The Bible Speaks Today
by Michael Gowens
"Today, if you will hear his voice, harden
not your hearts
" Hebrews 3:7
I. The Battle for the Bible
In a very real sense, Christianity
is the religion of a book - a book, however, of no mere human origin, but
a book that is a Divine production. Apart from that revelation, the Christian
faith is nothing more than another school of philosophical thought or human
speculation. Take this book away from the church and she ceases to be the
church. For that reason, the integrity of the Bible is a crucial issue.
Everything we believe about God, Christ, sin, salvation, life, death, heaven,
and hell finds its basis in the Bible. Christians are people who believe
and affirm that Holy Scripture, both the Old Testament and the New, is divinely
inspired, the very word of God, and the only rule or standard of faith (what
one believes) and life (how one behaves). Historic Christianity is consistent
in its attestation to the authority of the Bible. Until the 18th century,
Biblical authority was more or less universally accepted among professed
Christians. The advent of the scientific revolution, however, changed much
of that confidence. In the face of modern advances, many now took great
pangs to reconcile the Bible with new knowledge and "Science"
became the supreme authority. Assaults on the integrity of the Bible were
in vogue. Higher Criticism emerged within scholastic circles as a school
of thought that presumed to sit in judgment on the truthfulness of Scriptures
historical claims. Rudolph Bultmann, one of the leading scholars of Form
Criticism in this century (he died in 1976 at age 92), utterly rejected
the possibility of miracles. Operating from this anti-supernatural bias
that science has proved that miracles cannot occur, Bultmann argued that
the references to the supernatural in the Old Testament indicated that the
Bible is a collection of myths and legends; consequently, it is historically
untrustworthy. He believed that we must treat science as our only source
of knowledge about the external world. The purpose of the Bible, to Bultmann,
was to give people a new "self-understanding." One of the original
proponents of this school of thought was Julius Wellhausen. In his book
Israel and the Jewish God, he ridiculed the account of the miracles
at Sinai (Ex. 20ff) asking, "Who can seriously believe all that?"
In 1895, he refined a hypothesis (known as "the Documentary Hypothesis")
that promoted the idea that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but
was compiled years after Moses died from four different documents and authors
known anonymously as J, E, D, and P. For those who subscribed to this school
whose aim it was to demythologize the Bible, the men and the women in the
Pentateuch were not actual human beings, or at best, idealized heroes. In
the light of Darwins Origin of the Species and theories of
"natural selection," these scholars dismissed the Genesis account
of creation as a mere legend. In fact, the Wellhausen theory called into
question the credibility of the entire Old Testament and cast a shadow of
suspicion on Biblical inerrancy from which modern man has still not recovered.
This theory was accepted by many seminaries and textbooks on the Old Testament
and is still popular in many (but not all) academic institutions and curricula
of Biblical studies. Even in places where the ideas of Higher Criticism
have been discarded, the effects of its blatant unbelief can still be witnessed
in the skeptical attempts to tone down the Bible and soft-peddle its more
unpopular concepts (e. g. the wrath of God, the depravity of man, etc.).
In fact, though it is impossible to accurately measure, I believe that the
skepticism concerning the authenticity and credibility of the Bible spawned
by these 19th century rationalists has had (and still has) a debilitating
effect on the contemporary church. Our culture virtually bombards us with
doubts and not-so-subtle innuendo regarding the trustworthiness of the Bible.
Many professed believers and regular church-goers have long since bought
the lie that science has disproved the claims of the Bible. Television and
other forms of media constantly attack belief in the Bible, ridiculing its
precepts as outmoded and its adherents as ignorant, naïve, and credulous.
Behind it all is the Serpent who deceived the woman with a question that
held Gods word suspect: "Yea, hath God said
Adam hearkened to his wife (who listened to the Devil) instead of to God,
he was banished from Paradise. The issue today is still, "To whom will
we listen - God or the Devil?" The Battle for the Bible is still the
primary conflict in which the church is engaged.
II. God Has Spoken (Is the Bible the
Word of God?)
The loss of confidence in
the integrity of the Bible and, consequently, loss of emphasis on the absolute
authority of Holy Scripture has created a situation in which there is today
"a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). J. I.
Packer lists a number of ways in which skepticism about the Bible has weakened
the church. First, it has undermined preaching. Where doubt exists
concerning the Bible as the verbal revelation of God, preaching loses its
authority. It ceases to be the means by which God communicates His will
to man, and becomes instead a form of entertainment in which self-proclaimed
experts proffer their own private opinions. Second, it has weakened faith.
