The Validity Of The Bible In An Age Of Skepticism – Part 1


Good morning. I’m going to begin a series that I personally think is one of the most important series I’ve ever done. One of the reasons that I pursued this, in fact, I spent a good part of my summer while on sabbatical researching this, I read a number of books but it’s something I’ve been working on for years and the reason is that I’m very fascinated by it. But, also, I consider it to be of great importance to all of you as well to consider the validity of the Bible in an age of skepticism I believe is a crucial issue and to show you its importance I want to start with two examples. I think everyone in the room is probably familiar with the name C.S. Lewis. He’s probably the most influential author of all history, you know, writers outside of the Bible, and you probably know he was agnostic for almost 31 years of his life and then he really began a great search and became a theist, but he says that there were two events in his life that ultimately led him to Christ. He said the first was reading G.K. Chesterton’s book, Everlasting Man, but the second, he said, and these are his words, it had a “shattering impact” on him. He said when one night, the most militant atheist on the Oxford faculty staff, a guy by the name of T.D. Wilden, sat in Lewis’ room and confided, you know, the historical authenticity of the Gospels is surprisingly sound. And this deeply disturbed Lewis. He said because if this staunch atheist thinks the Gospels may be true, where did it leave him? Because he had always, had always believed that the New Testament stories were nothing but myths and there wasn’t a shred of history in it. He said if they were true, then this means that all other truth fades in significance and for the first time, he says, he began to wonder if his whole life was headed in the wrong direction. And yet he says, Wilden’s remarks about the historical authenticity of the Gospels haunted him. And so, as any good seeker of Truth would do, he began to read the New Testament for the first time in his life and he was surprised at what he found. You know, he had spent his life studying ancient manuscripts. And though he had never read the Bible, he considered it one of the great myths like Norse mythology. But the Gospels, Lewis noted as he was reading them, didn’t contain the rich, imaginative writings of these talented ancient writers. Listen to what he says, “They appeared to be simple, eye-witness accounts of historical events primarily by Jews who were clearly unfamiliar with the great myths of the pagan world around them.” He said, “I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myth. They had not the mythological taste.” He observes they were different from anything else he had ever read in literature. And he said this, “Now as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced, that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legends and myth and am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view, they are clumsy; they don’t work. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us until he becomes thirty and no people building up a legend would do this.” And so he began to wonder, if these aren’t myths and legends, what are they? Were they truly eyewitness accounts of the historical events that actually took place? But you see what impacted Lewis, what really, as he said it was shattering, was to hear that the Gospels were possibly historically accurate accounts of what took place in the life of Jesus. So you can see the importance there in the life of this man, C.S. Lewis, who has had such an impact. Some of you may be familiar with Anne Rice. I’ve never read any of her books but she is a very famous author who wrote the book, Interview with a Vampire. You know it was made into a movie with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. She’s written several other, I think, vampire novels. Anne Rice was raised Catholic but lost her faith in college. After college, she married an atheist and became a very wealthy woman writing novels. But then, fast forward 30 years, she shocked the literary world when she announced she had become a Christian and returned to the Christian faith. And the question was, well how did this happen? And as she shared, she said I began to do extensive research on the historical Jesus and this was right about the time that The DaVinci Code had come out. Remember that? All this about Jesus being married and having children. And so she began to read the material that was coming out of these liberal Jesus seminars that you probably read about in the paper. And in these seminars, they contended that the Biblical documents were historically weak. So she was curious and she began to do her research and she said she was amazed at how the arguments coming out of the Jesus seminar were so weak. She says this, “Some books that came out were nothing more than assumptions piled on assumptions. Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all. The whole case for the non-divine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified, that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles that I frequented as an atheist for 30 years, that case was not made. It was weak.” She said, “Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I have ever read.” And over time, like Lewis, Anne Rice concluded that the Gospels were historically accurate and, in fact, true. And so, here you have two people, two examples of individuals who came to faith in Christ based on the fact that they concluded the Gospels to be historically accurate and true. And so, if they were true, then somehow, they realized, I need to live my life, or get my life in harmony with the truth. And if you think about it, if you don’t believe Christianity to be true, you’re forced to believe the stories in the Bible are nothing more than myths and legends. However, if they can be