Recently a friend posted a link to this article (WARNING: Some explicit language) about yet another young believer abandoning their Christian faith for her own particular reasons. In this case, the author was a young and energetic evangelical, who lost her faith after studying the Bible academically at Yale.
I didn’t think her reasons for leaving her faith were novel are even particularly compelling, though obviously they were legit enough for her. She was told the Bible was perfect–she uses the word infallible–and when she subjected the Bible to academic rigor, she found it flawed. Her faith went down like a house of cards, because it had been based all along on incontrovertible perfection of the Bible.
What concerns me about her story is that if we are raising our young people to base their faith on a particular view of the Bible, then this young woman’s story is not going to be the exception to the rule. It is possible that we are raising people to believe in the Bible and then Jesus instead of the other way around and the results could be disastrous.
Looking back, I know my upbringing encouraged unquestioned trust of the Bible. We believed in Jesus, because the Bible was unassailable, and so what it said about Jesus must be true. But what happens when that particular view of the Bible comes under question? What if someone stumbles across a discrepancy in Scripture that they cannot intellectually explain away? Will it make their belief in Jesus as vulnerable as their now shaky view of the Bible?
I think we often get it backwards and to the great detriment of the young woman in the post referenced above. Scripture is not its own witness. It does not testify unto itself, but unto Jesus. Jesus himself explained, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:39-40).
Obviously, I’m in danger of arguing in a circle here, as it is the Scripture that testifies to Jesus. So, how can I say that we believe in Jesus first and then the Bible? But I’m not saying that Scripture’s reliability doesn’t matter. If it were full of historical gaffes, outrageous contradictions, and complete disharmony, then we would be foolish to trust it as a witness to Jesus. Yet, that is very different than saying Scripture must prove itself to be uniquely without a single issue or even possible contradiction for me to believe what it says about Jesus.
I believe the Bible is a reliable witness to God’s intervention into history, particularly with the people of Israel, and by extension a faithful witness to the Messiah from Israel, Jesus Christ. The uniqueness of the teaching, healing, death, and resurrection of Jesus defies skeptical explanations and begs for supernatural ones. The blood of his closest followers seals their own testimony that this remarkable Jesus lived again after he died by Roman crucifixion. The explosion of Christianity across Gentile lines throughout the Roman Empire makes no sense apart from empowerment of the Holy Spirit, as we read about in the book of Acts. From this starting point, I can then embrace Jesus’ view of Scripture, which was to accept it as the very words of God (cf. Matt. 4:4).
What I’m saying is that we should have the highest view of the Bible as possible, but the Bible is not for creating faith in the Bible, but in Jesus Christ. My particular view of the Bible and inspiration, (inerrant, infallible, etc.) might get shaken up every now and then with a challenging problem that can’t always be easily solved, but my view of Jesus, to whom the Bible testifies, is the foundation of my faith. And unless someone can produce Jesus’ dead body, that foundation isn’t going anywhere.
Are we teaching our youth and all age groups, for that matter, how to build their faith on the written word or the Living Word? That difference may be subtle to you, but I contend it is essential. If we get that straightened out, then there should be a lot fewer stories like this young woman’s, who admittedly now has a “tiny crack in her soul.”
Note: I asked a survey question some time ago about our particular view of Scripture. You can take the survey here.