Without a trustworthy word from God, there is no basis for faith. Faith
is then sheer mysticism or positive thinking. Third, it has hidden and
obscured the true Christ. Where confidence in the reliability of the
Bible is held in question, the Jesus of history is discarded for the Jesus
of existential experience. The popular movement known as "the Jesus
Seminar" is a classic example. In the face of these modern problems,
renewed confidence in the authenticity and Divine authority of the Bible
is vital. Why does Biblical trustworthiness and authority matter? Because
once we entertain the notion that Scripture cannot be fully trusted, we
will have no standard to determine what to believe and what to deny. Only
truth can have final authority and Scripture cannot have such authority
further than it is true. Two convictions, then, are indispensable for Christians
today: (1) The conviction that God has spoken; (2) The conviction
that God still speaks through what He has spoken. How common it
is to hear people today deny these basic propositions. "The Bible is
not the word of God," someone says, "but it contains the word
of God: we must look for the basic message in the Bible but we can afford
to ride loosely to the facts." Is the Bible the word of God? The Lord
Jesus himself demonstrated total confidence in Scripture. "Sanctify
them through thy truth; thy word is truth" he prayed (Jno. 17:17).
In John 5:46 and Luke 24:44, Jesus shows that he accepts the whole of the
Old Testament as Scripture. He believed the Genesis account of creation
and accepted Genesis 1-3 as literal history, including the historicity of
Adam and Eve as actual persons: "
have ye not read that He
which made them at the beginning made them male and female
(Mt. 19:4 - emphasis mine). Three times in the wilderness, Jesus quoted
from the Book of Deuteronomy in response to Satans temptation: "It
It is written
It is written
" (Mt. 4:1ff).
He affirmed the inerrancy and total trustworthiness of the Old Testament
when he said, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (Jno. 10:35). If
Jesus affirmed the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the historicity
of Adam and Eve, and the Genesis account of Creation, can a person who denies
these things truly be classified as a follower of Jesus Christ, i.e. a Christian?
Let God be true and every man a liar! The issue that modern man faces is
simply this: Am I going to believe Christ or the critics? Christ or the
critics? What will it be: Christ or the critics? The question "Is the
Bible the word of God?" is a question that involves the following essential
Revelation is the affirmation
that God has spoken. The term refers to "the initiative
that God has taken to make Himself known." It is a very humbling
word because man would have never known Him apart from revelation: "Eye
hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man
the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him, but God hath revealed
them unto us by His Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea the
deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:10-11). Left to himself, man
would have never arrived at a knowledge of God by the sheer power of his
intellect (Job 11:6-7). In His grace, however, God has taken the initiative
to make Himself known. He has spoken (Heb. 1:1-3)! If He had not spoken
to reveal Himself, we would not dare to speak, for any attempt to describe
the Almighty apart from what He has revealed is mere conjecture and human
speculation. His revelation is a complete and sufficient word. He has spoken
once and for all. Nothing remains to be added, nor needs to be removed.
Everything we need to know about Gods character and covenant, His
ways and His will, for time and eternity, has been once and for all revealed.
He is not now giving further revelation. Revelation, like redemption, is
a "finished work" (Jno. 17:4). Yes, God has spoken. The Bible
is His very own word. "But the Bible," someone says, "was
written by forty different men. How can it be the word of God and the word
of man at the same time? How do you explain this dual authorship."
It is true that God used men to write the Bible. Not only did God speak,
but men also spoke: "
holy men of old spoke as they were moved
by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21). That brings us to next important
doctrinal tenet regarding Biblical Authority.
B. Inspiration & Inerrancy
Inspiration is "the
process by which God has made Himself known by speaking through the Biblical
authors." Notice 2 Peter 1:21 again: "
holy men of old spoke
as they were moved [lit. carried or borne along] by the Holy Ghost."
Did God employ men in the writing of the Bible? Yes. Were the words they
wrote their own words? Yes again, as the fact that their writings bear the
stamp of their own respective personalities (e. g. Peter said Paul wrote
things "hard to be understood") demonstrates. They were not mere
automatons or robots channeling words dictated from heaven. Someone objects,
"Well, then, here is the weak link in the chain. Because they were
men, and because men are fallible creatures, the Bible cannot be totally
trusted. If man participated in the process, then the outcome must of necessity
be flawed." It is precisely here that the doctrine of inspiration comes
into play. Yes, God used human writers as the means by which He made himself
known, but these men were supernaturally and providentially directed! In
fact, they were carried along by the Holy Spirit! Inspiration is the vehicle
by which revelation was given. It is verbal, that is, the very words of
the Bible are inspired, and it is plenary, that is, every word is inspired.
