Jesus loves me

August 27, 2008

This is my first blog.  I thought I would post an article I have written for the Church of Scotland’s magazine, “Life and Work”.  I was asked to write something on what evangelicals believe about the Bible.  Given that the readership of the magazine is mostly non-clergy, it is a non-technical piece.  Yet it says what I believe and I hope it is an encouragement to you. 



“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  It’s true.  How would I know that Jesus loves me without the Bible?  Indeed, how would I know anything about Jesus?  Outside the Bible there is no contemporary mention of Jesus.  Everything that has been written about Jesus from the earliest times builds on what the Bible says about him.  Without the Bible, I can know nothing about Jesus.  Hence, for all Christians, the Bible must be indispensable.   


I have been asked to explain the Evangelical attitude to the Bible.  First, what is an Evangelical?  The word is derived from the Greek “euangelion” which literally means “good news” and refers to the message that salvation is made available through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. 


Dr. David Bebbington of Stirling University has identified four characteristics common to all Evangelicals.  First, we believe in the need of all to be converted to Christ.  Second, we believe that our conversion inevitably leads to active service in God’s kingdom.  Third, all that we believe is derived from the Bible which we receive as God’s Word written (as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it).  Fourth, we believe what the Bible says about the death of our Lord Jesus, that it achieved something, namely, it enables God to forgive sinners. 


Thus, Evangelicals stand firmly in the mainstream of historic, orthodox Christianity, and in particular within the Reformed tradition of our Church of Scotland.  Evangelicals are not uncomfortable with the theology taught in our Confession of Faith.


So why do Evangelicals believe what we believe?  Why did we so vehemently oppose the proposed Civil Partnership legislation?  Why do we insist that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God?  Why do we refuse to sings hymns that address God as “She” or “Mother”?  Even if we are not willing to change our own views, can there not be some give and take, live and let live?  Why must we always be quoting the Bible? 


I believe that the real problem in the Church of Scotland today—dare I say, the real battle-ground—is not homosexuality or inter-faith relations or any of the subjects that appear to divide us; rather it concerns the nature of revelation.  The big question we all must answer is: Has the True and Living God revealed his mind and will to the human race through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, or has he not?  Evangelicals believe he has and this is what shapes our response to everything else. 


We believe this because this is what the Bible says about itself.  The Old Testament Law claims to have been given to Moses by God.  The prophets acted as heralds when they cried out, “Thus saith the Lord.”  The Lord Jesus asserted that his words were not his own but those of him who sent him.  He constantly quoted and alluded to the Old Testament with approval; for example, when he was tempted in the desert (see Matthew 4).   The apostles commended their hearers for accepting their message not as the words of men but as the words of God (1 Thessalonians 2v.13). 


Thus the Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3v.16: All Scripture is God-breathed.  That means God is its origin.  The Bible is not a collection of reflections by certain ancients (some more enlightened than others).  It is not the record of man’s search for God.  It is rather the record of God revealing himself to us. 


The writer of Hebrews begins his letter: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…


The God of the Bible speaks, he communicates.  If he didn’t how could we know him?  We might look at creation and conclude that God is powerful and imaginative, but we certainly would never have dreamt that he is Love.  We might conclude that things ought to be a lot better than they are, that we ought to be better than we are; but we would never have guessed that God is so merciful that he has provided a remedy to the human predicament in and through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Without the Bible grace would have remained a foreign concept. 


Some object that such a view elevates the Bible above the Lord Jesus, the written Word above the personal Word.  The antithesis is a false one.  The only authentic Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, the whole Bible, not just the Gospels.  One of the reasons Evangelicals value the Old Testament is that we see all biblical roads leading to Jesus.  Those who write off the Old Testament as inferior, as portraying a less loving God to that of the New, are only displaying their ignorance. 


If, then, the Bible really is God’s Word written it follows that it bears a unique authority.  What the Bible says, God says.  I submit myself to my God by submitting to his Word. St. Augustine in his Confessions put it like this: Indeed O man, what my scriptures say, I say.  


That does not mean that I read everything literally.  It does mean that I read a text as it asks to be read.  I read poetry as poetry, parable as parable.  I also read history as history and law as law. 


I read Scripture in the light of Scripture for God’s revelation is cumulative.  The light of truth comes like the dawning of the day.  So, I read the ceremonial law in Leviticus, not as binding for all time, but as a picture, a preparation for the coming of Christ, as the Book of Hebrews tells me to do. 


This approach to the Bible stands in contrast to the Liberal/Progressive approach.  They view the Bible as purely a human product, a dark and dangerous mine out of which gospel-nuggets must be hewn, usually with great difficulty.  Where the nuggets are to be found is a matter of personal opinion.  This is the problem when we diverge from the historic doctrine of the Church; faith becomes subjective.  Why should one person’s view be  regarded as more valid than another’s?  We need an agreed standard, a canon. 


This is partly the result of a rather literal interpretation of the First Article Declaratory which states that the Church of Scotland “receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”  It is argued that “contained” implies that the Word of God is in there somewhere and has to be fished out.  That’s why some preface the public reading of the Bible with the phrase “Let us listen for the Word of God” rather than “to the Word of God.”  They are expressing a hope that God’s Word just might come to us in this reading.


Evangelicals have no doubt that when the Bible is read we are hearing the Word of God.  Our experience, along with believers down through the centuries, is that this ancient text has a remarkable ability to be relevant in every conceivable context.  It is indeed a living and active Word, because it is the Word of a living and active God.