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Read the following text. Then consider the questions that appear at the end.

“Some communities don’t permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: ‘We don’t discuss those things here.’

“I believe the discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the poems of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he’s asked with . . . a question.

“‘What do you think? How to you read it?’ he asks again and again and again.

“The ancient sages said the words of the sacred text were black letters on a white page—there’s all that white space, waiting to be filled with our responses and discussions and debates and opinions and longings and desires and wisdom and insights. We read the words, and then enter into the discussion that has been going on for thousands of years across cultures and continents.

“My hope is that this frees you. There is no question that Jesus cannot handle, no discussion too volatile, no issue too dangerous. At the same time, some issues aren’t as big as people have made them. Much blood has been spilled in church splits, heresy trials, and raging debates over issues that are, in the end, not that essential. Sometimes what we are witnessing is simply a massive exercise in missing the point. Jesus frees us to call things what they are.”

Questions to ponder:

1. Do you agree with the point the author is making? If your answer is no, go no further. If your answer is yes, proceed to question 2.

2. Who do you think penned these words? Hint: The owner of this blog didn’t write them.

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Click on the image for an enlarged view of the chart. I produced it to serve as a study guide for the final exam in the course on the book of Revelation which I am teaching this term.

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Does evangelical emphasis on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible strengthen or diminish the authority of Christ and the Bible? 

By Joseph Bayly, 1968.

If there’s been one doctrine strongly taught and defended by evangelicals during the past several decades, it’s the inspiration of the Scriptures. Among many, perhaps most, who taught the doctrine, verbal inerrancy of the original manuscripts has been upheld.

Now with all this emphasis on inspiration and inerrancy, you’d think that young people who have grown up in an evangelical milieu would be firmly grounded in the Bible’s authority.

They’re not. In my experience, at least, I don’t usually find the reflex, “The Bible says it and so it must be true,” among young men and women.

The reaction of a student in a Christian college, from an evangelical background, on being reminded that the Bible forbids premarital intercourse, is rather typical of the attitude I’ve found. “Maybe the Bible says it, but if it does, that isn’t what it means.”

The element of doubt about what the Bible teaches in areas of less emotional involvement is also significantly high among our evangelical teens and students. Does God have purpose in human suffering? Is God powerful enough to act today? Will Christ return to this earth? For a large number of evangelical young men and women, such questions are not settled by what the Bible says.

If my impressions are correct, we are in danger, period, since it is questionable whether morality and ethics—even faith (Rom. 10:17)—can stand, apart from the support of accepted biblical authority.

How do we explain this weak attitude toward the Bible’s authority? Have we unwittingly undermined confidence in the Bible?

I think we have got things out of the right order, at least as far as ordinary Christians—especially the young—are concerned. We have stressed the Bible’s inspiration and assumed that authority would take care of itself. But it hasn’t.

Theologians may conclude that inspiration is the ground of authority, and therefore must come first. And they are probably right in a theological context.

J. Gresham Machen once said that theology begins with the doctrine of inspiration, while apologetics ends with it. I suspect, if this is so, that we have made the mistake of treating our young as theologians rather than as potential converts or young Christians.

I believe that the debate about biblical inerrancy during recent decades has had the unfortunate result of weakening the Bible’s authority in the minds of the young. The possibility or impossibility of infinitesimal error has tended to obscure the great, overarching areas about which there is no question.

By arguing about whether there is dust on the piano, or whether the kitchen floor is completely clean, a husband will lower his children’s overall impression of their mother’s faithful loving service and diminish her authority in their eyes. When they are older, the children may see things in true perspective; then they are likely to blame the picayune, judgmental father. But meanwhile the harm has been done.

So it may be with the authority of the Scriptures in the eyes of the young. We argue about whether 3,000 or 30,000 soldiers fought in a battle and we lose a greater battle.

Children, teens, and students need to be brought into Christ’s kingdom by faith, by their own personally exercised choice. From a human standpoint, they need examples, adults who say and live the principle, “I believe the Bible.” And I think this is the really important thing to communicate to the young—complete submission to the Bible’s authority—rather than, “I believe in the inspiration of the Bible.”

I know that full conviction of the Bible’s authority over all of life comes through the Holy Spirit’s work. But it is often, perhaps usually communicated through the Christian community.

Perhaps this low view of Scripture’s authority is related to a low view of Christ’s authority. We may be reaping the results of recent decades when we appealed to young to “receive Christ as Savior,” bypassing His demand of absolute Lordship and doing violence to His Person.

A fresh breath of submission to the authority of Christ and the Scriptures in the Church, and in the lives of Christians—especially the young—could be the catalyst needed to change the world’s drift toward anarchy and nihilism.

And I am not usually a prophet of doom.*

*Note: Have the intervening 42 years proven Bayly right or wrong?

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, August 1968,  37 . Bayly’s column ran continuously from October 1961 to October 1986.

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