God’s Use of the Bible

Bijbel Hersteld Hervormde Kerk

Here is a nice reminder on the Bible’s intrinsic-extrinsic authority:


Only God can authenticate his word. We can try, of course. We can develop all sorts of theories of inspiration and devise all sorts of proofs of why the Bible must be true and hold all sorts of rallies in supposed “defense” of the Bible. These may make us feel more secure when we already believe, but they have not been notably successful in persuading the unconvinced. If the word of God, in its original spoken or later written form, does not come with intrinsic authority, nothing else will finally suffice.

…When we are being bluntly honest with ourselves, we know that what makes us most resist dealing seriously with Scripture is not fundamentally the Bible’s pre-scientific worldview or its historical obscurities. It’s the way it fingers all too accurately where we fall short here and now. What troubles us is not what is not clear, but what is. As Mark Twain puts it, “Many people are bothered by what they don’t understand in the Bible. I, however, am greatly disturbed by what I do understand.” And W. C. Fields said, “I have spent a lot of time searching through the Bible for loopholes.” By contrast, to affirm the biblical story in all its discomfiting clarity is to say with Karl Barth,

“Every verse in the Bible is virtually a concrete faith-event in my own life….I have been personally present and have shared in the crossing of Israel through the Red Sea but also in the adoration of the golden calf, in the baptism of Jesus but also in the denial of Peter and the treachery of Judas….And we shall have to answer this question alone: whether, after the Word of God has sought to provide us with this movement and meaning, we have perhaps evaded it?” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, T&T Clark, 1956, p. 709)

Marguerite Shuster, “A Book with a Difference,” in God, Creation, and Revelation: A Neo-Evangelical Theology (Eerdmans, 1991) by Paul K. Jewett, pp. 167-8.



  1. I can affirm every bit of that… but I don’t think it is a complete solution.

    My own personal problem is that I don’t like to tell unbelievers that they’re violating God’s law. I’m very tempted by the latest theological trends that offer same way out of offending my secular neighbors. Telling them that the unpopular parts of Scripture are just “cultural” is one way of doing that… but it doesn’t seem sound in the long run.

    What do we do when we hit those patches of Scripture that speak with radical clarity to our immediate situation (“Wives, submit to your own husbands”) but conflict with modern assumptions?

    Modern evangelicals have been in rapid retreat in the uncomfortable area of men’s and women’s roles. It’s not because the New Testament teaching isn’t clear, and it’s not because it does not speak directly to our proud and stubborn hearts. The retreat is on because (1) Scripture conflicts with culture and (2) we’ve let go of our “old-fashioned” commitment to inerrancy. This may be the right thing to do… but the trends in evangelical feminism make me question whether it is possible to hold on to ANY real content to Scripture once we let go of the old dogmatics.

  2. I’ve never found the “wives submit” part to be problematic, since the male corollary is to “lay down your life.” If you ask me, the gals got the better end of the stick. 🙂

    I do agree that the principle of a self-authenticating scripture is not complete. It needs a controlling center or referent. For Barth, that was Christ in covenant — and it worked pretty well for his dogmatics. For Brunner, it was Christ in personal relationship. For Forsyth, it was Christ in a moral regeneration. For the Catholic, it is Christ in the Church. And so on.

  3. You said
    “I do agree that the principle of a self-authenticating scripture is not complete. It needs a controlling center or referent. For Barth, that was Christ in covenant — and it worked pretty well for his dogmatics. For Brunner, it was Christ in personal relationship. For Forsyth, it was Christ in a moral regeneration. For the Catholic, it is Christ in the Church. And so on.”

    I am currently think what is authority for us through and i came across your post. I was mostly reading from M.Liccone’s and the crismon catholic’s blogs. I think the piont they would raise and is one that is haunting me is that in each instance except catholicism’s magesterium, the controling center is subjective. Hence they argue that catholicism’s method of determining what is truth is the only one free from schisms and hence they are the one true church. what think you?

