Remember the Bereans


In support of the Biblically-based concept sola scriptura, we often hear the story of the Bereans. Paul and Silas, after leaving Thessalonica under duress, went on to preach the Gospels in Berea around 50 A.D.

Luke wrote in Acts Chapter 17:

11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
Sola scriptura, or literally, "the Bible alone" unequivocally argues for the total inerrancy and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, said quite directly that "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35) and in his prayer to the Father, "sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). Human tradition and philosophy, if not at odds with God's Word, are assuredly only shadows of the Truth (cf. Colossians 2:8). Sola scriptura does not necessarily infer literalism, though they are often confused. (However, literalism is regarded pejoratively, sometimes even by Christians, in order to undermine the concept of sola scriptura. Literalism as a method of Biblical exegesis is quite misunderstood. The late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee once said that symbolism is, in fact, part of literal interpretation, so long as they're concrete symbols, e.g. the Cross, as opposed to "fuzzy" symbols, e.g. a fish, which can be interpreted a number of ways.)

Fallen Man's resistance to sola scriptura and the efficacy of God's word is quite memorably stated in Psalm 14 (and quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:11-12):
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
As sinful creatures, we seek truth in the world where there is none. Because believers still retain the sinful nature, this tendency persists. If we are not closely studying and living the Word of God, we can be seduced by the philosophies of men -- we give in to the pride of life, one of the three Edenic temptations (cf. 1 John 2:16) later repeated by the devil in the desert (cf. Matthew 4). Believers must be wary of spiritual poison. We wouldn't dare eat or drink something that has even a drop of poison, but when it comes to spiritual matters, we are typically not as discerning.

Which is why we must remember the Bereans: there is something wrong when believers defend the works and words of men more avidly than the Bible itself. These days, many Christians are looking for Christ in the world rather than looking for Christ in the Word. As a result, an attachment to the world gradually develops, followed by a spiritual recidivism. When we cling to the philosophies of men, we begin to exhibit the behavior of men, rather than conform to the image of Christ. Superficial and utilitarian spirituality results when the Word of God is neglected, which is why name brand Christianity is so prevalent today. Modern evangelicalism has drifted from a primary emphasis on God's Word to an emphasis on the works of men that refer to, reflect, or in some cases rephrase God's Word.

From the giants of Christian literature, such as Tolkien, Lewis, or even Gibran (if you're so inclined), to contemporary Christian works, such as the Left Behind series, "The Passion of the Christ," or even the music of Johnny Cash, the words and works of man are ardently and articulately defended by today's Christians to a degree rarely seen when it comes to defending Scripture. Of course there is room for literature, philosophy, the arts, the intellect, and so on in a Biblical world view; that is not the issue. The issue is what believers should be passionately defending first and foremost. Living the faith as a witness for Christ and using man's works to witness for Christ are two very different things.

The English Christian intellectuals Lewis and Tolkien have both been quoted here in past entries without criticism and probably will be in the future. They are obviously not to be dismissed out of hand. To become so enamored with their works to the point of ignoring their doctrinal error, however, is to eventually allow oneself to descend into universalism. To do so would be to also ignore 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV): "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." In his rather provocatively titled "Did C.S. Lewis Go to Heaven?" (note: pdf file) John W. Robbins directly questions the Scriptural veracity in Lewis's writings. (That a critical eye has been cast on this, or any, pillar of Christian idolatry seems more important than Robbins's conclusions. However, Robbins far exceeds his prerogative when he renders judgment on the person of Lewis, by failing to acknowledge that all believers are works-in-progress.) Similarly, Berit Kjos argues that The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's magnum opus, owes more to paganism than Christianity. Again, the question is not so much whether Lewis, Tolkien, et al. are harmful but whether believers will continue to indiscriminately accept the words of men as truth without first searching their Bibles.

Chris Armstrong, writing in "Christianity Today," expresses a rather common view among modern Christians: "'To praise, exalt, establish, and defend.' The great Roman Catholic journalist and author G. K. Chesterton, in one of his gem-like short essays, urged all Christians to do these things when they came across worthy literary or artistic expressions....Chesterton argued that it's our job as Christians to seek out cultural products that say something worth saying-and then to recommend them to others." On one level, there is little to debate here; Armstrong even quotes Philippians 4:8 (though without the felicitousness with which he quotes Chesterton). But he gives no warning, no caveat emptor, for buying into so-called Christian entertainments that only superficially talk Christian. Armstrong rightly points out the sweetened secularism of many a contemporary family film, but he offers no discerning view for what he calls "Christian-themed" works. Simply because a work has ostensible Christian themes does not mean it truly carries the banner of Christ or that the Holy Spirit has breathed Truth into it, to any degree. To look past name brand, utilitarian Christianity will require more effort on the part of believers.

The Holy Bible is both descriptive and prescriptive, historical and spiritual. To live by the faith is to live by the Word. If the Bible is in error or insufficient, even to the most infinitesimal degree, then there is no faith. If the works or words of man cannot be substantiated by Scripture, then they cannot be accorded the label of truth. There are not many paths to Truth, save one, narrow and straight (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). After fasting 40 days and nights in the desert, Jesus resisted the devil's temptation to turn the stones into bread with the following words in Matthew Chapter 4 (and in so doing, cited Deuteronomy 8:3):
4 It is written: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."