demonstrated to be historically accurate and therefore, true, where does that leave a person? It haunted C.S. Lewis. It led him on a spiritual quest as it did Anne Rice. I don’t know about you, but it seems logical that the nature of a personal God is to speak. It is to communicate His thoughts to others. To be known. I think that’s very natural in the life of a personal being. Self-expression is inherent to who He is. Because He is a personal, relational God. And Christianity therefore teaches that God is speaking to the world continuously articulating His words and His will to mankind. He is saying, seek me and you will find me. If that’s true, everyone won’t find Him because basically what He’s saying only those who are willing to seek will find me. Those whose hearts are set on finding the truth as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, if you love the truth, you’ll hear my voice. You would think that this is what everyone in this life would desire – to hear the voice of God. Seek me and you will find me. Seek me and you will hear my voice. And if a man or a woman truly desires to seek God, it seems the Bible would be a great place to start. Now for centuries, Christianity has held the belief that the Bible is God’s chief means of communicating his thoughts to mankind. It’s the primary way He has made Himself known. You know, Jesus confirms this when He comes along and continually quotes the Old Testament and says, “God has said,” “God has spoken,” “It is written,” and then he would quote the Old Testament. The Bible is considered a book of revelation in that it reveals to mankind spiritual truth that we would otherwise never know. This is why the famous Russian author Dostoevsky said, “My faith is not built on arguments of logic or reason, it is built on one thing – revelation.” Within the Old and New Testaments, what do we find? We find poetry, we find divine principles for living, a detailed and well-preserved record of Jewish history, the lives of the prophets, the Psalms, the life of Jesus, and the life of the early Church. And it’s clear that this written revelation exists to be taught and passed on to every succeeding generation. And nevertheless, the question that always seems to come up in our culture and in our world today is, and it plagues the skeptical mind, How do we know that this book is truly God’s written revelation? It’s a legitimate question. But how can such an ancient document have any relevance to modern life? And as C.S. Lewis was on his search, one of the things that plagued him was he wondered about the relevance of the Gospel story to modern life, to modern people. He stated honestly, and I quote, “What I could not understand was how the life and death of someone else 2000 years ago could help us here and now.” And I have to be honest with you. I asked the same question years ago. I realized that I first accepted the Bible as God’s written revelation because several people I trusted told me that it was. But I was never given a good reason. You know, just believe it. Just have faith in it. And I felt like, as I look back, that I was being told not to doubt. Just believe. And I really believe this can be dangerous in a person’s life. I was reading this summer about Bernard Madoff, the scandal. Probably the greatest Ponzi scheme ever. And they said Madoff’s fraud was possible only because so many people trusted him. Yet most of that trust was based on very little firsthand information. For most people that invested large amounts f money said that they primarily did so because of the reputations of those who were long-time investors of Madoff. And therefore, guys, it’s easy to believe anything because we over-rely and put excess trust in what people tell us. And this is dangerous because this can take us in many different directions. For me, personally, and this goes back 25 years or so, I needed to know why I should believe it is God’s word. What kind of evidence is there is the Biblical story in harmony with secular history? Personally, I think this should be important to all of us. Because if you believe the Bible is the World of God, you need to know why you believe it is. Because once you do that, it will strengthen your faith. On the other hand, if you believe the Bible is nothing more than an ancient book of myths and legends, or you’re just not really sure what it is, you need to know why you think that! How did you come to that conclusion? Because that’s what Lewis thought and later he realized, I was wrong! I was dead wrong. And I guess what I’m saying, is whenever you have any type of belief or put your faith in something, it needs to have a foundation in order to have a strong faith. Not just a faith. A strong faith. You see this clearly in the life of Jean Paul Sartre. The famous French skeptic. He’s probably one of the most prominent atheists to live in the last century. And at the end of his life, you know, he had put his faith in atheism. That’s what he had believed to be true. But at the end of his life, he began to waver in that belief and 30 days before he died, he penned these words in his journal, he said, “The world seems ugly, bad, and without hope. There, that’s the cry of despair of an old man who will die in despair. But that’s exactly what I resist. I know that I shall die in hope.” He says, “the only problem is,” listen to this, he says, “but hope, faith needs a foundation.” Sartre is saying that faith and believe must have a foundation to undergird it; otherwise it’s blind faith. It’s blind speculation. And you know what, he’s right! Think about it in these terms. You can have very little faith in very thick ice that’s across a lake, very little faith, but that thick ice will hold you up just fine. On the other hand, you can have enormous faith in thin ice, and go out and drown. You see, it’s not the amount of faith you can muster upfront; it may be tiny, Jesus says, as a little mustard seed. Your