Scholars of the Bible are usually divided into two camps, liberals and conservatives. In the most extreme situations, these two groups despise each other. Conservative scholars generally believe that the Bible is historically accurate, and Liberals generally believe it is not.
Years ago I had an English professor at a university who identified himself as a church-going Christian. When I spoke to him in his office I mentioned that my family also went to church, and he politely asked me what church we attended. When I told him, his tone changed to a sneer, and he said “Oh, so you’re a literalist.” Apparently I was a fool who believed what the Bible said. It felt like I was the target of a racial slur.
That was my introduction to the mean streets of biblical historical criticism.
I later learned that I could believe, or not believe, and either way I could find a host of experts to support my position, and they all had PhDs. Conservative archeologists built careers finding things where the Bible said they would be. The most obscure notes in the oldest passages seemed to be true. Liberal scholars, who are more atheist and agnostic, still promote their view that the Bible is not accurate and has no authority.
So what should a Christian do?
I believe intellectual scholarship is a fine thing, but I also believe it is impossible to force anyone to believe or not believe in God. Anything forced is not belief. The Bible says “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4). There is no victory or overcoming in our intellectual arguments.
About a hundred years ago there was a man in the slums of Vancouver Canada named Scotty. This man was a depressed alcoholic, and one evening he gave up on life and decided to jump into the harbor and drown himself. He left his room and walked to the waterfront, and on his way he passed some Salvation Army street preachers. A woman in the group turned to him and quoted an obscure Bible passage “Therefore he is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him, because he ever lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
That night Scotty shrugged the woman off and continued on his gruesome mission, but when he finally stood on the dock and looked down at the water, he couldn’t make himself jump. The woman’s strange words somehow arrested him. So Scotty turned away from his suicide project and walked back home.
In the days that followed, Scotty investigated the new ideas and became a convinced Christian. Later he moved east over the mountains to the city of Edmonton, Alberta. In time he started a mission for lost men like himself, in the slums of Edmonton, where winters are severe enough to kill the homeless. Scotty’s small project endured for decades; my grandmother used to volunteer there and told me stories about the mission, and its director Scotty. The mission evolved over a century and merged with another organization, the Hope Mission (hopemission.com).
Today the Hope Mission occupies a large building in the heart of China Town, where it serves the needs of thousands of lost and homeless people. Probably most people in the region know about the Hope Mission and respect it, even if they don’t respect Christian churches.
Scotty traced his story back to a quotation from the Bible, spoken to a drunk shuffling down a dark street. This act of faith from one woman released the power of God, and that power has saved many lost lives, and endured for a century.
So can the Bible be trusted? Yes, for those who live by faith. Scholarship is driven by speculation and criticism and looks backward. Faith releases the power of God and looks forward.
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:12 & 13)
Featured image: Chris Yarzab/Foter/CC BY