The whole Bible is the word of God.
2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction
in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished
unto all good works." Theopneustos, the word translated "inspiration"
literally means "breathed out from God". The written word that
is the Bible, in other words, is the very spoken revelation of God. The
implications of this fact are simply staggering. If you and I could hear
God speak today, He wouldnt say anything more or less than what He
has already said in His word! Because it is inspired, the Bible is inerrant,
that is, it is totally true and trustworthy in all that it says, for God
By the way, to those who suggest "Only the original autographs are
inspired, but not the copies," I would encourage consideration of the
verse immediately preceding 2 Tim. 3:16. There Paul says that Timothy, from
a child, had known "the Holy Scriptures." Then, immediately, he
adds, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God
If only the original autographs are inspired (v. 16), did Timothy and his
family have access to an original manuscript from Moses or Isaiah or David,
or did they have a copy? Any reasonable person must answer "a copy."
Notice, then, that Paul called the copies of the Old Testament to which
Timothys mother and grandmother taught him "Holy Scripture"!
So, in Augustines formula, we must say, "What Scripture says,
God says." When the Biblical authors spoke, in other words, they were
so superintended by the Holy Spirit that the words they uttered and subsequently
penned were the very words God would have them to say. "Behold, I have
put my words into thy mouth" God told Jeremiah (1:9). In Romans 9:17
and Galatians 3:8, Paul prefaces a quotation from the Old Testament by saying,
"For the Scripture saith
" The original passage is very clear,
however, that God uttered the words under consideration. Thus, Paul equates
the testimony of Scripture with the word of God.
1. Proofs of Inspiration
The internal testimony of Scripture is conclusive in its claim to inspiration.
The Bible claims to be inspired over 3800 times. Consider, for example the
following verses: 2 Sam. 23:2; Ps. 45:1; Jer. 36:2; Acts 4:23; Acts 1:16;
Mr. 12:36; Acts 28:25, Heb. 4:7; Rev. 2:7; Rev. 14:13, etc. Scripture is
"the word of the Lord" as prophets declared over 1200 times. Consider
several further proofs for the "divine nature" of the Bible.
a. The Indestructibility of the Bible
- The longevity of the Bible argues for its Divine authorship. Very few
books survive fifty years; still fewer are in circulation one hundred years.
Just a very small percentage of books survive one thousand years. The Bible,
however, has outlived all other books. The God who inspired it has also
promised in His providence to preserve it. In fact, even the words
in the word are kept by God (Ps. 12:6-7; Mt. 24:35; Mt. 5:18). Though modern
skeptics and critics have, like King Jehoiakim cutting Jeremiahs roll
with his pen knife and burning it in the fire, cut and sliced at the Bible
with the pen knife of "Higher" scholarship, the word lives on
long after they have returned to the dust from whence they came. The Roman
Emperor Flavius Diocletian once thought he had rid the earth of the sacred
volume. After the final mighty bonfire, he ordered a medal to be struck
and inscribed with the words "The Christian religion is destroyed and
the worship of the gods restored." Little did he know that one can
burn every known copy of the Holy Scriptures, but cannot exterminate it,
for God has promised to preserve it. Without an army to defend it, a bank
account to finance it, a government to protect it, or a company to promote
it, Gods Holy Word survives!
b. Fulfilled Prophecy - Perhaps the
most convincing proof for the Divine authorship of the Bible is the fulfillment
of predictive prophecy. There are over 2000 predictive prophecies in the
Old Testament alone. Each is very specific and precise. Peter Stoner, a
mathematician, says that the probability that 8 prophecies would be fulfilled
by coincidence in one in 1016. For 40 prophecies, the probability
is one in 1070. What would be the probability that all 2000 would
be fulfilled to the most minute detail? Predictions concerning Tyre and
Sidon (Eze. 28:21-23), Samaria, Babylon, Edom, Ninevah, Chorazin, Bethsaida,
and Capernaum have all been fulfilled with an exactness that defies mere
Other proofs such as the honesty and integrity of the Bible writers, the
unity of the Bible, and the dramatic influence of the Bible in human history
could also be cited.
