This past summer I went to lunch with one of the evangelists of the camp meeting I was attending. During our conversation, while driving to the restaurant for lunch, I mentioned my general disgust with theologians. The evangelist responded by saying, “they just complicate things and if you don’t set at their feet to learn from them they consider you an ignoramus who is not really qualified to preach the Gospel.”
Thinking of that brought back memories of my college days, circa 1970, where I was a Bible major, “preparing for the ministry.” At this time, as well as attending school, I was a pastor of a four-church charge in the “mountains” of eastern Kentucky. I generally preached in two of them each Sunday. I was a senior in the winter quarter just 3 ½ months from graduation. As a senior Bible major I was required to take something called “Bible Seminar.” It was only a 2-hour class which met just a couple of times a week. The two subjects from this class that stand out in my memory were: Did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter? and, Did Jonah really spend three days in the belly of a large fish? Jephthah was preparing to lead Israel into battle against Ammon and he made a vow unto the Lord that: “If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Jephthah returned victorious and the first thing that came through the door to meet him was his daughter, his only child. At length, according to Judges11:39, he, “did with her according to his vow.”
But that simple statement did not seem to satisfy the theologians nor were they willing to accept, carte blanche, the Bible account of Jonah in the belly of the fish. With each story we had to take a theological journey which went up all around Robin Hood’s barn before finally arriving back right where we started with Jonah in the fish’s belly and Jephthah sacrificing his daughter. Perhaps, in some way, it was a profitable mental exercise but in no way was it anything I could take to my parishioners.
After we completed this exercise the professor asked if there was anything else anyone thought we should do before we moved on to something else. He opened the door, so I walked through it. I said, “I think we should write a paper on the validity of this study.” Needless to say, that got everybody’s attention. Several asked, Did I mean this or did I mean that? I refused to let them put words in my mouth and said, “No, I mean validity.”The professor then made the assignment for us all to write a paper on the validity of the study. Here follows the paper that I wrote. It is presented here without correcting the spelling, the punctuation or trying to improve the phrasing.
The Validity of the Study of the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture
“Validity” is defined by The Random House Dictionary of the English Language as “the state or quality of being valid.” “Valid” is defined as “sound; just; well founded.” It would be futile to try to approach this directly as all would most likely differ as to just what is sound, just, and well founded. If however, I am permitted to use the second definition of the Random House dictionary for the word “valid,” this will present a different picture. This second definition is: “producing the desired result; effective.” If I use the above definition I must then determine what is the purpose of the study, and does it produce the desired result; is it effective?
As I understand it the purpose of the study is to fortify ones own faith in the Scriptures and to better equip the individual to meet the objections and answer the questions of others. As for fortifying one’s own belief in the Scriptures, I can only answer for myself and my answer is this: “I don’t need it, I believe the Bible.”
As for meeting the objections of others and answering their questions it again depends on one’s motivation and objectives. If one merely wants to win arguments and to escape from the humiliation of being wrong I feel that this study will be of great use, especially if one has a facility for debate and can outwit those with whom he is arguing.
If on the other hand one is a born-again, Spirit-filled child of God and desires that others come to know the joy, peace, satisfaction, etc. that comes from this relationship with God, then this presents a different proposition altogether.
For one to enter into this relationship with God, one must be “born of the Spirit.” For one to be born of the Spirit one must see his need for this experience; he must realize that he is lost and without hope; he must see himself as a sinner in need of the saving grace of God. He must then reach out by faith and trust God. Until one sees this need no amount of evidence is going to persuade him that the Bible is authoritative and inspired. If he sees this need and repents and is truly born of the Spirit he will readily embrace the Scriptures upon their exposure to him because he is now no longer Spiritually blind.
Another way of stating this and probably a more simple way is this: If a person does not see a need of changing his life except in the manner in which he feels he is capable of managing himself, he is not going to believe something that will require him to make this change. If on the other hand he knows he is lost and desperately in need of help and he finds something to believe that meets this need completely, then no amount of evidence or persuasion is going to convince him its not true.
I think what we need to do is ask ourselves a question and be very honest with ourselves in doing so; “Are we trying to get information that will make us more effective soul winners for Christ or are we just trying to escape some of “the offence of the cross?” That is are we trying to escape appearing foolish unto the world and thereby escape the ridicule and the belittlement that comes with it?
Apart from all this if the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, then this study is an exercise in vanity.
The Bible starts with a simple statement, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Nowhere does it make any attempt to prove it, it just declares it. The Bible also makes many other declarative statements and tells many miraculous stories without making any attempt to substantiate them or explain them. The Bible says Jesus turned the water into wine, walked on the water and ascended into heaven but nowhere does it attempt to explain how he accomplished these things. We say we believe the Bible and then we go about to substantiate things it says, something it didn’t find necessary to do; whereby we are found at fault in that we demonstrate that we have more confidence in our ability to understand than we do in the Bible which we say we believe. In so doing we merely expose our lack of faith and it becomes apparant that what we are really trying to do is convince ourselves that the Bible is true. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
The Bible says “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart: and lean not unto thine own understanding. When one learns what that means he will have no need for such a study as this. This study then is not sound, just and well founded.
When we returned to class with our papers in hand there was, not only our professor but, the college president. The president explained that he really didn’t have time to be there but when he was told, by our professor, the subject under discussion he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The professor first took up our papers and then turned the floor over to the college president. His lecture took up the next thirty minutes. During this time he explained how he had experienced not only two works of grace but what seemingly was in his mind a third work of grace. That third one was when he took a course in school on textual criticism. When he was finally done, I asked if I could read my paper to the class. He seemed somewhat startled but handed me my paper and allowed me to read it. When I was finished...well you should have been there. Our professor and college president both started talking at once. The professor said something about me telling everybody off, or something to that effect and the president started by saying, “If I were a five-point Calvinist, then I would believe that paper.” He then went on from there but I recall no more of what he said. I said no more for I had said what I felt needed saying.
I later read the paper to a seminary student who then said, “Well, at least you are an Arminian.” This after the college president had responded to my paper by calling me a five-point Calvinist. Someone said that what the president did was throw me a red herring. Upon reading it in the presence of another friend who was a school principal, he said, “No wonder you got such a violent reaction, you just told them they are nothing.” I had not really thought of that but upon reflection I saw that that was just what I had done. Not only had I told them that they are nothing but I had said that theology is nothing. Nothing that has transpired in the nearly forty years since has given me any reason to change my mind. Good sound Bible doctrine is precious; theology is nothing!