By John Halford
One of my favorite biblical characters is the unnamed man who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus and asked for healing. The disciples had been unable to drive out the demon, and the desperate man asked Jesus directly:
"…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
"‘If you can’?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:22-24).
Now, there was an honest man. And if we are also honest, we will admit that there are times when our belief needs some help. We want to be so sure in our faith that nothing can shake us. Then something comes along and the cold, clammy fingers of doubt start clawing at our belief in God and his word.
"If we are honest, we will admit that there are times when our belief needs some help."
For example, ever since The Da Vinci Code hit the headlines, the integrity of the Bible has been under attack. Although most of us realize that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, and that there is no basis to the allegations of the story, the book and movie raised the profile of some awkward questions about the Bible. Questions such as, How do we know the Bible is the inspired word of God? How can we be sure it has been translated accurately? And what about all those extra Gospels and epistles? Why didn’t they make it into the Bible? Who decided what went in and what was left out?
These are questions most of us have never really asked, and they can be a bit unsettling and faith-eroding for some. It is tempting to just ignore the concerns and hope they will go away. But many people are made uneasy because of the biblical issues that have been raised. Perhaps you are too.
So we need to talk about them. In this issue of Christian Odyssey, we will do that.
First, I must give you a word of warning. If you like neat, packaged answers with all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted, you won’t find that here. As they say on TV, turn the channel now. But if you want to face some important issues, and come away still trusting the Bible as God’s inspired word that is able to make us "wise unto salvation," then I think you are in for a pleasant surprise.
The truth — about anything — has nothing to fear from facts. But let’s be clear what we mean by facts.
Science and mathematics can prove that two and two make four, and that sodium and chlorine make salt. However, not all facts can be established by scientific methods. Science can’t prove why you love your children, or why we find some things beautiful and others ugly, or why some music is inspiring. We know these things are facts, but they are not subject to scientific proof.
The existence of God cannot be established beyond all doubt by the methods we use to prove things scientifically. I once asked a prominent Christian scientist what he would tell a genuine seeker who asked him to devise an experiment that would help him know if God existed. He thought for a moment, and then said gravely, "I think I would ask him to pray."
What at first might seem a cop-out is actually profound insight. God is not interested in being the result of a successful experiment. He wants our encounter with him to grow into a relationship. A relationship based on faith.
There has been a tremendous expansion of information about the early manuscripts and history of the Bible in recent years. These discoveries have altered our understanding about many aspects of the Bible. Much of the 19th-century scholarship that so vigorously asserted the absolute inerrancy of Scripture or its historical accuracy has been shown to be inadequate.
We now have a much better appreciation of how and when the books were written and how they all came together in the book we call "the Bible." The picture that emerges is more complex than we thought. But it in no way diminishes the Bible as the inspired word of God, a reliable guide to matters pertaining to salvation.
There is nothing to be gained by denying the facts. And nothing to lose by looking at them. I hope you will take the time to read the articles in our special section on the Bible in this issue of the magazine. I believe that you will see the Bible’s relevance and meaning in a new way.