I stopped off at a local bookstore with my daughter yesterday and picked up two seasonally published magazines about the Bible. One was published by U.S. News and World Report. The other was published by the American Bible Society in partnership with Time. Reading one was maddening. Reading the other was insightful.
I’m not big on pop-culture presentations of Bible truth. But as it happens, every year as we approach the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection publications and news events bring special focus to the veracity and claims of Scripture. As each publisher brings to the magazine stand its own prejudices about the Bible one thing becomes clear.
You can’t be neutral about the Bible.
When it comes to the Bible you can either take it or leave it. You can love it or hate it. You can see it as ancient literature or divine revelation. You can be indifferent about its content or let its content move you. But there’s not a lot of room in between. Why does the Bible inspire such reactions of devotion or derision? Why is it so seemingly rare that someone approaches the Bible neutrally to allow it to speak on its own?
These questions arose as I read Secrets of the Bible published by U.S. News and World Report. From its first pages the magazine echoes the revisionist position on Holy Writ, but going even farther (to give just one example) to claim that the Apostle Peter called the Apostle Paul’s writings, “potentially misleading.” Secrets of the Bible exposes itself as an approach from a preconceived view of the Bible as literature only, not divine revelation. Thus its approach permits it to make claims about the text that the Bible simply does not make—like the aforementioned assertion of Peter that Paul’s writings were “potentially misleading.” In fact what Peter actually said was that Paul’s writings were scripture in which “some things [are] hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort.”
The second magazine, Bible Prophecies: Faith, History & Hope approaches the Bible with the retentionist view that Scripture is a divinely inspired, historical record of God’s interaction with man. It’s 127 pages examine the nature, breadth, and history of Bible prophecy as one evidence for the Bible’s divine authorship. After all, you can’t know the future unless you’ve been there. Only God can “call into being that which does not exist.”
Bible Prophecies profiles dozens of passages written about events still in the writers’ future, which we can now look back through history for fulfillment. From detailed descriptions of the rise and fall of kingdoms, to the birth and life of Jesus, to days still on our horizon, the magazine pulls no punches. Who else can reveal the future in such error-free detail as God?
Unlike Secrets of the Bible, which at times seems to set out a deliberate fiction, Bible Prophecies encourages the reader. “Prophecy can inspire and inform us to live each day with confident anticipation as God’s revelations unfold. Lives can change when people trust that God’s plan is in place and that they have been empowered to be enjoined to God’s mission in carrying out that plan. In the end, that is the central redeeming message behind the prophecies of the Bible.”
So why is it that so many people often approach the Bible with a set of prejudices against its testimony? That’s a hard one to answer. We could say that such things are the result of the sin nature which clouds the mind. But that’s a Bible view often prejudiced. We might say that we can’t simply assume the Bible to be true. I might have said the same thing 25 years ago, but that’s not the usual approach today. Today’s approach is more often than not that the Bible can’t be true. Some attitudes are even affected to the point that the Bible must not be true, as in, mustn’t let it be true.
The Scriptures are not out of understanding’s reach. Some say the scripture is “veiled” from the unbeliever so they can’t understand anything it says. But I think such a view of the veiled Gospel is a misapplication of II Corinthians 3:12-4:3. Certainly anyone can read the Bible and understand what it plainly says. What is so confusing about, “Christ died for the ungodly?” Just this: Our preconceived worldview is the veil over our understanding. I can understand Paul’s words, “Christ died for the ungodly.” But my worldview may not allow me to internally recognize that “I” am the ungodly he is referring to. My worldview redefines ungodly so that it doesn’t have to include me. What about you?
You can’t be neutral about the Bible. I suspect it’s because the Bible is not neutral about us. We want to deflect its clearly stated admonitions and pejoratives and refashion them into duller forms that cannot hold us accountable. But when we hold onto such prejudices against the Bible we lose the very thing we claim to have: objectivity. Thus the insight the Bible can provide becomes lost and irrelevant to us.
Perhaps the answer for the one who wants to claim neutrality is to simply entertain the idea of what is possible. Look at the text and instead of saying it can’t be true, ask the question, “Is it possible?”
That’s about as neutral as anyone can be.
“The First Missionary,” Garry Wills, page 59, Secrets of the Bible.
II Peter 3:16
“The Bible and Prophecy,” page 15, Bible Prophecies.