2. Historical Accuracy and Reliability of the Bible
"But hasnt science disproved many of the historical claims of
the Bible?" someone asks. In fact, it has not. Even though the Bible
makes no claim to be a science textbook, not one claim that Scripture makes
that can be tested in the realm of science has proven scientifically inaccurate.
Psalm 8:4-8, for example, refers to the existence of systematic ocean currents
(the paths of the seas). Matthew Maury, the father of oceanography,
claimed that his research was inspired by that phrase in Psalm 8. Isaiah
40:22 plainly asserts that the earth is a sphere. Ecclesiastes 1:7 describes
the hydrologic cycle, and Job 26:7, the gravitational field. Furthermore,
manuscript evidence argues for the historical accuracy of the Bible. There
is more manuscript evidence to sustain the proposition that the Bible has
been preserved intact from its original autographs to the present than any
ten pieces of classical literature combined. Perhaps the most convincing
proof for the historical reliability of the Bible is the abundance of archaeological
evidence. Jesus once said, "If these should hold their peace, the rocks
would immediately cry out." Interestingly, at the same time that "Higher
Criticism" began its assault on the integrity of the Bible, the archaeologists
spade began to unearth relic after relic, and artifact after artifact that
verified the historical claims of the Bible. It is worthy of note that no
single archaeological discovery has ever contradicted the testimony of the
Bible. The preponderance of evidence asserts without hesitation, "Christian,
you can trust the Bible."
So, the Bible is the word of God. It is Gods Revelation, given by
Inspiration, preserved by Providence. It is, consequently, authoritative.
Biblical Authority is the touchstone issue of the day. To say that Scripture
is authoritative is to say that we believe, affirm, and obey all Biblical
teaching, and submit every human opinion to the judgment of that teaching.
A Christian is someone who believes that the word is truth - not pop-theories
and ideas. Any idea that does not correspond to its teaching must be discarded.
And every controversy or difference must be settled by an appeal to "thus
saith the Lord." The buck stops here! That which is authoritative has
the right to govern. God, therefore, exercises His government over His people
through His revealed word. The case for Biblical Authority is worked out
1. Gods authority over men is grounded in the fact that He is our
2. It is further based on the fact that He is our Savior God, who died and
rose again, being invested with "all authority [exousia] in
heaven and in earth."
3. He exercises that sovereign authority over His people through the Bible.
The forms that authority takes in "Christendom" are three.
The first two, however, are illegitimate forms of authority.
1. The Church as "authority" - This is the idea that is
prominent in Roman Catholicism that views the "Church" as infallible.
The Church in this instance is the interpreter of Scripture. The question
intrinsic to this ecclesiastical form of authority is "What is the
position of the Church?"
2. The Individual as "authority" - Liberal theology claims
that the Bible is a mixture of wheat and chaff; therefore, mans reason
and subjective understanding is the final court of appeal. Experience is
viewed as infallible. The word of God is defined according to this paradigm
as "that which speaks to you." The question intrinsic to this
kind of authority is "What do you feel?" People who subscribe
to this mode of thinking tend toward a kind of relativism that says, "You
determine what is true for you and Ill determine what is true for
me and well both be right." 3. The Bible as "authority"
- This is the position of historical Christianity. Gods inspired and
inerrant word is the only rule for faith and life. The Bible sits in judgment
on the church and on my own understanding. It has the last word. It is the
supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined,
and all opinions, ideas, and creeds are to be examined by it. Sola Scriptura!
Scripture Alone! Scripture, and Scripture alone is the canon (measuring
rod or standard) of faith and practice.
It is at this point that we need to address the question, "But how
do we know that the Bible as we have it is the word that is intended to
be authoritative? How do we know that the Apocryphal books, or the epistle
of Barnabas are not Holy Scripture? Should these be included in the Bible?
Is it possible that some of the books that are included in the canon of
Scripture are not, in fact, inspired?"
These are legitimate questions. By what criteria did the Bible as we have
it today come to be? Who determined what is Scripture and what is not Scripture?
Should other writings perhaps be included as authoritative?
The Lord Jesus Christ conferred authority on His apostles. He rules His
church, therefore, by and through the apostles. The test of "apostolicity",
then, is the criteria by which New Testament books were judged by the early
church. Whether or not a book was judged to be apostolic, whether directly
from an apostle or indirectly from one who was in the inner circle of the
apostles (i.e. John Mark, Luke, etc.), was the test.
