February 2006 Issue
Battle for the Bible" Really Over?
Reflections from a Young
by J.D. Greear, Ph. D.
I often hear it said that the previous
generation of Southern Baptists has won "the battle for the
Bible." What this usually means is that the question of inerrancy
has been settled. Now, it is said, we can move on to other things
like bringing our evangelism into the 21st century. W.
A. Criswell, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers, Charles
Stanley, and others achieved the first Reformation. Now, some
say we need "another Reformation" that brings our mission
strategy up to date.
I agree that our evangelistic methods should be brought up
to date. But the statement that "the battle for the Bible
is over" is dangerously wrong on two accounts. First, anyone
who thinks the question of inerrancy is "settled" is
simply not keeping up with trends developing among evangelicalism.
Voices calling for "balance" in this issue, by which
they mean we must learn to balance the truth in our Bibles with
the errors, are as loud as ever.
Brian McLaren, a popular spokesman of the "emergent church,"
argues that inerrancy is no longer a core doctrine for "post-evangelicals."
Orthodoxy must be generous, he says generous enough to
tolerate those who don't hold beliefs on things like inerrancy.
McLaren and other "emergents" do not intend to pit themselves
against the Bible, by any means. But one does not have to look
too deeply in this new language to recognize the same old lies
that confronted previous generations of Southern Baptists. This
is not new, emerging thought, but re-emerging liberalism
under a new name. And in the words of a great Southern Baptist,
"A skunk by any other name still stinks."
Our Enemy's first offensive was to ask, "Has God said?"
We can be sure that this is a front he will never relinquish.
Convincing us to see inerrancy as a question of the past is simply
a first step in getting us to tolerate the denigration of the
Bible in our pulpits. My generation will certainly have to continue
this battle for the Bible, as will every generation that follows
But perhaps even more significantly, to say that "the
battle for the Bible has been won" overlooks the fact that
the preaching of the Bible seems less fashionable than ever
especially among younger evangelicals. Much of the literature
implies that what is most-needed to change our culture is not
the preaching of the Word, but "acts of service" to
For example, Brian McLaren, commenting on The Passion
movie, says that our culture has heard enough sermons, Gospel
presentations, and seen enough movies about Jesus. McLaren chides
evangelicals for being so hopeful that a presentation of the Gospel,
like The Passion, would convert hearers and viewers. What they
need to see, he says, is "not a movie about Jesus, but a
movement of people living like Jesus." Or, as the oft-repeated
maxim attributed to Francis of Assisi goes, "Preach the Gospel;
when necessary use words." One gets the impression from much
of the emerging literature that soup kitchens, art, liturgy, criticizing
evangelicalism, and drinking beer are much more essential for
reaching our culture than is the preaching of the Word. (To note,
McLaren and others have not suggested that we cease preaching
altogether, but their shift of emphasis toward acts of service
implies they see it as the more-needed thing.)
Now, I'd be among the first to say that legalism, rigid traditionalism,
banal Christian pop-culture, and works-less Christianity have
impeded our ability to speak with authority. Failing to serve
our community has missed the point of one of Jesus' two great
commandments: to love our neighbor. And in today's world, loving
our neighbor often takes the form of political action and social
justice movements. Over 2,000 verses in Scripture deal with our
responsibility to the poor. James says that if our words of peace
are not accompanied by actions that bring peace then the sincerity
of our faith is in question. Paul said if we don't have love,
everything else we do is noisy clatter.
However, can you really ever "preach the Gospel without
words?" Are acts of service more persuasive to the world
than the preaching of the Gospel?
The example of Jesus and the Apostles would suggest that preaching
the Gospel is the greatest and most-needed act of service for
the community. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out in his classic
work Preaching and Preachers, the primary work of Jesus
and the Apostles was preaching.
