Monday, July 25, 2011

Why the Bible? Books That Have Shaped Me – Part Two

Bob Rakestraw

In the June posting I listed and briefly considered four books that God has used to make me into the person I have been becoming—from my teenage years to today. I am writing a number of posts on this theme of influential books because I believe strongly in the life-changing and life-shaping power of reading, especially of books with substance and pertinence to daily life in this world.

As I said last month, these are not anyone’s “best books,” nor necessarily my “favorite books,” nor are they taken from any list of classics. They are simply those books that I came across—one here and one there—that made a major impact for good on my life, character, behavior and usefulness to God. Today, there are “better books” on some of the topics covered but I am writing about those works (only one this time) that entered my life at a specific period of questioning or need, and affected me significantly.

“The Divine Inspiration of the Bible,” by Arthur W. Pink (Distributed by Baker Book House). On 9-11-65 I bought this book in Canada for $1.50. By that time I was a Christian for nearly three years, with a firm belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But I really wasn’t sure why I believed that. The doctrine had been handed down to me from church teachers, even though they emphasized that when the Bible and church tradition come into conflict, official church teaching overrides anyone’s personal interpretation of the scriptures. After reading Pink’s book I had a more solid understanding of why I believed what I said I believed, including the conviction that God’s Holy Spirit illumines the scriptures for individuals as well as for religious bodies, and that the devout, informed Christian believer facing two or more opinions is free to follow his or her own understanding of a given biblical passage.

Pink gives 14 arguments for the divine inspiration of the Bible—“inspiration” meaning that the human authors of the scripture books were guided by God in a supernatural way (whether the writers were aware of this or not). The resulting documents are not only trustworthy records of God’s activity in the course of human history, but infallibly explain the nature of God and the grand design of God’s gracious program for humanity through all eternity. These documents are not only unique and “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) but are divinely authoritative—above all other writings—in matters of theological teachings and ethics. Belief in and submission to their doctrinal and moral instructions is thus mandatory, not optional. Because of space I am able to mention only a few of Pink’s reasons for this view.

First, the Bible has a remarkable unity in theological and ethical matters, even though some 40 different authors (mostly unknown to one another) wrote in widely different genres of literature over a period of 1600 years without any human supervisor or governing body. There is a strikingly unified message about the kindness and severity of God, the sinful condition of humanity, and the salvation offered to all by grace through Christ. Such a work could hardly have come about by coincidence, or even by careful human planning alone.

Second, there is an amazing correspondence between prophecy and fulfillment, as in the cases of Jesus’ birthplace (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6) and his sufferings and death (Isaiah 53 and the gospel accounts). There are dozens of prophecies that were written sometimes centuries before their fulfillment. To read Ezekiel’s detailed prophecy of the destruction of Tyre (chapter 26), and then read the historical accounts of Tyre’s downfall in the secular records of later years, is to be confirmed in my belief in divine inspiration. To then stand, as I did years ago, on the ruins of ancient Tyre jutting out from the Lebanese coast into the Mediterranean, is to be in awe of the detailed, prophesied workings of God and nations in history. Such prophetic accuracy, over and over in the Bible, is not explainable in human terms.

Third, there is an inward confirmation by the indwelling Holy Spirit, deep within God’s people, of the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible. God’s people who seek him in truth know, from the burning in their hearts and the continual experiencing of the reality of the Bible’s teachings in their everyday lives, that this book is indeed the written Word of God.

Fourth, a final reason (not covered by Pink but one that I cannot possibly leave out) concerns the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as seen in the four gospels primarily: Jesus affirmed the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament and the yet-to-be developed body of New Testament materials. While this may appear to be circular reasoning (using the Bible itself to argue for its own inspiration), it is not if we, for example, simply study the gospels as the generally accepted historical records of this first-century man named Jesus.

An examination of this highly unusual religious teacher—his life, teachings, death and resurrection—reveals without doubt that he believed and taught that the biblical books were indeed the Word of God. Such a teacher—backed by a remarkable life of signs, wonders, sterling character and deep compassion for the poor and the suffering—should be taken very seriously regarding his attitude toward the Bible’s divine origin.

Some of the preceding reasons—perhaps all of them—will carry no weight in the minds of atheists and confirmed skeptics. Even some good thinkers within Christian circles tend to minimize the argumentative force of one or more of these reasons, as well as the additional reasons Pink offers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some devout Christian thinkers prefer not to consider arguments for the Bible’s inspiration, or even the existence of God, as very important in contending for the faith, especially in our postmodern cultures. Their focus tends to be on living the life, which of course we should all do.

There is no infallible “proof” that the Bible is the Word of God written. God does not need logical proofs to accomplish his work in the world. But for me and millions of others there is great encouragement in contemplating the solid reasoning behind our centuries-old beliefs. No one argument proves, nor can prove, the doctrine of biblical inspiration, but when these and other reasons are offered, taken together, they have a strong, persuasive force in assuring you and me (and our children) that we indeed follow, proclaim, and base our eternal salvation on the unique, infallible, and supremely authoritative written Word of God.

Thanks to you, Mr. Pink, for writing this book many years ago. And you, dear readers who regard yourselves to be committed Christians, ponder from time to time why you believe that the Bible is the unique Word of God. Everything you claim to believe and practice is based on this book. We all do well to answer carefully, “Why the Bible?”


Joel said...

Prof. Rakestraw -

I am currently enrolled (just finishing up, actually) the Christian Social Ethics class offered through Bethel's trans-regional distance education program. The texts for this class includes your two volumes on readings in Christian ethics. After reading your personal contributions to these collections, I decided to Google you and see where you were at and what you were doing, which led me to this blog and the marvelous story of God's grace in your life. So I guess I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your knowledge through what you've written for students like me to learn from, and thanks for the testimony of God's grace in your life that you share here. May God bless you as you continue to seek him.

-Joel Detlefsen-

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hi Joel, Thank you for your message and for your encouraging words. You are surely welcome for the books. It was a time-consuming project but well worth it. God be with you as you continue serving our great God as a lifelong learner and Christ follower. Bob Rakestraw