faith must be invested in something solid that you can really stand on and know that it’s true. Faith has got to have a strong foundation. There’s a guy by the name of Millar Burrows. He served as the Department Chairman of Near Eastern language and literature at Yale Graduate School and became one of the world’s great authorities on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Listen to this observation he made, he said, “There is a type of Christian faith which seems to be quite common where people accept a Christian belief that is not dependent on reason or evidence. They believe that any type of historical investigation on their part is not necessary. They seem to have no desire to know about Jesus as a person of history and seem to be content with such knowledge.” And Burrows goes on to say, “I cannot share this point of view. I am profoundly convinced that the historic revelation of God and Jesus of Nazareth must be the cornerstone of any faith that is really Christian. Any historical questions about the real Jesus who lived in Palestine 19 centuries ago is therefore fundamentally important to develop a strong faith.”  Now you know where I see a good example of this is kids who go off to college and they may have a strong faith and belief but they don’t have the foundation and they go off to college and I read about this a lot and I hear parents talk about it. They go off to college and they are challenged. Their faith is challenged by their professors. And they don’t have anything to stand on. Because these brilliant men are up there knocking their faith. And I was thinking about my own children as I prepared this, how important this is to know why do I believe what I believe and it starts with the Bible. And so this series is all the research I’ve done over the years searching this out and asking the question, “Is the Bible valid? Is it historically reliable? Is it the word of God?” And no, I can’t prove anything to you. I can give you some pretty compelling evidence that I believe will be helpful. And so, we’ll go three weeks, this is kind of an introduction this morning. We’ll go three weeks and then probably at the first of the year or sometime in the winter we’ll do three more. It takes six sessions to get through all of this but it is absolutely fascinating and incredibly encouraging. As you see all of the evidence, all of the research to undergird the validity of the scriptures. Now, I would have to say this, and I think most people who know ancient history and ancient literature would agree that the Bible is incredibly unique. When you look at the holy books of other world religions, you have the Koran, written by one man, you have the Bhagavad-Gita, which is Hindu, written by one man. Buddhists don’t have a sacred text. They keep adding to it. They add and take away, so they don’t have a single source. The Book of Mormon, written by one man. Listen to these words from Jason and Ron Carlson. “The Bible is not just one single book, this is a more common misconception than many people realize, especially with people who do not come from a Judeo-Christian background.  Rather than being a single book, the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, which is called the Canon of Scriptures. These 66 books contain a variety of genres – history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom literature, letters, apocalyptic, just to name a few. Second, these 66 books, written by 40 different authors. These authors came from a variety of different backgrounds, shepherds, fisherman, doctors, kings, prophets, and others. And most of these authors never knew one another personally. Third, these 66 books were written over a period of 1500 years. Yet again, this is another reminder that many of these authors never knew or collaborated with one another writing these books. Fourth, the 66 books of the Bible were written in three different languages. In the Bible, we have books that were written in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic – a reflection of the historical and cultural circumstances in which each of these books was written. And finally, these 66 books were written on three different continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Once again, this is a testament to the varied historical and cultural circumstances of God’s people. Think about the above realities. 66 books written by 40 different authors over 1500 years in three different languages on three different continents. What’s more, this collection of books shares a common story line. The creation, fall, and redemption of God’s people.” Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, makes a similar observation. He says, “I find it remarkable that this diverse collection of manuscripts written over a period of a millennium by several dozen authors possesses as much unity as it does. To appreciate this feat, imagine a book begun 500 years before Columbus and now just completed. The Bible’s striking unity is one strong sign that God directed its composition. By using a variety of writers and cultural situations, God developed a complete record of what he wants us to know. Amazingly, the parts fit together in such a way that a single story does emerge.” You know, in all the research I’ve done, and having read the Bible extensively myself, one thing that really strikes me, is how it seems to truly have spiritual power behind it. And it also has incredible wisdom to it that is timeless that applies to all people in all times. Ravi Zacharias says, “Biblical truth is trans-cultural. It has an indispensable message for modern man – for you and for me. And most significantly, it seems to be able to speak into people’s lives and touches their souls. And not only does it reveal great deal about the nature of God, but it also reveals a great deal about our human condition. It helps us understand ourselves and reveals, as the writer of Hebrews