It is true that Jesus did many miracles, but they were properly
called "signs" signs that pointed people to His
preaching. For example, when Jesus fed the five thousand in John
6, the crowd thought that they had found a Man who could alleviate
world hunger. So, they tried by force to make Him King. He responded
like one running from a temptation, retreating to a mountaintop
alone (v. 15). After a brief time away, He came back preaching
Jesus repeatedly avoided getting entangled in social justice
issues. He dismissed the question of unfair taxation with a simple
answer and with seeming disinterest (Mark 12:17). And in Luke
12:14, Jesus responded to a legitimate social justice complaint
("Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."),
with "Friend, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over
you?" He then preached against the sin of greed
(vs. 16-21). His main task, as He saw it, was to preach the Kingdom,
not to settle world hunger and social justice issues. He taught
people to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,
after which all other things (including justice, prosperity, etc)
would be added to them.
The Apostles did as they had learned from Jesus. Acts records
their preaching ministry, not their social efforts. For example,
when the Holy Spirit fell on the Apostles in Acts 2, they began
to preach the mighty deeds of God. After Peter and John's
healing of the lame man in Acts 3, when the crowd is understandably
excited about the healing powers of these men, Peter responds
by preaching the necessity for repentance and faith in
the resurrection of Jesus.
Acts 4 notes it was the Apostles' preaching that was
"spoken against everywhere." When the Holy Spirit fell
on them in answer to their prayers, the result was boldness
to preach in His name (Acts 4:31). When the persecution increased
to the point they were scattered, Acts notes that they went everywhere
preaching (Acts 8:4-5).
In Acts 6, the Apostles were confronted with a legitimate social
need, the neglect of church widows. Lloyd-Jones notes that you
can probably hear someone in the early church saying, "Why
go on preaching when people are starving and in need and are suffering?"
The Apostles saw to it that some in the church were appointed
to meet this need, but they themselves would not succumb to any
temptation that pulled them away from their primary means of serving
the community preaching the Word.
The epistles describe the church primarily as the pillar and
foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), not as a social justice
center, a culture repository, or a political action committee.
And Paul counseled Timothy, the archetype for young pastors, to
be devoted to teaching. "Watch it carefully,"
Paul said, because "it is your teaching that saves your hearers."
Likewise in 2 Timothy he charged Timothy to be devoted to the
things he had heard from Paul (2:2), and to give himself to preaching
the Word in all places, at all times (4:3).
There is a theological reason for this emphasis on preaching.
The spoken Word is God's creative force in the world. With His
Word God brought forth creation from disorder (Genesis 1:2). The
Apostle John describes Jesus as the Word incarnated with the power
of re-creation (John 1:1). Jesus healed the sick, raised
the dead, and calmed the storms through the power of His spoken
Word. Paul describes the written Word as the very breath of God
(2 Timothy 3:16). James described it as an implanted seed which
can save the soul. Do we really think an act of service on our
part could substitute for this creative power of God?
We should repent where we have not loved our neighbors by turning
a deaf ear to their suffering and the injustice that has afflicted
them. But let us not commit an even more egregious error by failing
to recognize that the primary way we love and serve our neighbors
is by preaching the Gospel to them. A quick historical survey
will show that every great awakening in our country has arisen
from our preaching. Do we desire an awakening in our culture?
We should preach everywhere and at all times. As the awakening
wrought by preaching occurs, social justice will follow. This
has been borne out repeatedly in history.
Perhaps what is most difficult for us in this is that the world
will never applaud us for this as they do for more tangible acts
of service to the poor. We must come to grips with the fact that
we will never be featured as heroes on a CBS special because of
our preaching. But the reason they do not see our preaching as
love is because they do not understand the judgment our world
is under. We must free ourselves from our love of the praise of
men, and be prepared, like the Apostles, to be "spoken of
against everywhere" and to be considered the off-scouring
of the earth.
Because we love our world, we must preach the Gospel in all
places and at all times. And it is always necessary to use words.
Our love for our neighbor means we must give him bread, but our
understanding of his condition means we must preach the true Bread
of Life to him. The battle for the Bible is not over it
is the essence of the battle for men's souls.
J.D. Greear, 31, has been pastor of the
Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, for more than three years.
The church, which has grown from 390 to 1,550 in average attendance,
is located between the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,
and Duke University.
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