Not long ago I was on SU’s Camp Leaders’ Weekend. It was a great chance to meet leaders from other SU camps, worship God together, get high-quality training, and learn more about God from the guest speaker.
One session challenged me a lot. The presenter, Martin Thompson, suggested that the Christian church in Australia is in a time of crisis because it has lost its focus on the Bible, and thus church members form their worldviews based on secular culture without reference to the Bible.
In this post, I discuss why the Bible is so central to historical Christianity, then look at some of the research and references that were mentioned in the talk.
To protestant Christians, the Bible is the centre of everything we believe, and it is one of the primary ways that God speaks to us today. As J. I. Packer says in Concise Theology (1993), “What Scripture says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the Incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine. So all its manifold contents—histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else—should be received as from God, and all that Bible writers teach should be revered as God’s authoritative instruction. Christians should be grateful to God for the gift of his written Word, and conscientious in basing their faith and life entirely and exclusively upon it. Otherwise, we cannot ever honor or please him as he calls us to do.”
Jesus himself treated the Old Testament scriptures as instructions from God, and Paul wrote that the scriptures are a product of God’s Spirit. The teaching of the apostles about Jesus is also revealed by God’s Spirit, and has been regarded as such by the Christian church since its very beginnings. So if we are to be true to historical Christianity, the Bible comes from God, and must therefore dictate our worldview and, in turn, our beliefs.
As to how we know that today’s Bible is materially the same as the Bible of the early church, according to Josh McDowell in The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1999), we have over 5 000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, the first complete New Testament dating back to about A.D 325, which is 225 years after the original writing, and the first partial copy dating to about 50 years after the original writing. Since those 5 000 manuscripts all agree almost perfectly with modern copies, and all agree almost perfectly with one another it is not too much of a leap to suppose that they all agree with the original source.
The Church and the Culture
In Martin’s session, he drew concepts from a number of sources.
- Francis Shaefer‘s book How Should We Then Live
- Worldview → Beliefs → Values → Behaviour → Culture
- Without a solid basis for our worldview (such as the Bible):
Culture → Worldview
- Walter Bruggemann‘s 19 Theses:
- The dominant “script” in our culture is:
technological, therapeutic, consumerist, individualistic
- The Bible is:
ragged, organic, elusive, enigmatic
- The dominant “script” in our culture is:
- An interview with Mark Sayers on the worldview of this generation:
- to the modern worldview, the universe is morally insignificant—it has no moral centre, so everyone is a mini-god and life is about what I can experience
- the church is catering to this dominant worldview—we behave as if salvation just means well-being
- humans as gods destroy humanity
Martin presented some data from a recent study of Bible engagement in Christian churches across Australia. The conclusion? Young people in churches and church youth groups don’t read the Bible. To them it’s not relevant; they don’t engage with it and aren’t transformed by it.
But do you know what’s even scarier? The study went on to say that the young people lack modelling of engaging with the Bible, because youth leaders and youth pastors don’t read and apply the Bible.
The church is in a critical place. At best, we need to refocus and start intentionally teaching our people that the Bible is the living word of God, able to renew and transform us. At worst, we are heading down a path where the church becomes nothing more than a club, a social group which serves only to make us all feel good about ourselves.
Martin suggested that we need to push for a change in our churches. In particular, we need to relinquish the technological, therapeutic, consumerist, individualistic script written by our culture and articulate an alternative: the Bible.
What does that look like for you and in your church? I don’t know. For me it will mean being more intentional about reading and applying the Bible, and about talking to my Christian brothers and sisters about the Bible. Perhaps if Christians begin to see where the church is headed they will refocus themselves on God and his word.
When God calls us we, like Mary, need to respond to God by saying “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”