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Ligonier Conference (VII)

Sooner or later they had to give Al Mohler an opportunity to take the stage and he did so in the day’s final session. He spoke on “The Authority of Scripture” using 2 Timothy 3:14 and the verses following as his text (though this was certainly not an expository message as much as a lecture).

He began by speaking of epistemology which is the study of how we know anything (and a word that is nearly impossible to type quickly). How can we claim to know anything? Epistemology is the division of philosophy that seeks to explain knowledge. Every day we deal with epistemological problems. We require different levels of proof or attestation for issues we face in life. There are things we can get through in life without ever seeing one (i.e. germs). Even the question of global warming comes down to an epistemological challenge for most of it is based on computer modeling and backwards casting on what they think the weather must have been like. The reality is that the debate has many dimensions but there is no shared consensus about what we know or can know about the question. No wonder we’re confused.

The harder the question the higher the stakes. We receive some information by experience, some by trial and error, some by external authority. But when the questions get to the highest level of importance–the meaning of life, the origin of the universe, the reality of evil–epistemology becomes a genuine intellectual crunch. What form of knowledge or evidence or clarification would be necessary for a person to claim that he knows anything about these questions. Every worldview has to deal with four factors: the question of beginnings, the question of what has gone wrong, the question of whether or not it can be fixed, the question of eschatology or the end. Where will we find answers to these questions? We as Christians are inheritors of a worldview that answers all these questions and more. Christianity recognizes human beings as intelligent creatures with the ability to know and to know God. This capacity that allows us to know God also allows us just to know. This distinguishes us from the animals who are not writing books of philosophy (when you go to the zoo you read a human guide to the animals, not an animal guide to humans). There is within us a hunger for the knowledge of God. Romans 1 makes it clear that this knowledge exists and that creatures have corrupted this knowledge. Within human beings there is a quest for worship and this leads inevitably to idolatry. The lack of knowledge and understanding becomes deadly. The human capacity that cries out that there is a God is filled with idolatry and paganism. This is and always will remain an epistemological issue. This is not a new challenge but it is an urgent matter in our age.

Christianity is founded on the view that God exists and that He makes Himself known. We need to make it clear that this universe is stuck in an epistemological crisis. If we are left in the trap of this crisis, we’ll never really know the truth about God, the meaning of creation, the meaning of life, what’s wrong, whether this can be fixed and where this is all going. Thankfully we are not left in this crisis because God has revealed Himself to us not just in the form of ideas or vague concepts, but in the form of words.

We need to focus on words. Words are incredible things. They bind us; they are symbolic representations and once written are fixed. There are some who believe that the text is a dead thing and that the reader provides the meaning, but no one truly believes this (about a contract, for example). The God of the Bible is a speaking God though He is under no obligation to do so. He has no obligation to resolve this epistemological crisis. In the Bible we encounter the speaking God who has given us the gift of an inscripturated revelation. Our access to God’s ways of speaking (fire, theophanies, visions, etc) are not to be taken back to the actual place of encounter, but through the inscripturated book known as the Bible. What access do we have of God’s revelation of Himself in His Son? Some evangelicals would answer with mysticism. But we know what we know through the Word and only through the Word. Christianity is the only belief system that provides a complete account of revelation–beginning, necessity, authority, reception, effect. The Christian doctrine of Holy Scripture sets it apart from all other religions.

In our age this is considered extremely exclusive. It is considered intolerably objective. It is considered to be essentially arbitrary. This is a claim with evidence and reason. We claim this book and this book alone is the inscripturated Word of God.

Mohler suggested two tests for Scripture: the test of content and the test of miracles.

The entirety of the Koran came through one person who was supposed to be unable to read or write. The Book of Mormon is parallel with the revelation supposedly coming through an angel. Both say all revelation was delivered at one time in one book. In contrast the Bible has 66 books that were written over several centuries and involved multiple authors, multiple contexts and venues of writing, multiple styles and circumstances, and a variety of revelatory forms. We see in the Bible a book that was validated by the experience of many people versus a person who wrote it all himself. The Word of God is validated by the coherence and consistency of the Old Testament. The experiences recorded in the Bible were verified by the people who were there when they happened. The Bible deals with historic claims involving those who were alive when the claims were made.

The more we know of the textual history of the Bible, the more it supports the Bible’s claims of who wrote it and when they wrote it. The more you look at false gospels the more you see the validity of the genuine gospels. The history of the Bible attests to its truthfulness. Similarly, archaeological discoveries continue to attest to events, people and places in the Bible and even its background stories.

When we look at what the Bible says about humanity, we see that Scripture tells us what we would never say about ourselves. Humans would never call themselves sinners! And so the Bible holds up perfectly under the test of content.

And then he turned to the test of miracles and whether the Bible provides information that could only be known by God. Predictive prophecy provides a good example of this. The Bible continually provides prophecies and then fulfillment of its prophecies.

Our confidence in the Bible comes down to this simple formula: when Scripture speaks God speaks. We must acknowledge our dependence on the Bible for true knowledge of God. Human beings could never find their own way to a true knowledge of the true and living God. It’s not that the knowledge isn’t out there but that our minds are so muddled that we need God’s help to see Him.

How do we know the one true God? We know Him through His book. This book is immediately a limiting factor on the way we know and do theology. We are limited to this book and if we do not understand our limitation to this book we will become idolaters. We will invent ever-new forms of paganism. It is the grace of God that He reveals Himself to us in words and that He gives us those words.

Mohler turned to Calvin’s six proofs of Scripture’s authenticity:

Antiquity of the book
Fulfilled prophecy
The preservation of this text

To this he added several but the one that most resonated with me is the candor of the Bible being a sign of its authenticity. He considered Moses as the hero and anti-hero, Peter, and others. In the Koran or Book of Mormon we do not find the authors speaking badly of themselves and yet in the Bible we do. The candor is unmistakable.

The Bible does not have its position because we have been able to recognize it for what it is, but because God gave us this book. The only rescue from our epistemological hole is a God who can speak and who has spoken through the words of His Word. The Bible is, to borrow a strange but effective phrase, the norm that cannot be normed and norms all other norms.

And now I think my brain is full. Hearing MacArthur, Piper, MacArthur, Zacharias and Mohler is a good day by any measure. But it is also a day that requires some good brainpower. I was grateful to have a reader of my site ask me to go to dinner with him and his family. We went to a seafood place (where I forsook the seafood in favor of a good slice of a cow-based product) and greatly enjoyed a time of fellowship with them. I feel truly blessed.

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