This is a continuation of my earlier post on foundational issues in the debate of Christian faith and scholarship part 1 and part 2. See also my introductory post here.
3) The Bible: A Collection of Texts or Sacred Scripture?
This leads us to the last of the foundational issues in this debate, namely, what is the Bible? Is it simply a collection of historical religious texts to be read, studied, and subjected rigorously to criticism like any other book? Or is it more than that, is it a collection of texts that have been recognized by numerous generations of the People of God who regard it as Sacred Scripture—the Word of God? At this point, I find Mark Noll’s (Between Faith and Criticism, 142–48) observations on how this shapes us as evangelicals to be very instructive:
Evangelical self-definition hinges upon a specific conception of Scripture more than upon a specific approach to research.
- The most important conviction of evangelical scholars is that the Bible is true . . . the Bible is true not just as religion but also as fact.
- Many have also, then, insisted that because the Bible is true this necessarily entails a dedication to its responsible interpretation (with aim toward faith and practice).
- Evangelicals who affirm that the Bible is uniquely true with respect to divine-human relationships and either substantially or entirely true with respect to matters of fact in the external world make up a distinct group.
In that affirmation they set themselves apart from those who deny that the Bible conveys cognitive truth, or from those who affirm that while the Bible is true, its truth is on the same order as that in other book. They are even quite different from those who argue that the Bible is uniquely true, but only as a record of religious experience or of divine-human encounter.
- When evangelicals say that the Bible is true, they are usually making a series of interrelated affirmations about the nature of the world, the character of religion, and the structure of epistemology.
- An open universe – i.e., a worldview that allows for the reality of the transcendent and supernatural.
- Evangelical’s are “realists” in the sense that they believe that the world enjoys an independent existence apart from its perception by humans.
- When evangelicals say the Bible is true they have fairly specific ideas about what counts for truth.
What all this entails is that there are significant implications associated with how biblical scholars view the nature of the bible. This is not to say that one is scholarly and the other is not because the standards of scholarship, research, logical and academic excellence should be maintained at all times. An evangelical scholar will approach the text of Scripture as more than a collection of ancient religious documents. I would contend that a high regard for Scripture should actually serve as motivation for the sustained disciplined study of the history, literature, and theology of the text with attention to diligence and detail in research and argumentation.