says, it reveals the thoughts and the intentions of our hearts.” I read about an interesting man who is deceased now, but his name was Émile Cailliet. He was from France, he grew up in France and he ended his life as professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary. But in his college days, Cailliet had been agnostic. He said, “I graduated from college without ever having seen or read a Bible.” He says, then he served in the Army in World War I and he said, “The inadequacy of my views on the human situation overwhelmed me.” He said, “What use the philosophic banner of the seminar when your own buddy at the time of speaking to you of his mother, dies standing in front of you, a bullet going through his chest?” And then that bullet got him as well. And he began recuperating during a long stay in the hospital. And he said during that time, “I read literature, I read philosophy, and I began to strangely long, I must say it, however queer it may sound, for a book. I was looking for a book that would understand me.” And since he didn’t know of any book that would do such, he decided to write one himself. He says, “I wanted to find, I wanted to write and discover the truth about humanity, about our condition.” And so what he would do is over the years as he read he really felt like he was going to write a book that would change the world. And he would write and collect all that he read and he put them in kind of an anthology, in kind of a book form, and he said, as time went on, he says, “the number of quotations and information grew,” he said, “to the point that I eagerly anticipated sitting down and reading it,” this wonderful book that he was going to write.  He said he expected it “would lead me from fear and anguish through a variety of intervening stages on supreme utterances of release and jubilation.” And so, one day, he goes out by himself, out in the countryside. He sits under a tree to read this precious anthology and says, as he did so, a growing disappointment came over him. He said every quote reminded him of the circumstances of which he had chosen it but the problem was things had changed in his life. Then I knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because, he says, it was my own making. And he said he went home and he said, ironically, as he went home, he encountered his wife, who had been out strolling their child in a carriage, and she said, ironically, she had a Bible. It was written in French. He had never seen one. And a minister had given it to her while she was out strolling her child. He grabbed the book and he started reading the Gospels. He said he continued to read it deep into the night. He says the realization dawned on him, “Lo and behold, I looked through them, the Gospels, the one who spoke and acted them, became alive to me.” He said, “I finally had found the book that understood me.” It changed his life. He became a Christian. He went to seminary. He became a professor at Princeton. And Dr. Mary Poplin, also a college professor. She teaches philosophy, learning theory, and worldview. She had a very similar experience. She said for years she pursued secular philosophies, particularly radical feminism and the new age religion and she said I found them empty and wanting. And so she decided I’m going to check out the New Testament and she decided not only to read it but to really absorb it, she said I began to write it out by hand what I read. Word-for-word. Listen to what she says. “As I began to write, I felt my mind begin to heal. I felt clean and was healed. This word is a hitchhiker’s guide to the whole cosmos. Especially life on one amazing planet. This author refines our vision of Himself and ourselves, not only does He reveal Himself as the maker of the heavens and the earth, but even more so as the lover of our souls. In all the literature I’ve read, it was the Bible that described with piercing precision, my human heart, my angst, and the pathos of the human condition. Where can I run from your spirit, I asked along with David in the Psalms. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, forgive us our sins as we forgive our debtors. He knew my secret desire to condemn. He knew I could not forgive on my own strength. The author knew I needed more than an abstract Veritas. I needed a human one living with and in me. ‘The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,’ Psalms 34:18 says. Though the Bible is calming and lovely, I knew it was not primarily a book of poetry and literature, but a book claiming to be the real story in which we live asking the reader to taste and see that the Lord is good, offering to prove itself true. And so, it is full of verifiable information, useful to every person as well as to archeologists, historians, scientists, healers, artists, lovers, parents, and so on. If it is false, we can find out and go on to something else. But if it’s true, we have sufficient basis for life’s choices and a hope for the world that we live in.” Guys, the purpose of this series is to provide a concise, but well-documented argument that the Bible is legitimate and true. If you already regard it as God’s written revelation, then hopefully it will strengthen this belief. If you’re not so sure about the Bible, or if you don’t believe it’s what it claims to be, it will give you an ability to check it out and maybe learn something about the Bible that you don’t know. Maybe it will even change your mind. Some of the things we’ll consider is the Bible in History, the Bible in Science, Ancient Documents, Archeology, Prophesy, fascinating stuff, but in the end, I believe you’ll see that the Bible is the most unique of all sacred texts and it emerges as God’s word in print that has been incredibly well-preserved for thousands of years. And yet it always remains fresh and relevant to our lives. And so I want to close by looking at one more person, a very incredible person who was profoundly