Tom Gilson

The Bible and Christian Thinking

Number two on my list of recommended resources for Christian thinking is the Bible. In another time this might not have required much emphasis: of course the Bible is central to Christian thinking! But in age when many consider the Bible to be antithetical to good thinking, and when even many Christians take a thoughtless approach toward Scripture, we need to spend some time on this.

Bible: Hosea 4:6

God’s Remarkable Word
The Bible is truly remarkable. It is the most accessible yet inexhaustible of the great texts of history. The youngest and simplest can understand its main message, and Jesus himself taught with stories that anyone with “ears to hear” could catch. But no scholar has ever plumbed its depths. Even the Apostle Paul, who wrote one-third of the New Testament, exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33-36).

Attacked from every angle for centuries, the Bible endures. I was reminded just how long it has endured yesterday, when our Sunday School class looked at the life of Moses. His encounter with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:16) was the longest recorded dialogue between God and any human. It is also the only time anyone directly asked God for his name (Exodus 3:13-14):

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” [1] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

This took place around 1450-1500 BC, in a world of thousands of “gods” but with no systematized theology or philosophy. Did the biblical writer (Moses) know the questions that would someday be asked about God’s nature? Did he know that some day scholars would speak of God’s aseity, his attribute of being self-existent, underived? Did he recognize 3500 years ago that God could be identified only in reference to himself? In a world where every other god was an idol, tied to wood or stone, sun or moon, could anything have been so profoundly unexpected as “I AM WHO I AM?” At first glance it seems a non-answer. Only upon much reflection has it become clear it was the only fitting answer.

That’s just one example of myriads, chosen just because it came to my attention so recently. Even where the Bible has been most seriously challenged—the hard questions of history and of doctrine, the difficulties of example and practice—it continues to hold up to the test. Not that everyone would agree with what I have just said (the challenges keep on coming), but where there are questions, there are good answers.

The Reality Anchor
Thinking must be anchored in knowledge, and knowledge must be anchored in what is real. There was a time when I would have said that God’s word was essential to keep thinking on track with what is true. But it’s more basic even than that. The modern world has suffered a long crisis of epistemology (theory and study of knowledge) beginning at least as far back as Descartes and Hume. College sophomores try to impress one another with deep philosophical musings like, “how can you be certain the desk you’re writing on is really there?” That question has a pedigree, and for all its surface sophistry, from human resources alone it has proved devilishly difficult to answer. Modernism failed to make knowledge certain; postmodernism has given up on it altogether. One message of postmodernism is that knowledge is unsure, if it exists at all; and to study postmodernism for any length of time is to begin to wonder what — if anything — is really real.

This deep uneasiness with knowledge is a recent development in history, but its roots were always there. The foolish man was trying to build his house on the sand, and though it took until the 20th century, the rains have come and knocked it down (Matthew 7:24-27).

God’s word, on the other hand, provides grounds for confidence in what we know, in that he has created us in his image as knowing agents. Based on that confidence, we can at least get started in our quest for knowledge. The Bible cautions us at the same time to be careful, for we are flawed: we do not know all that we think we know. Some things are clear, though. The desk is there. God exists, and has made himself manifest in Jesus Christ. And so on. God’s word is the rock of reality, the reference point for truth and solidity in knowledge.

The Guide to Truth
Thus we can reject postmodern skepticism. We can get started on a quest for real truth. In fact, though others often scoff at it this way, we can get started on a quest for capital-T Truth; for we believe Truth exists, and that not all of it is out of our reach. Some of it we gain through observation and experience (science is observation and experience writ very large). Some of it God has given us directly through his word, which is not only the starting point for our thinking journey, it is also our guide along the way.

The Remarkable, True Guide to Reality
It is deep enough to challenge the most serious thinker. It solves for us the question, “can we know anything at all?” And it guides us all along the way as we pursue knowledge and truth (Truth). The Bible is absolutely essential for Christian thinking.

Series Navigation (Basic Discipleship of the Mind):<<< The Holy Spirit and Christian ThinkingChristian Thinking In Community >>>
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