How did the "canon" then emerge? Over a period of several centuries,
"through a gradual, un-coordinated, seemingly haphazard and erratic
", the various churches "came to recognize the extent
and limits of the God-given canon, by checking and cross-checking the pedigree
and contents of the many books that bore apostolic names, or were alleged
to proceed from the apostolic circle, to find out which of them could make
good their claim to be genuine apostolic products, embodying the revealed
truth of which the apostles were trustees" (J. I. Packer, God Has
Spoken, p. 119).
"Apostolicity" was determined by examination of the various books
to see if they were indeed products of the pen of one of the apostles (or
again, one in the inner circle of the apostles). After three centuries of
inquiry, there was consensus among Christians regarding which books possessed
intrinsic authority. The Bible, as we have it, then, was commonly received
and accepted by the early church.
Could the early churchs verdict, however, be flawed? Textual criticism
has been interested to answer that question for the past fifteen hundred
years. The evidence that Paul was actually the author of his letters, Peter
of his, John of his, etc., is so conclusive that the answer to the question
must be "no." When one further remembers the Lords promise
to providentially preserve His word, all uncertainty dissolves.
Since the "church" agreed regarding which books were canonical
and which books were not, does the "church" have authority over
the Bible? Roman Catholicism says yes. But the "church"
did not give us the Bible, any more than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the law
of gravity. Newton merely recognized the law of gravity that God had created;
moreover, the "church" merely recognized which books were "apostolic"
and hence, inspired and authoritative, but God is the giver of Scripture.
The real question is not "Do we have evidence to accept the canon as
the Word of God?" but "Do we enough reason not to?"
This brings us to the second conviction with which we must approach the
Bible. Not only do we affirm that "God Has Spoken", once and for
all, we also believe that:
III. God Still Speaks Through What He
Has Spoken (Is the Bible Contemporary?)
"His Spirit floweth free, high surging
where He wills: In Prophets word He spoke of old, He speaketh still
- From the Yigdal by Daniel
The Bible is not just a
collection of ancient documents, a faint echo from a distant past, but a
living message to living people from the Living God. It moves with the times
and continues to address each generation with fresh and contemporary relevance.
Gods word has an abiding application across all ages.
A. The Contemporary Voice of God
Come, Holy Ghost, (for movd
by thee The Prophets wrote and spoke: ) Unlock the Truth, thyself the Key,
Unseal the sacred Book. God, thro himself, we then shall know, If
thou within us shine: And sound, with all the saints below, The depths of
Hebrews 3:7 warns, "Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your
hearts." That verse is a quotation from Psalm 95. Notice, however,
that the writer to the Hebrews prefaces his quotation with the words "As
the Holy Ghost saith." By using the formula "as the Holy Spirit
says" (present tense), he implies that the Holy Spirit is TODAY making
the same appeal he made centuries earlier in Psalm 95.
The point is powerful: The Holy Spirit who spoke the word by inspiration,
still speaks through that word in terms of illumination and interpretation.
Through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit teaches, witnessing both to its
Divine Authority and meaning, assuring believers of its truthfulness,
and interpreting its application to us today. Charles Wesley wrote these
lines, to be sung "Before the Reading of the Scriptures":
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 plainly declare that the same Spirit that
inspired the original seven letters is still speaking to the churches, through
those letters. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit
saith [is saying] to the churches."
Now, God does not still speak today in terms of giving further revelation.
Revelation is complete. Neither does God still speak today (as a rule) apart
from Scripture. That is mysticism. I am not a little skeptical of those
who boast of regular dialogue and direct conversation with God. I am not
the least bit hesitant, however, to admit that part of the Holy Spirits
function is to bring specific Scripture to mind at various times in ones
Christian experience with a power, reality, and relevance to specific situations
that is just as much a form of communication as if he had spoken audibly.
This, I submit, is His regular means of communicating with believers. God
still speaks through what He has spoken in terms of illumination and application.
B. The Preacher as a Mouthpiece for God
"We come to hear Jehovah
speak, to hear the Saviors voice; Thy face and favor, Lord we seek;
Now let our hearts rejoice."
