In his helpful and encouraging book, Why Believe the Bible?, John MacArthur gives reasons why we can believe that the Bible is the inerrant and authoritative word of God, and describes the importance and benefits of knowing and studying the Bible for the Christian life. In it he answers the charge made by many that the Bible isn’t actually God’s words, written down by common, sinful, yet Spirit-inspired men, but that it’s merely the thoughts of men – admittedly, men of great intellect and literary genius. The charge may be expressed as: “The Bible is full of errors and mistakes and it certainly is fallible at many points, but in regard to its ethics, its morals and its insights into humanity it reveals genius at a very high level.” So MacArthur, I think very reasonably, responds like this:
“[This view] doesn’t hold up. For one, smart men wouldn’t write a book that condemned them all [see Romans 3: 9-18]. Smart men wouldn’t write a book that provided salvation from the outside. Smart men want to provide their own salvation; they do not want to have to trust in a perfect sacrifice made by God’s Son. And one other thing: Even the smartest of men could never conceive of a personality like Jesus Christ. Even the most gifted fiction writer could not fabricate a character who would surpass any human being who ever lived in purity, love, righteousness and perfection.” (46-47)
In Can I Really Trust the Bible? (The Good Book Company, 2014), Barry Cooper offers a compelling series of arguments for the historical reliability and truth of the Bible. Cooper puts forth several types arguments – historical, logical, philosophical – but my favorite type of “evidence” he gives is the living testimony of those he calls “Bible-shaped” people. The best part of this for me is that I know many people like this. They’re many of the people at my church, and they were among those in the church where I used to attend before moving to the District. Some aren’t from my church but were part of the campus ministry my wife and I were part of in college. What they all share, as Cooper writes, is a love of God and others that is informed by what the Bible says about who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ. But enough of what I think. Below, see what these “Bible-shaped people” – who do exist! – are like:
“As people look for certainty that the Bible really is from God, they sometimes miss what seems – to me at least – to be very persuasive evidence.
“The most Bible-shaped people I know are a wonder to me. You don’t hear much about them in the media because their lives are self-sacrificial and other-centered. They love tirelessly and genuinely, in the background, under the radar. They want to find ways to encourage you or mourn with you or give you practical help. They are patient. They are kind. They take their Bibles seriously, but not themselves. They know how to laugh. Engage them in conversation, and they want to talk about you. They don’t pelt their Facebook feeds with mock-humble pronouncements of their own greatness. And when others say that Christians are bigoted or stupid, they don’t lose heart or respond with anger. They carry on, quietly loving and serving others.
“The most Bible-shaped people I know have been men and women who opened their homes and their lives to me. They spent time with me. Loved me when I was at my least lovable. Some of them, having no education to speak of, spoke with a wisdom that left me slack-jawed. During periods of depression, when I was seemingly unreachable, they sat patiently with me, they put their arms around me. They never lost patience, they never lost hope. They called me to throw off the sin that so easily entangles, but they weren’t shocked or self-righteous about any darkness they saw in me, because they acknowledged it in themselves. Love like that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It isn’t self-seeking, or easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.
“I’ve only ever seen love like that in two places. I’ve seen it in Jesus. And I’ve seen it in the most Bible-shaped people I know” (75-76).
BONUS: Here’s a funny promotional video of Barry Cooper talking about the book, the “most yellow” that’s ever been written.
If you read the Bible, do you approach it with silence?
How does your day begin and end – in chatter, activity, amid technology, or in peaceful quietude?
The importance of the practice of silence, especially in our spiritual life, is explained and commended by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together (Harper, 1954):
“The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community…One does not exist without the other. Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech.
“… Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God. We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word, as a child is quiet when he enters his father’s room. We are silent after hearing the Word because the Word is still speaking and dwelling within us. We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent at the end of the day because the last word also belongs to God.
“…everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness” (78-79).
One of my favorite professors at Georgetown, Father James Schall, S.J., often said that simply knowing something was pleasurable in itself. In an article, he writes: “Truth, Plato often said, is to say of what is that it is. This knowing of truth results in its own delight.”
This same kind of pleasure in knowing is recognized by the great 18th-century American theologian Jonathan Edwards* in his 1739 sermon, “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.”
From The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader (Yale, 1999):
“Knowledge is pleasant and delightful to intelligent creatures, and above all the knowledge of divine things; for in them are the most excellent truths, and the most beautiful and amiable objects held forth to view. However tedious the labor necessarily attending this business may be, yet the knowledge once obtained will richly requite the pains taken to obtain it” (45).
* Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is widely considered America’s most important and original theologian. Though best known for his fire-and-brimstone sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” used in many public schools as a caricature of 18th-century American Puritanism, Edwards was a brilliant philosopher, pastor, and theologian who deeply influenced American Protestantism. He was also President of the College of New Jersey, which today is Princeton University, and later in life became a passionate missionary to Native Americans.