A number of years ago I was in a church where the pastor constantly spoke of the need to “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” What this meant was that preachers and teachers should make truth accessible to everyone in the church; to follow the metaphor, the baby Christians in the church should be able to reach the cookies. This is commendable—no pastor should preach in a way that opaque, technical terms are so loaded into a sermon that only specialists can understand. Implicit in the statement, though, is that the church should all remain eating cookies taken from the bottom shelf. It was definitely the case that this pastor did not want his congregation to grow beyond his sloganeering of theology; he came across as intelligent and profound, but I believe that there was an element of fear on his part that to have congregants surpass him in knowledge put him on the defensive.
While this scenario doesn’t work itself out in every church, there is a sense where Christians are kept from progressing in their knowledge of the faith. Whether from fear, or the lack of desire to do the grunt work of theological learning and teaching, churches leave their members gurgling on the milk of theology, when they could all be dining on grade A steak.
William B. Evans makes a similar observation in his essay hosted at the Reformation21 site called, “Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance: A Reply to G. I. Williamson.” Evans, who is Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, discusses the common misappropriation of the perspicuity of scripture among Reformed Christians. Continue reading
I’m sure that when Bart Ehrman’s new book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, is released next month there will be a spate of responses. How about one from the nineteenth-century?
Alexander Carson (1776-1844), in a discussion on the simplicity of Scripture, makes a comment about forgery. He argues that the Bible’s simplicity is such that it would render forgeries of it impossible. He quotes a passage from Cesar Vichard (1639-1692), Abbe de Saint Real’s Vie du Jesus Christ (1638) and compares it with the original text from Luke 2:8-14. While the Abbe’s language is eloquent, due to its lack of simplicity, it does not compare with the inspired quotation. In Carson’s words, “The greatest of human writers cannot, in a few sentences, imitate the noble simplicity of Scripture” (Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture,” 29).
A quote that has special relevance to Erhman’s forthcoming book, Carson says, “Forge the Bible! As well might it be supposed that some idiot forged the Iliad, and fathered it on Homer” (Ibid.).
The following is from the preface of Alexander Carson’s (1776-1844) book Characteristics of the Style of Scripture Evidential of its Inspiration. It serves as a good reminder to any of us who embark upon any theological endeavour, that what we are doing is no mere abstract trifle:
In reasoning from Scripture on the subject of inspiration, and on every other, it is of great importance that we never lose sight of the tremendous responsibility which we incur. It is no light matter to attempt to influence the belief of the people of God, with respect to subjects on which he has expressed his mind. It is a fearful thing to labour to misrepresent the divine testimony on any matter. It is bad to err, but it is worse to exert ourselves to pervert others. On the other hand, it is a delightful idea to be in any measure instrumental in leading forward the minds of the Lord’s people to a more full understanding of his word. Nothing but the conviction that I am pleading the cause of God and truth could console me in opposing so many distinguished writers on the nature of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
Alexander Carson, “Characteristics of the Style of Scripture Evidential of its Inspiration” in Works (Dublin/London/Edinburgh: William Carson/Houlston & Stoneman/Wm. Whyte, 1854), 3:x.