  4. Welcome. It is an important issue, and I encourage you to pursue it further. But, I’d recommend that you spend a little more time with the Protestant claims, wherein the objective object, demanding and controlling, is the God who calls and rescues. Jesus Christ is the objective ground of our subjective certainty. You can insert an ecclesial authority into the scheme, but you better be sure that it truly can command the same assent as God Himself.

  5. Kevin.

    Is it possible that you could lay out in a bit of detail why you are not catholic? I understand your answer above “Jesus is the objective ground of our subjective certainty” but that still leaves subjectivity in the picture. To say that Jesus is objective is fine but if our experience of him is subjective we could always get things wrong. I find the catholic claim quite strong. They have a living authorithy that is protected by the holy spirit from error when formualting dogma. This leaves subjectivity (and error)out of the picture. Or so i understand. I appreciate your blog and understand if you dont have the time to answer my q.

  6. I’ve been very sympathetic to Catholicism over the years and quite critical of Protestantism, but the more I think things through, the more I suspect that God is bringing His WHOLE Church into a new era where the “big three” branches of this faith (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) are all going to struggle to survive.

    I think the “coming evangelical collapse” may happen before long, but before Ratzinger was chosen as the Church’s “German Shepherd” I would have put good odds on seeing a Catholic schism. My devout Catholic friends were quietly making plans to do what my devout Episcopalian friends are doing… find a believing bishop and head for the doctrinal hills.

    Between the demographic and political trends around the world, Christians of various brands may end up fighting back to back instead of hand to hand.

  7. There must be a most recent comment thing on this blog that i didnt know about..
    Scott what your talking bout is a bit mad!! Whilst co-beligerance is on the rise between the churches on some issues, underneath this there are huge differences of opinions on what constitutes as truth.
    Also even if there was a catholic schism there would be two sides. One the progressives-who bring in changes and do away with infallibilty and two the rest who would claim to the true catholics and rightly so. Catholicism rests on passing on of tradition and the fact of not changing it. Even if many catholics in practise dont follow catholicism’s tenets i dont think they would take the step of leaving to follow spliters which is essentially a protestant act. they might as well call such a group the anglican church of italy!

  8. Trousers,

    I’ll get to your question, probably by email, when I get a chance. Thanks.


    I don’t think we have any idea what is going to happen. I read a lot of early 20th century theology, and it is interesting to see how everyone assumed that evangelical/Reformational theology was discredited (thanks to Kantianism, Existentialism, Historical-Criticism, Darwinism, etc — all conspiring together to overthrow the credibility of a God who intervenes in history and rescues sinners). Then what happened? Oh, a little guy named Barth came along. And on the popular level, a guy named Billy Graham came along. And countless others came along that God raised-up, for the sake of his chosen, the remnant. It may very well be that the Church (Roman, Evangelical, Eastern, etc) will face near collapse, but we don’t know…it is not in our hands. It is for God to decide whether he will strengthen or harden the Church.

  9. Kevin

    Thank you. You should use the email attached to this comment and not the other one.

  10. This comment thread is getting way off topic, but I can’t think of a way to pick it up on either of my own blogs, which deal with art/literature (artandgodandart . blogspot . com) and or philosophy (futuremetaphysics . blogspot . com).

    Would anybody like to start a thread on “Would American Catholics split if the next pope is a theological liberal?” I’ve talked to lots of passionate Catholics who were making plans to do so (if necessary) before Ratzinger was chosen, and lots of converts to Catholicism who couldn’t IMAGINE such a thing even being discussed, much less being taken seriously.

  11. If the next pope where a liberal and revised doctrine, it would cause a split in the soul of a catholic because according to the theory of infallibilty the pope CANT go back on doctrine, so to elect such a pope would undermine not just doctrine but what it means to be catholic. it would undermine its own foundation. For that reason alone the bishops would never elect one.

  12. I hope you’re right. If I WERE Catholic, I would agree with you 100%. The fact that I’m VERY nervous about the next pope is one of the major reasons I’m not Catholic. While I thank God for every believing Roman Catholic, I am not precommitted to the position that the bishops can’t pick an apostate.

    Given the state of theology in Europe, I hope the next pope comes from Nigeria or China!

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