As a Christian Apologist, I have noticed that our credibility among non-believers lacks when Christians argue over how to interpret the Bible. This is understandable. It is one of the areas in the Body of Christ that is hotly contested, debated, and has caused much division.
The first fifteen-hundred years, the Church was under one Catholic umbrella. This was how the Lord guided the process of growing His Church, and consequently, there were many good things that came from this unity. When the Roman empire was converted to the Christian faith, this allowed the Church to grow in leaps and bounds. Then, when barbarians began raiding the villages and towns, Christian built monasteries with protective walls and lookout centers that sheltered many people. These monasteries eventually became a type of university-system, where people were taught how to read and to learn classical thought.
The centuries flew past, and Christ did not return. Just like today, some became doubtful that He would return soon, and consequently, this caused them to disengage from Christianity’s original intent. The Church became too powerful, and, as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Reformation took care of some of the ill effects of Church power, but it resulted in a new kind of problem. Once unified, now the Church was divided and numerous denominations were its result.
Numerous denominations today affect how the Bible is interpreted. Theologian John Frame, in The Doctrine of the Word of God, states that the “Bible Wars” question whether the Bible is the Word of God or not. This is Frame’s heartbeat throughout his book — that Scripture is God’s direct speech to us using common language, and he repeatedly mentions how many have fallen away from this doctrine of Scripture as being inerrant and infallible.
In N.T. Wright’s book, The Last Word, his desire is to find unity among theologians over the “battle of the Bible” by putting the question of biblical authority in a larger context. He argues that Scripture is God’s Kingdom instrument for bringing us divine speech, transformation of mind, and power for mission. Frame agrees with all these elements, but believes Wright’s emphasis on ‘story’ within the Bible, focusing on God’s sovereignty and the defeat of evil, is not authoritative enough to illustrate God’s Word as His own.
Wright mentions that both Protestants and Catholics devalued the narrative of the Bible over the authoritative. The Enlightenment rebelled against this dogma, and began centering on reason itself as superior over the authority of the Bible. Human progress was viewed supreme, leading to the eschatology of a fully rational society that would use reason alone to rid itself of the problem of evil.
Wright notes that everyone has presuppositions which influence how they interpret the Bible, and he challenges readers to allow the Word to tell us things we’d never heard before, or perhaps didn’t want to hear, keeping it fresh and alive in our growth as Christians. All these issues Frame agrees with, but notices an oversight regarding the matter in question.
Frame sees a major problem of omission in Wright’s analysis: if we are to deal seriously with the “Bible Wars,” we need to address how the inspiration of the text of Scripture affects its authority. Did God write it or not? Wright did not address this issue in his book adequately enough, in Frame’s opinion. Time and time again, Frame stresses the importance of understanding that the Bible is the divine speech of God, a speech that is so powerful it creates. If this was more directly addressed in The Last Word, issues surrounding the debate between the liberal and fundamentalist would be better addressed, although it probably would not rid the Church of the ever-present “Bible Wars.”
One thing I noticed, however, in Frame’s critique of others, is his own neglect of recognizing that reason alone is not enough to help people believe that the Bible is God’s Word. For example, former atheist, C.S. Lewis, often would get together with colleagues to “reason” about the meaning of life, history, and religion. It wasn’t until one of those colleagues, J.R. Tolkien, challenged Lewis to use his imagination combined with reasoning to aid in his grasping and perception of the meaning of anything. This was the beginning of Lewis’ conversion, and since he had a great capacity to imagine, this facilitated his significant understanding of the Bible.
In my personal experience, reason alone was also not the primary factor that helped me recognize the divine authority of the Bible. For me, it was the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that helps a person to “see” the truths in the Bible, and without it, many read the Bible but do not believe it is God’s word, no matter how good an argument one has or the reasoning one uses.
I will be speaking on the Bible’s authority in an upcoming conference, attempting to bridge the gap in these so-called ‘Bible Wars’ that are being fought against a skeptical society that doesn’t trust authority. Showing how the Biblical text has not been corrupted, or mistranslated, may be much easier to do, in a sense, than the battle that is being fought within the Body of Christ itself over how the Word of God should be interpreted. I am not sure, at least in my lifetime, that I will see an end to this centuries-long battle of interpretation among believers. But one thing I do know for sure—that the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, our spiritual food, and man surely cannot live on bread alone. (Matt. 4:4.)