touched by the Bible. It’s a Dr. Francis Collins, probably one of the most prominent scientists alive today. Collins graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Chemistry. He got his PhD in Chemistry at Yale and then decided for good measure, he’d go to medical school and get his M.D. He then went back and taught at Yale and taught at the University of Michigan but what he is most famous for in 2003 was to head up the Human Genome Project where he led an international collaboration of 2000 scientists in sequencing the human genome – the gene. And most recently he was appointed by President Obama to be the Director of the National Institute of Health. Very prominent scientist. But he had a very interesting spiritual journey. In fact, I was just reading about him that a lot of people objected to him being appointed because he was so religious. But he has a real interesting spiritual journey. When he went to medical school, he was in his third year in medical school and he was working in the hospital caring for a woman, he was in the room of a woman who had really run out of options. She had a heart condition and basically, she was going to die soon. He said she was a very kind and very faithful woman. She had a strong faith and she shared it with him. And she said, you know, I’m ready to go. Don’t worry about me. And then she said, “Dr. Collins, you’ve been so kind to listen to me and care for me and listen to me share with you about my faith. Tell me about your faith. Tell me what you believe.” Well, Collins realized he didn’t know how to answer. Or even what the answer was. And it troubled him greatly. Listen to his own words, he said, “Something came to me after that encounter in the hospital. As a scientist, I had always insisted on collecting rigorous data before drawing a conclusion. And yet, in matters of faith, I had never collected any data at all. I didn’t know what I had rejected. So I decided that I should be a little better grounded in my atheism. I better find out what this is all about. So I challenged a patient of mine who also was a Methodist minister. And after listening to my questions and realizing I was not dealing with a very full deck of information, he suggested that I read the Gospel of John, which I did.” He said, “I found the scripture to be interesting, puzzling, and not at all what I had thought faith was about.” He said, “then I began to read C.S. Lewis and realized there was a great depth of thinking and reasoning that could be applied to the question of God.” Lewis convinced him that reason and faith go hand in hand though faith has the added component of revelation – the Bible. Like C.S. Lewis, Collins had previously believed that Jesus and the stories of the Bible were nothing but myths. Again, as he studied the historical evidence, he was stunned at well documented and how historically accurate the Bible was. He also saw a surprising fidelity of the transmission of the manuscripts that were passed down over the centuries. And over time, Francis Collins, based on the accumulation of all the evidence he observed, concluded that God exists, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the Bible is the means God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. He also concluded that most of the religious skeptics that he knew, and that he meets today were just like he was. That is to say, they didn’t want to think about these things and never looked at any evidence, drawing conclusions from the real evidence that was there. This is why Dr. Dallas Willard, a very distinguished philosophy professor at USC, believes this is a major problem with people who consider themselves to be agnostic or atheist. He finds that so many scholars that he encounters on campus and out in the world are guilty are guilt of what he calls ‘irresponsible disbelief’. That is, they choose to disbelieve in something without a commitment to coming to that disbelief by way of sound reasoning and the examination of evidence. I read a wonderful book last summer and I had read it 30 years before that and I wanted to read it again. You may have read it. It’s called A Severe Mercy. It’s by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s a wonderful story. I highly recommend the book. It’s a love story and it’s wonderful. But it’s also a story of a man who was agnostic and how he comes to faith and the book has a number of letters going back and forth between Vanauken and C.S. Lewis. This was back in, I think, about the fifties. And over time, Lewis does a great job in helping this man find his faith. And I’m sharing with you because Vanauken says, “As I look back on my life, as a Christian now, as I look back on my life, I am amazed at the know-nothing contempt that I had for Christianity.” He says this, “most of the people who reject Christianity know almost nothing of what they are rejecting.” Guys, Francis Collins, I will return to Francis Collins, will tell you that he found the ultimate spiritual reality of life because he followed the crucial dictum of Socrates which is “follow the truth wherever it leads you.”  He was a seeker and he found the truth and the Bible, for Francis Collins, is the foundation of that truth.

Let me close in prayer. Lord, I thank you for this time together and for each of these men, their lives, their friendship, I’m grateful for all of the friendships that exist here in this room. Lord, we’re grateful for our families, our wives, our children. Lord, most significantly, we’re grateful that you chose not to leave us out in the dark, but that you came to us, you have revealed yourself to us, and you’ve left us the written word which profoundly can impact each of our lives. I pray, Lord, that you would use this time and each of us to ground us, to give us a stronger foundation to our faith. We’re grateful. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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