Baptists have looked back on the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention and remembered Adrian Rogers’ prophetic pronouncement, “I’m willing to compromise about many things, but not the Word of God. So far as getting together is concerned, we don’t have to get together. The Southern Baptist Convention, as it is, does not have to survive. I don’t have to be the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church. I don’t have to be loved; I don’t even have to live. But I will not compromise the Word of God.” Men like Rogers have drawn a line in the sand. And rightly so.

Our own Baptist confession, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, begins with an article on The Scripture.

  • “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Article I)

An inerrant Bible is, and always has been, foundational to the Baptist faith.

We thank God for Bible translators who have labored to get God’s Word into new languages. We thank God for men and women who have taken up the missionary mantle to get the biblical gospel to unreached people. We thank God for faithful pastors and Sunday School teachers who not only embrace the validity of the 66 books of Scripture but shore their confession up with a life that proves it. We thank God for churches that gather weekly and sit under the Word of God.

When the Bible speaks, God speaks. The people of God find great comfort in the Word of God. They labor to think clearly and biblically about His Word. They do not delight in unclear or confusing comments about this Word. God has spoken! This changes everything.

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Jeff Mingee

Jeff Mingee is the pastor of Catalyst Church in Newport News, VA. He serves as a Church Planting Strategist with the SBC of Virginia, overseeing church planting throughout the southeast region. Jeff received his M.Div from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his D.Min. He is the author of 'Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork' as well as other books. Jeff and his wife, Lauren, are the glad parents of Aiden and Carter.

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