If You Lose the Bible, You Lose God

I was reminded of a critically important truth this week by a former professor of mine, Bryan Chapell. Speaking on 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5 at a conference I was attending, Dr. Chapell mentioned the stark consequences of a failure to hold fast to the Bible’s trustworthiness (listen to the entire message here). The gist of what he said on this particular point can be expressed in the following pithy and necessarily provocative statement: if you lose the Bible, you lose God.

Understand that Dr. Chapell’s point is not a new one. It has been continually advanced by generations of historically orthodox Christians, particularly in the last 150 years or so and largely in response to modernist and post-modernist critiques of the Bible’s reliability (for a good introduction to these controversies, try Ancient Word, Changing Worlds by Stephen J. Nichols and Eric T. Brandt). For this and other reasons, it’s a statement well worth briefly unpacking.

Toward that end, suppose that the Bible is not, in fact, what it claims to be. That is, suppose it is not the faithful record of God’s own voice (see 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:20-21), and thus bedrock foundation of truth (see Psa. 12:6, John 17:17, Psa. 19:7-11, and many other passages). Suppose rather than it contains a significant degree of error, resulting in a distorted picture of the subjects on which it speaks, the most important being God himself. Assuming this to be the case, the fundamental question becomes simply this: how do we determine what constitutes truth and what constitutes error within the Bible’s pages?

It does not take a great deal of thought to begin to understand just how problematic this question is. If the Bible itself is not the reliable standard by which we may measure truth claims about God, what is? Who then may speak of him and for him with authority? As I’ve mentioned recently on this blog, several generations of scholars have in various ways attempted to sift through what they believe to be the fanciful and distorted aspects of the Bible to arrive at the “real” truth about Jesus, God, etc. But the conclusions they’ve reached have been far from uniform. What then commends one set of conclusions over another?

Eventually, the answer will boil down to the individual. You and I will be the arbiter of whether truths about God (or anything else for that matter) are actually present within the pages of the Scriptures. And while that might sound initially attractive to ears shaped by the predominantly individualistic, anti-authoritarian culture in which we live, it is in the end a sure path to self-idolatry. That is, we will judge who we think God is based upon what we desire him to be—a picture that almost unfailingly looks a great deal like ourselves.

In light of this, we’d do well to ask ourselves another question: if we’re to be brutally honest, can we judge ourselves as really qualified to make God in our own image? Do we have the perspective, the wisdom, the moral character to play deity? To look proverbially both out the window and in the mirror is to find a powerful argument against at least the desirability of such a path.

Yes, none of what I’ve written offers a positive defense of biblical inerrancy and authority—doctrines that I robustly affirm. That will need to be articulated at another time.* But I do hope it provides a better sense of what implications are involved in the alternative.

*In the meantime, for very readable introductions to many of the relevant issues, see Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, and the chapter 2 of Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine, entitled “The Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture.”

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