One of the enemies great tricks is to undermine people’s confidence in the Scriptures. In the Garden the serpent got Eve to start questioning what God said. It worked then, so why change tactics.
As a result of this continuing barrage, the church has needed to defend the Scriptures on a variety of fronts. Over the years a number of significant books have been written with this purpose. Many of those books were written for more advanced readers: pastors, academics. There are a few that are written for the younger Christian. Kevin DeYoung has added to that list of books that are accessible, meaningful, practical and interesting. Face it, this is not a topic that gets the averaged browser in a bookstore jazzed. But this is a necessary topic so it must be handled wisely.
DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word is structured around 8 passages of Scripture that teach 8 important things about Scripture. It was probably a sermon series or SS class turned into a book. Not that it matters, but it follows a similar structure as my book on marriage (one of those topics that gets store browsers jazzed) which may eventually see the light of day. He also utilizes many of those older books to help us understand the importance of what Scripture is saying.
“There is no calamity like the silence of God. We cannot know the truth or know ourselves or know God’s ways or savingly know God Himself unless God speaks to us.”
He starts with Psalm 119 in which the Psalmist delights in the Word of God (including the Law!!). Even well-meaning Christians struggle with this concept (because they see every mention of the law thru the lens of justification). The Word is filled with promises, and warnings, to be believed and acted upon. If the Word of God is not delightful to you, something is amiss in your Christian experience. The Spirit works in us to develop such a response to the Word. He recognizes the elements of circularity in the arguments for the authority of Scripture that rest on Scripture. However, if another document establishes the authority of the Scriptures it would be at least on par if not above Scripture. No one doubted the authority of the king to speak before the Magna Carta. God speaks as that kind of absolute king except He has unlimited knowledge, wisdom and goodness.
“Psalm 119 shows us what to believe about the word of God, what to feel about the word of God, and what to do with the work of God.”
He then turns to 2 Peter 1 to address the surety of Scripture. Peter wrote because false teachers were creeping into the church and wrecking havoc. They were getting people to follow “cleverly designed myths.” The Scriptures are not like the Greek myths, attempts to communicate truth through made up stories. Peter points to the fact that he was there to behold the historical reality of the gospel story. The Scriptures are firmly established in history that God interprets for us.
From Hebrews 1 DeYoung argues for the sufficiency of Scripture. Hebrews 1 talks about the ways God used to speak, and then how He ultimately spoke in His Son. He is the fullness and finality of God’s revelation. In terms of the work of Christ we must distinguish His redemption from His revelation. Those who believe experience some of the redemption He accomplished already but there are some aspects that are still “not yet” for believers on earth and others that are “not yet” for all believers. We on earth are not glorified. All Christians still await the resurrection from the dead. His redemption is all-encompassing, but hasn’t all been applied yet. Revelation has been completed. There is not more revelation that we await. It speaks sufficiently and truthfully on whatever subject it speaks. Jesus didn’t address every conceivable subject we want information about. It does contain all that God wants us to know and it is in our best interest to explore that (Deut. 29:29).
DeYoung then discusses Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to teach about the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture. He provides a few common objections to the clarity of Scripture (God is unknowable, we need church tradition, and the problem of pluralism). Not every passage is equally clear, but the things we need to know are clear (though the minds of sinful man distort them).
“This implies that Jesus believed not only that the Old Testament was authoritative, but that it had a fixed meaning which people should have been able to recognize.”
He then moves on to Scripture as the final authority from Acts 17 noticing the difference between the Thessalonians and the Bereans. In Roman Catholicism final authority is found in both Scripture and Tradition. In liberal Protestantism, authority is in our reason and/or experience to stand above Scripture. In evangelical or conservative Protestantism Scripture is the final authority, though we can benefit from tradition and God gave us minds (as well as His Spirit) with the capacity to understand what the Scriptures teach. He also discusses the connection between General and Special revelation (creation & Scripture). This is important as we consider science, which studies creation. At times there is a conflict with Scripture (or at least our interpretation). We are not to set aside Scripture on the basis of science, but to study to see if we have misunderstood either Scripture or creation. The last few hundred years shows us that the Church can misunderstand Scripture and that scientists can misunderstand creation.
1 Corinthians 2 is used to show the necessity of Scripture. While we hold to the dual authorship of Scripture, we recognize from this text that God is primary. He gave the Apostles spiritual truth in spiritual words. The human authors of Scripture did not come up with these ideas themselves. They received them as a revelation from God for people. We then need the Spirit to understand these “spiritual words.” Scripture is necessary if we are to understand God (not just know He exists), ourselves and salvation. Without Scripture we stumble around in the dark on these matters.
“We need Scripture because without it we cannot know the love of God.”
In John 10 Jesus said that the Scriptures cannot be broken. In our day it is fashionable to set it aside in the name of progress. Perhaps we have misunderstood Scripture. We must study to make sure we are properly dividing the word of God. But we do not set it aside because its views are unpopular, out of the mainstream or simply inconvenient. This is because Jesus saw them as true, as historical and authoritative. He would correct bad interpretations of the Scripture, but He didn’t reject what Scripture taught. Neither should we even if we claim to do it in Jesus’ name.
“Our Messiah sees himself as an expositor of Scripture, but never a corrector of Scripture. He fulfills it, but never falsifies it.”
DeYoung wraps up the book with a text he admits most people thought he would begin with: 2 Timothy 3. He does this to stress what Paul says to Timothy about sticking with the Scriptures. He knew the people who taught him the Scriptures, and he knew what they taught him (about salvation). He lives in a university town, and knows many young adults go to college and some professor rocks their world undermining their faith in the Scriptures. There is something to be said for remembering the people who taught you the Scriptures: they loved you! Why toss it all away because of the arguments of a person who doesn’t love you and most likely is simply at war with the Scriptures (not interpreting the Scriptures or the evidence rightly). The Scriptures are not just about theories, but are given to us for very practical purposes. God uses them to correct us, teach us and equip us for good works. We cannot mature in Christ if we don’t stick with the Scriptures.
This book is an excellent introduction to these matters. DeYoung also offers a list of 30 books that people can read to continue to study this subject. Some of them are for beginners and some for more advanced readers. There isn’t much to complain about here.
But there is one problem. DeYoung doesn’t really address the newer challenges to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures that arise today. This is the moral argument. What of the genocides, rapes etc. Some post-evangelical scholars are using the sin and judgment found in Scripture to discredit Scripture in the eyes of those who don’t really understand Scripture. DeYoung’s book contains some material that implicitly refutes these claims. As an introductory book, however, it should not assume people can make those connections and have an additional chapter to refute these newer challenges.
As it does stand, this is an excellent book for pastors to keep on hand to give to young Christians. It would be an excellent book to study in groups to understand the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.
[I received an advance reader copy of this book for the purposes of review.]