The preaching of Gods word is then, in the light of these tremendous
truths, a very significant event. Through preaching, that is, expository
or thoroughly Biblical preaching, God, in a very real sense, communicates
to His people. The act of proclaiming, explaining, exhorting, and applying
Scripture is the most powerful means God has chosen to speak to men in the
The conviction that one is speaking as a mouthpiece for God is, therefore,
indispensable for preachers: "If any man speak, let him speak as the
oracle of God
" (I Pet. 4:10). By the same token, the congregations
conviction that the words they are hearing are more than a mere "sermon"
from the preacher, but an actual word from God, is equally indispensable:
when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received
it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which
effectually worketh also in you that believe" (I Ths. 2:13). It is
crucial that preacher and people alike develop the habit of approaching
the proclamation of the word with the eagerness, anticipation and expectation
that God will speak today through His word.
"What will the Lord say to me today through the preaching of His
word?" is the proper approach to public worship. That sense of the
(may I coin a word?) "today-ness" of His word is, it seems
to me, one of the greatest needs of the hour: "Today, if you will hear
his voice, harden not your heart."
It is a fact that we must serve the Lord in the day and age in which we
live. We must serve our own generation. Though I once thought I would have
liked to have lived 100 years ago, I didnt, and I dont, and
I never will. Our Christianity must be contemporary so that we, like David,
can "serve our own generation by the will of God" (Acts 13:36).
In the providence of God, we live today. The battles we fight, consequently,
must be the battles of today, not the battles of fifty years ago or one
hundred fifty years ago. Martin Luther wrote: "If I profess with the
loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God
except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at
that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may
be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier
is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight
and disgrace if he flinches at that point."
C. Knowing the Times (Rom. 13:11)
We are living in truly momentous times. One has the sense that we are at
a turning point in human history. Of course, people have always tended to
exaggerate the importance of the age in which they lived, but, in my opinion,
the dramatic changes we have witnessed in our lifetime are unprecedented
in human history. This century alone has witnessed two world wars. In the
realm of transportation, the horse, the fastest mode of travel in the 19th
century, has been replaced by the locomotive, the automobile, the jet airplane,
and the space shuttle in the 20th century. Knowledge is literally exploding
as the cybernetics revolution brings new technologies into the public domain
virtually every day. Politically, we are witnessing a radical reshaping
of the worlds governments. In our own country, one wonders if we are
not witnessing the last days of the America in which we were born. Scientifically,
genetic research and the neurosciences are almost daily taking giant steps
forward as modern man continues to build his tower to the sky.
In the church, these are also remarkable times. Today we are witnessing
great religious turmoil both within and without the church. At times, it
appears that conditions are ripe for a mighty revival, a fresh visitation
of the Spirit of God. At other times, one wonders if the creeping spiritual
apathy and malaise that has set in upon us will be reversed. All appears
to be in a state of flux and change and uncertainty. Neo-Pentecostalism
is making steady advances into mainline denominations; the spirit of ecumenism
has revived under the accord between Evangelicals and Catholics and through
movements known as "Promise Keepers." Ancient Gnosticism with
its mystical emphasis on "feeling" is making a comeback, both
in society, disguised as "The New Age Movement," and in "Christendom",
under the canopy of popular psychology. We are living at a truly significant
and exciting time in the history of the world.
These are indeed days of darkness and distress. The parallels between the
modern situation and the pre-flood world in the days of Enoch and Noah are
striking. But as the night of time darkens, the dawn of a new day is at
hand: "Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the
armor of light. Let us who are of the day be sober
In the light of these tremendous times, how can Gods servants remain
contemporary? Do we have a message for todays man or woman? What does
it mean to be a mouthpiece for God at the close of the 20th century? Three
particular emphases, it seems to me, are vital and fundamental to the times.
1. The Evangelistic Note in Preaching
The preachers most basic task, that is, the work of proclaiming the good
news of Jesus Christ the Lord, is one dimension in which the preacher speaks
as a mouthpiece for God. God still speaks through the preached gospel to
urge the hearer to repent, believe, and acquiesce to Him: "Now then,
we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray
you in Christs stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20);
"At the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now he commandeth
all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). As long as people are
sinners, they need to hear the basic gospel message. The Bible speaks today
to those whose who "feel after Him" (Acts 17:27), whether Jew
or Gentile, male or female, bond or free, whether in the West or the East,
to "turn to God from idols to serve the living and the true God"
(I Ths. 1:9). The preaching of the gospel message is supremely relevant
today. What does the Christian "evangel" involve? It involves:
a. An Biblical View of Man
Man is not "the master of his fate and the captain of his soul."
