Author: Paul A. Bartz
Can the Word of God be relevant in our scientific age? Atheists and skeptics maintain that the Biblical world view can now be considered an outdated mythology because of the conclusions of modern science which have ruled out the involvement of God in our real world, Religious liberals have taken a very similar position, following the lead of the liberal German theologian, Rudolph Bultmann, As a result, those who would accept the Bible’s teachings as the revealed Word of God, living their lives based on a view of the world that God is personally and individually involved in human lives, are portrayed, even in liberal churches, as a dying breed who will soon be replaced.
The contrast is so sharp that there are truly two religions operating under the name “Christian” whose beliefs on nearly every point are nearly opposite. The Christian faithful throughout the ages have accepted that God is the Author of the Bible. As the revealed Word of God, though actually written down by human writers, (2 Peter 1:20, 21), the Bible is always true in everything that it touches because it comes from God Who is Truth. In Mark 13:31 Jesus says that even though heaven and earth shall pass away, His Word will never pass away – It cannot be broken (John 10:35). Here we have God’s own claim that the Bible is relevant for every age. It cannot ever be outdated.
Yet in a recent letter to Lutheran Church in America pastors, presiding Bishop (President) Herbert Chilstrom called the Bible an impediment to the Gospel. He said that the Bible is an impediment because people tend to understand it in a literalistic way – the Bible should not be “the center of all things.” Seminaries of this church body use Bultmann’s materials, as well as those of his followers, in their training of pastors.
Bultmann and his followers taught, contrary to the claims of Scripture, that modern man could not identify with the worldview of Scripture. In a day and age when electricity performs such miracles – albeit according to well-understood laws – the Biblical miracles pale, and even become unrealistic. In a world where we know that naturalism reigns, the church loses credibility by talking about miracles. Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, recently typified the Bulmanian attitude when he called the Resurrection of Christ a “conjuring trick with bones” saying, “I am not clear that God maneuvers physical things.”
It is easy to show (and has been shown many times) that the faith of Bultmann and his followers is a radical departure from the teachings of the Apostles and the faith of believers through the ages. But here we want to explore another question. Is the Bultmanian assumption about science and modern man actually realistic – or is it good old-fashioned unbelief, masquerading as a new savior for the church?
At the International Conference on Biblical Inerrancy held in Minneapolis in the fall of 1984, J.I. Packer related how, after one presentation of his views, Bultmann was confronted during the question and answer period by a physicist. The physicist pointed out to Bultmann that his major premise was very wrong. Scientists had not, he said, pinned down reality so neatly that miracles could be excluded. In fact, he said, as the frontiers of physics were being expanded, it was becoming more and more clear that miracles could not be ruled out of reality. It appears that Bultmann never took this evaluation from the viewpoint he claimed to represent very seriously – and neither do those who follow his tradition.
John Warwick Montgomery, who has long defended the doctrine of Scripture against liberal skepticism, made the same point in the citation in this month’s FIVE MINUTES text: “For us, unlike the people of the Newtonian epoch, the universe is no longer a tight, safe, predictable playing field in which we know all the rules.” The problem is not that there are no rules on the playing field, but rather that we are not nearly so smart as we pretend to be.
David Ben-Gurion put it this way, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles isn’t a realist.”
Religious liberals as well as atheists are, in fact, attempting to live in a fictional world of their own making – one in which a supposed naturalism which does not exist reigns as dictator. And it is a curse of God upon the visible church that He has allowed it to be taken captive by unbelieving theologians into this strange and unreal land of naturalism. And His chastisement extends to the man in the pew because the average Christian has left Bible study to others.
In every deception there is a kernel of truth. The kernel of truth in the deception of religious liberalism is that the traditional message of the Church is not having the impact that it should on people. The erroneous conclusion from this is that therefore the message needs to be re-interpreted. However, the real problem is that Christians have not followed the Apostolic example in witnessing the Gospel. The Apostles began with a preaching of sin and repentance, both of which assume a God Who is involved in His creation and holds men accountable, with the Jews, who already accepted this God. They looked for His promised salvation. But they did not begin with the message of sin and repentance with the Greeks and the Romans, who were steeped in the naturalism of Aristotle and Lucretius. The distinction is expressed in
1 Corinthians 1:23, and the actual practice of this distinction can be seen in Acts 17:22-34 and Acts 14:15-18.
Although some of these people believed in gods of some sort, these were not real gods who were our powerful creators and who held us responsible for our lives (sin). These gods, in fact, were nearly as subject to impersonal naturalism as we are. To such as these the Apostles began by addressing their hearers where they were in their beliefs, showing how there is a true, powerful, wise God who is intimately involved with His creation. It was for this reason that He became so involved with us in Christ Jesus – it is for this reason that He wants a restored relationship with individuals through the forgiveness of sins.
As long as the visible church speaks its message only to the “Jews” (those who at least believe that there is a personal God Who cares about individual lives), it will be frustrated in communicating the Gospel to the larger population of the West which is “Greek” (who believe that there might be a God, but if there is He is not personally involved with His creatures on a regular basis). The answer to the church’s effectiveness lies not in redefining our message, but in knowing our audience and our message. And the Great Commission, which defines God’s desire for man, leaves each Christian no choice but to become an expert in this particular field! Truly the fields are white unto harvest!
Copyright © 1985 Bible Science Newsletter, Pastor Paul A. Bartz. Creation Moments, Inc. PO Box 839 Foley, MN 56329