As I’m slowly reading through “Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?” there will probably be lots to share here. For instance, here’s a good string of thoughts from Chapter 3 by Mark Thompson, “The Divine Investment in Truth: Toward a Theological Account of Biblical Inerrancy.” The issue he’s addressing here is a very common one today in circles where people discuss scripture. Lots of people are saying that it doesn’t matter whether or not the Bible really reports actual history, since what we care about are spiritual truths. In other words, even if the Bible (for one reason or another) doesn’t actually tell us about events that happened (the Exodus, Joshua’s invasion of Canaan, Jesus’ miracles, etc.), we can still believe the things that have to do with faith. The walls of Jericho might not have fallen down, but we still need to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “The Bible isn’t a modern book on history,” or, “The Bible wasn’t written to be a science textbook.” I always want to say, “Maybe, but…” when I hear these things. Here’s Thompson, directing us towards some responses:
The biblical idea of inspiration– that these human texts, products of the conscious and creative activity of uniquely commissioned human authors, are at the same time and without prejudice to their genuine humanity the God-breathed written Word of God– carries with it the idea that Scripture will unfailingly fulfill God’s purpose for it and will do that by speaking truthfully. Scripture will infallibly convey the truth about God, the world he has made, how human beings have perverted themselves and the world given to them as the appropriate context for life with God, and what God has done in Jesus Christ to restore men and women to himself and to secure “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).
So his point here is that there are right and wrong ways to conceive of what Christians mean when they say the Bible is “inspired.” One way to say it would be how he says it here: “Scripture will unfailingly fulfill God’s purpose for it and will do it by speaking truthfully.” At this point someone might say, “Right, and His purposes are not to teach us science or history, but to inspire us to faith.” Addressing this, Thompson continues:
Yet such theological material cannot be neatly disentangled, separated, or quarantined from statements about history and matters we might describe as scientific.
Did you catch that? It is so important that we see that it is an articificial line to draw, based on the Biblical text we have, to separate “history” from “faith.” For instance, Thompson says:
Our faith is useless, Paul conceded, if the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb did not actually take place in space and time (1 Cor. 15:14).
I recommend really taking some time with 1 Corinthians 15 to see Paul’s logic when he discusses the relationship between the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ that happened in our world and the meaningfulness of our faith. To strip his thinking down to the bone, I think Paul would say: “If it didn’t really happen, my faith doesn’t mean any thing.” All through the Bible, we see that trusting in a God who’s really there and in things He really did (i.e. they really happened) is the essence of what the Bible means when it says “faith.” It is neveropposed to “fact.” You might say it is only “faith in facts” that the Bible counts as worth anything. Here’s the end of Thompson’s paragraph:
Biblical theology is deeply embedded in biblical history and so in the real world in which we all live. The historical particularities of Israel’s history, and especially those associated with the life and work of Israel’s Christ, cannot be dismissed without doing violence to the understanding of God and his purposes that they express. Furthermore, while the central concern of Scripture is to speak of Jesus the Christ, the incarnate, crucified, risen and glorious Son of the Father, Scripture does nonetheless also speak of other things. Questions of reliability and truthfulness are not easily restricted to purely religious or theological matters.