In the opening paragraphs of his December 23 cover story for Newsweek magazine titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Kurk Eichenwald makes his premise very clear. In his first two hundred words, the author sets the context for his argument by calling Bible believing Christians “frauds.” He suggests these “religious rationalizers” persist in imposing their ill-informed Biblicism on the rest of American culture by constantly “invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand…”
Setting aside Eichenwald’s shoddy scholarship and the theological, ecclesiastical and hermeneutical ignorance that he aptly demonstrates in his next 8,400 words, I’d like to suggest that maybe he is ironically onto something in his anti-biblical diatribe. Maybe Eichenwald has unwittingly stumbled across the cure for much (if not everything) that presently ails us. Maybe our New Year’s resolution should be to take this Newsweek critic up on his challenge and actually read more of the Bible in the coming year and humbly seek to “understand” its “phrases” more clearly as we do so.
In 1876, George MacDonald (one of C.S. Lewis’ heroes) authored a novel titled, Thomas Wingfold, Curate in which he tells the story of an Anglican priest who faced a similar crisis of faith as that of Eichenwald (and perhaps the majority of American culture by inference). Rather than dismissing the Bible out of hand, however, this curate chose to try something opposite. In the midst of personal doubt MacDonald’s protagonist decides to simply start reading the “words of Jesus” and trying to “obey them.”
The rest of the story of Thomas Wingfold is salted with spiritual vulnerability and intellectual honesty. Day after day the pastor reads his Bible and studies the words of Christ. Week after week our curate seeks to both understand what Jesus says and to do something about it. Month after month he finds his spirit paradoxically broken while at the same time his confidence is unexpectedly emboldened. The final result of this hard routine is found in what MacDonald calls “the curate’s resolve” in the final pages of the book:
“All I can now say is that in the story of Jesus I have seen grandeur – to me altogether beyond the realm of human invention… From [my] attempt to obey the word recorded as His, I have experienced a great enlargement of my mind and the deepening of my moral strength and a wonderful increase of faith, hope and love toward all men. Therefore, I now declare I cast my lot with the servants of the Crucified… I will stand or fall with the story of my Lord… I will take my chance of failure or success in this life or in the life to come, on the words and the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Perhaps in this New Year we should all take Eichenwald up on his challenge. Perhaps our resolution should be to read more about Jesus and to seek to “understand” His “phrases” more thoroughly. Is it possible that in reading more of the “words recorded as His,” all of us might, likewise, “see grandeur beyond the realm of human invention?”
I might be wrong but I will just bet that several of us who are doubters (those such as Eichenwald, those such as the curate, and even those such as you and me) might end up “[experiencing] a great enlargement of [our minds] and the deepening of [our] moral strength and a wonderful increase of faith, hope and love toward all men” as we read more of the Bible and then decide to actually do something about it; taking our “chance of failure or success in this life or in the life to come, on the words and the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Happy New Year and in the months ahead may it be so that thousands of us choose to “cast our lot with the servants of the Crucified!”
For further reading on the Newsweek article and understanding the Bible’s influence and authority:
Talking Points With President Piper is a weekly column featured in the Examiner-Enterprise newspaper. In addition to serving as the Oklahoma Wesleyan President, Dr. Everett Piper is also a frequent guest commentator on a variety of talk radio programs across the nation, as well as a published author and essayist.