A conversation among friends last week got me to thinking about the way some Christians tend to think of the Bible as an exhaustive source of truth. It took me back many years to when I first read a book by Christian philosopher Arthur Holmes entitled All Truth is God’s Truth. Holmes defends the proposition that all truth, no matter what its origin, is God’s truth. I greedily devoured this little book, made copious notes and underlines and even attempted to teach a Sunday school class on its content. I was new to the world of philosophy and much of what Holmes had to say went over my head, but still served to whet my appetite for more. This idea of the unity of truth, the false dichotomy of “sacred” and “secular” truths, stuck with me and has served as a guiding principle for me ever since.
It’s true that, for Christians, the Bible is the inspired source of revealed truth about foundational questions of human existence. We trust it has a reliable record of the crucial teaching and acts of God in human history that serves as an anchor for our belief and practice in relation to God and other people. Preserved and handed down to us over thousands of years, the scriptures are the source of teaching of and a witness to things that we could reliably discover in no other way. But to claim that the Bible isn’t the source of all truth makes some Christians uneasy. It’s as if saying so were to imply that the Bible is deficient in some way. But “the Bible teaches what it means to teach,” as a former pastor of mine used to say. Its teaching addresses foundational questions about the basis for ethics and morality, the meaning and purpose of life and death, the nature of our basic human flaws and where the remedy for them is to be found. There are competing ideas along these lines from other religions and secular sources and biblical teaching can be used to engage these. But the Bible also teaches that we live in a world and a universe that is created by God and that God’s presence permeates all of it. Because of this, even those who have no access to the Bible, have some access to God’s truth. The way our own minds and bodies work, and the workings of the physical universe are, to a great extent, discoverable by human beings made in the Image of God. And these discoveries, in turn, influence how we understand, interpret and apply the teaching of Scripture in our time. Without the foundation and framework given to us by Scripture, I think that knowledge from other sources would lose its most purposeful context. Those basic questions that the Bible addresses for us have much to do with making use of the knowledge gained through other sources for good. This gives scripture primary importance as a source of truth for the use of secondary sources, but it doesn’t mean that those secondary sources are any less a source of God’s truth.
The end of John’s Gospel says that not all the things that Jesus did and taught were written down for our benefit. There was just too much of it. If that’s true of Jesus’ short time of ministry here on earth, how much more true must it be of God’s work in the whole universe?
Paul — Yes, I think one example is the other religions of the world. They are attempts by humans to come up with some way to remedy our deficiency for getting in contect with God. All of them that I have come in contact with contain some point or points that seem to have come through from God’s self-revelation to the people of the world, but that didn’t come all the way through to realize how Christ fit into the whole historical development to fulfill the needed contact. It seems our missionary challenge is to fill in the gap. — David
Arthur Holmes died on October 8th: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2011/10/arthur_holmes_a.html