He is, in fact, totally depraved. It is only the Gospel that depicts man
as he really is - born in chains, antagonistic to God and his fellow man.
Freud taught that man is the victim of his environment and consequently,
not culpable for his behavior. Carl Rogers said that man has all the answers
to life prepackaged in himself and is "at the core of his being essentially
good." B. F. Skinner teaches that man is nothing more than an animal.
It is only the Christian gospel, however, that presents a Biblical anthropology.
Man is not an animal, but a being created in the image of God. Evolutionary
sociology suggests that man is just an advanced animal, a body without a
soul (By the way, much modern psychology attempts to explain human behavior
in strictly physiological terms, i.e. the claim that homosexuality or alcoholism
is a genetic tendency. In its attempt to treat "spiritual" problems
with chemicals, it confuses the human "brain", a physical organ
in the body, with the human "mind", the spiritual dimension of
man, and consequently, discounts the spiritual dimension of mans makeup.).
Hinduism and neo-Gnosticism teaches that man was intended to be a soul without
a body and that the body is evil and the spirit is good. Ultimate salvation,
therefore, is defined in terms of release from the physical and union with
the mystical. But Jesus taught that man is both "body and soul,"
composed of both a material or physical and immaterial or spiritual side
(Mt. 10:28) and that both body and soul have been infected by sin. Mans
problem, therefore, is not that he is socially underprivileged but that
he is corrupt at the very core of his being: "Out of the heart proceed
murders, evil thoughts, adulteries, lasciviousness, coveteousness, and abominable
idolatries." You see, it is only the gospel that explains human behavior.
Modern psychology fails to even consider mans sinful nature as a possible
explanation of human behavior. Could it be that people steal not because
they were mis-nurtured, but because they have a sinful and fallen nature?
Could it be that people commit adultery not because they are genetically
predisposed to multiple partners like their animal ancestors, but because
they are born with a rotten heart? Could it be that trouble in marriage
arises not because two people are temperamentally incompatible, but because
each is by nature a prisoner in what Malcolm Muggeridge called "the
dark little dungeon of my own ego"? The Christian "evangel"
speaks today because it is the only message that describes man accurately:
Made in Gods image, but now born in sin and predisposed to evil and
b. A Lofty View of God
It is only the gospel, furthermore, that paints an accurate picture of the
character of God. It is not uncommon to hear people say today, "When
I think of God, I dont think of the angry, wrathful, jealous God of
the Old Testament, but as a kindly, benevolent grandfather in
the sky; or, I believe in a God of love, not a God who would
punish sin." Until one understand, however, the truth of the
Holiness of God, he will never appreciate the message of Gods Grace
and Love. God is Sovereign and Holy, Great in Glory and Great in Grace.
He is "the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity whose name is
Holy." He dwells in the "High and Holy Place." Until one
grasps the truth of His transcendence, the next phrase will have no meaning:
with him also that is poor and of a contrite spirit,
and that trembleth at his word" (Is. 57:15). Because man is a sinner,
He is under Gods wrath. That is a message for today!
c. A Glorious View of Christ
The Christian "evangel" begins with the tragic view of man in
sin under Gods wrath. Then it points the hearer, stripped of his self-righteousness
and intellectual pride, to the only solution for sin - the Blood of Christ.
It says, "He is your wisdom, your righteousness, your sanctification,
and your redemption. Christ is an all-sufficient Savior. In Him, you are
justified. In Him, you are holy. In Him, you are free from the penalty of
sin and the curse of the law." This is a word for our day! Sinners
still need to hear the glad tidings of "Christ crucified."
2. The Prophetic Note in Preaching
Although preachers are not prophets in the sense that they receive "direct"
revelation from God, neither do they have the capacity to predict future
events beyond the parameters of Holy Scripture, they do indeed "prophesy"
(I Cor. 14:1ff; I Ths. 5: 20). Prophesying is the act of speaking or declaring
Gods revelation intelligibly. Not the same as the sign gift of prophetic
utterance, post-apostolic prophesying is the Spirit-given ability
to proclaim Gods word already revealed. "Despise not prophesying"
(I Ths. 5:20) means "dont look down with contempt on any utterance
coming from gifted men that is in agreement with Gods word."
So, every preacher who teaches the Scriptures is, in this sense, a prophet.
