Why Do They Take the Bible Seriously?

by W. Jackson Watts

 

Recently our church baptized and welcomed into membership a couple who had been converted earlier this year. They had attended the church for well over a year, during which they developed a clearer understanding of the Gospel. Eventually they realized that their earlier professions of faith had been rooted in something besides the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, and finally they trusted in Him.

All Christians should be overwhelmed anytime a person ever responds positively to the Gospel of Christ. Additionally, it is humbling that God chooses the foolishness of preaching to elicit faith and repentance in people’s lives. However, it is equally humbling (and surprising) to see what sometimes transpires in the earliest stages of discipleship.

In the case of the aforementioned couple, and in many more instances, we often discover that new believers seem to eagerly latch on to what are sometimes seen as contested and controversial truths. Some of these Christian teachings include the complementarian view of gender roles in the church and home, the penal substitutionary view of atonement, and the inerrancy of Scripture. Such teachings separate Christians and entire denominations from others. Yet it often seems to be the case that new converts embrace the teachings of the church family in which they have been saved, even if they are doctrines which do not enjoy uniform support across confessional Christian groups.

Social scientists would simply refer to this as “socialization” in which we find individuals that are new to a group tend to adopt the beliefs and mores of the herd. Others may reduce it to a naïve willingness to entrust one’s mind to the faith community simply to be filled with whatever is thought to be true. There may be other explanations as well, or some combination of factors which contribute to new converts’ ability to adopt contested doctrines.

Admittedly, my own view is anecdotal and not driven by empirical research. However, I’d like to focus on one key doctrine—the inspiration and authority of Scripture—and offer two reasons why I think new converts often embrace a high view of the Bible. This subject is worth thinking about as we try to develop a strategy for catechesis. How much time do you spend on each doctrine in a new believers’ course, for instance? By considering how this doctrine is received by new believers, we may receive insight into how it might be further developed and taught to Christians in their initial stages of discipleship.

  1. When Jesus is taken seriously, the Bible is taken seriously.

A new convert recognizes that they have been saved not by a generic belief in God or confidence in self, but in a total surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how basic their understanding of the Gospel is, they will have been presented with a biblical understanding of human nature, sin, Christ, and salvation. Often the evangelist, regardless of the setting, will have either held a Bible or shared verses directly from it. In instances where people attended worship services for a lengthy period of time before trusting Christ, they will have heard numerous sermons, songs, and prayers populated with biblical truths. Because of this, it’s very likely that upon being saved they would possess at least some of the mental and spiritual architecture necessary to embrace a high view of Scripture.

Intentional instruction on the Christian view of Scripture should still take place despite the pieces already in place in the new believer’s heart and mind. In no time, unsaved friends, family members, or a History Channel documentary will undermine their budding conviction of God’s Word. So for apologetic and the purpose of spiritual formation, it is wise and necessary that we help new converts learn the Bible (what it says and how it applies) and learn about the Bible (how we got it). But thankfully, people often make the connection between the Jesus who saves and the words from Jesus you can rely upon.

  1. When the Spirit works, God’s Word is at work.

As I noted in a previous post, “without the Holy Spirit, no human being will be saved.” The faithful Christian must regularly pray, teach, think, and live with this truth in mind. But it is equally significant that we apply this to the nature of conversion.

First Corinthians 2:12 reminds us that “now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” Later in verse 14, Paul asserts, “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

We find a link established in these verses between the Holy Spirit and the understanding and acceptance of truth that comes through His work in a believer. In the larger context of this passage, Paul demonstrates how the Gospel confounds all forms of earthly wisdom and power as it comes to us in the form of the suffering Christ. Therefore, we can see that the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to accept this Christ is the same Spirit who regenerates us when we profess faith in Christ. It is the same Holy Spirit who “carried along” the prophets and apostles (cf. 2 Pt. 1:21). And since the Word of God is inspired (regardless of whether a hearer knows or accepts this), it seems to explain why a truly converted person gravitates toward a high view of Scripture: The Holy Spirit intends to move them in that direction.

Conclusion

These reasons certainly don’t exhaust or completely account for this pattern that I and others have observed over the years. However, it should offer us pause as we praise God for the unity between the Triune God’s work in salvation, and His involvement in developing our convictions about His Word.

5 thoughts on “Why Do They Take the Bible Seriously?”

  1. Not to be divisive, but a high view of scripture is the default position of anyone who follows Christ. Any doctrine that undermines a high view of scripture undermines the only way anyone can claim to follow a man who ascended to heaven almost 2000 years ago.
    Until someone gets mesmerized by convoluted logic and presupposed facts, they always know that their faith in Jesus is also their faith in God’s ability to give them the untainted Word. Jesus isn’t called the Word of God by coincidence.

    1. I appreciate the response. This is certainly a good observation, and I believe is an extension or development out of what I maintain in my first main point about taking Jesus seriously. As Christians have historically confessed, we believe that God in the flesh can be properly described as “the Word,” but we also believed that God has revealed His truth in words which were recorded by apostles and prophets carried along by the Holy Spirit. I think that the spiritual logic of conversion is that of taking God’s Word seriously. However, we also maintain that Christians struggle with unbelief at times due to the deceitfulness of sin, which the NT witness calls special attention to. For this latter reason, we do well to help develop a proper understanding of the Scriptures, though how this is developed can be person-sensitive, to an extent. I hope this response makes sense.

      Appreciate you reading Matthew.

      1. I agree with you entirely, but I felt the importance of the first point needed to be stressed. The social science arguments raised in the 4th paragraph melt away when you realize that although divine inspiration may be controversial, it is essential to Christianity. There is no other logical way for Christianity to stand philosophically than on the pure divine word of an omniscient God. New converts are satisfied in both mind and emotions until someone plants doubts.
        My only point in bringing this up is that teaching new believers the truths that will help their belief in divine inspiration is not a secondary pursuit for the church. In my own experience, I’d say I could have used a lot more than I got before I went to a bible college, and for the hundreds we send off to other schools (which I’m not knocking at all) we need to teach the inerrancy of the basis of our faith like our lives depend on it…because they do.

        1. Matthew, part of where I think we run into problems on this issue is that while one might maintain a logically consistent line of reasoning about the connection between Christianity as a system of truth claims, particularly with reference to the inerrancy of Scripture, not even the most zealous believer always reasons soundly. Their faith really is tested and challenged. Of course, the main premise of my essay is that most new believers do gravitate to the high, that is, correct view of Scripture. But we don’t take anything for granted and so we should, as you note, teach divine inspiration. As an aside, in the church today more of the challenges to our understanding of Scripture will likely be lodged on other grounds, such as the type of things that Matthew McAffee outlines in his recent HSF article here (http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=5626). Thanks for your interest in this topic.

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