The "prophetic note" to which I refer here, however, is something
different. I am talking now about a Jeremiad kind of ministry that speaks
unusually direct, specific, and probing messages that have a particular
relevance to the times. Writing to his wife about the spiritual needs of
his congregation after World War II, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "I feel
that there is a tremendous opportunity for preaching. At the moment what
is wanted is the comforting note to help people over the shock. But,
following that, the need will be for the prophetic note to awaken
the people." Prophets say things such as "Today if ye will hear
His voice, harden not your hearts." They bring a message of warning.
The prophets commission is "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice
like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of
Jacob their sins" (Is. 58:1). Let me give a more specific definition.
The "prophetic note" is the act of exposing current trends
and conditions among Gods people to the reality of Gods law
(or word), thereby bringing people face to face with the spiritual consequences
of their behavior and hence, to the crisis of decision. It is the kind
of preaching that cries "Woe unto them that go down to Egypt for help"
and that laments "O why will you die, O house of Israel." It is
the kind of preaching a Hosea, or Amos, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Joel,
or Zechariah, or Malachi would do.
Prophetic preaching is preaching that seeks to awaken slumbering consciences.
It is preaching that emphasizes that God deals personally and individually
with people and that He does not respect any mans person. It is preaching
that searches the hearts and consciences of the hearers, calling upon them
to explore their hearts and lives through the discipline of self-examination.
It is preaching with a note of authority - a "Thus saith the Lord."
It is preaching that brings people to the awareness that God is real, that
He is holy, and that He is jealous for His own glory. It is preaching that
exposes sin, and then, attempts to persuade people to respond in repentance.
The prophet first probes the wound and reveals the problem, then urges the
people to amend their ways.
In both the major and the minor Old Testament "prophets", there
is a double theme. The somber tone of Divine judgment upon the disobedient
rings loud and clear. But there is another theme in every Old Testament
book. It is the promise of renewal, restoration, and revival in the
event that Gods people turn from the evil of their doings and seek
Him with the whole heart. This double theme is "the prophetic motif."
The prophetic word, therefore, also emphasizes the promise of revival. It
forecasts the future of Gods people either in terms of Gods
judgment or His restorative grace, contingent on their response to His message.
This kind of preaching is sorely needed today.
3. The Pastoral Note in Preaching
The relevance of Gods word to our times also takes the form of "pastoral"
preaching. We are living in a day not only when people need the basic gospel
message, and the stern prophetic warning couched in the prospect of spiritual
renewal, but also when they need direction and encouragement and help to
live their daily lives to the praise of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible
speaks today in terms of the fact that it has the answer to the searching
questions of life with which ordinary people struggle. What is the purpose
of my existence? Does life have meaning? Is my life worth living? What really
matters in this world? These are the questions with which people struggle,
and these are the questions to which the Bible and the Bible alone has the
answer. The Bible gives counsel and direction to the burdened soul weighed
down with a guilty conscience, pointing him to the blood of Christ which
continually cleanses the conscience from all sin. The Bible speaks to our
fears and gives us courage to face the future by reminding us of the promises
of God (see Is. 41:10; 43:2; Heb. 13:5ff, etc.). It is the Bible that enables
the confused and despairing soul to regain a heavenly perspective on his
troubles by reminding him that God is in sovereign control of his life and
that He has promised "grace sufficient" for every trial. The Bible
speaks today to the burdened pilgrim saying, "Lift up your head, for
your redemption is drawing nigh; Jesus lives as your great High Priest,
ever living to make intercession for you. He has pledged to return one day
in all of his regal glory to finally make an end of all adversity, sin,
and Satan." Is that a message needed today?
The Bible speaks today, encouraging us in our weariness that there is hope
for restoration. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 reminds us that "now" and
"today" God is hearing prayer and coming to the aid of His people.
This pastoral note of comfort and encouragement is the order of the day.
In these momentous times, a renewed conviction that we hold in our hands
the very word of God, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, and that this
word is timeless in its relevance and powerful in its application is crucial
to the preacher of the word. May we commit ourselves anew to the diligent
study, faithful exposition, and courageous and gentle proclamation of this
word. "Remember," said Lloyd-Jones to some brethren in the ministry,
"that He is taking special interest in you. He will be with you in
some lonely village, and when the end seems to have come, remember that
you are preaching a Savior who rose again: Remember that Jesus Christ
was raised from the dead
." (p311, The Fight of Faith).