The motive of many evangelicals in using the Bible in this way is laudable in many ways. They want to inspire God’s people to holy living through moral examples and imperatives. But this approach has prepared the way for what we see in many churches today. If the recurring message found in the Scriptures is a word of moral exhortation, then it is a small step from “dare to be a Daniel” to “don’t get burned out the way Elijah did” or “learn five ways to manage your money from Solomon.”
Concerns about stress, money, and children are understandable in a society that is falling apart. Those using the Bible to address such themes believe that they are making Christianity relevant to the needs of our time. They believe that they are making the faith seem attractive and practical to the unchurched. In other words, they are trying to save our culture, our families, and our souls. But the irony is that the evangelicals—whose very name derives from “the evangel,” the Gospel—are in danger of losing the Gospel in the process. They are allowing the needs that the unchurched feel to shape the message of the church.
Such uses of the Scriptures may be very understandable in the context of our world. But these evangelicals miss the real meaning of the Word of God. They also miss the real need of the unchurched, namely, the grace of Jesus Christ. To find that true meaning, we must turn from stories to a system.
THE BIBLE AS SYSTEM
No doubt many recoil when they hear the word system used with reference to the Bible. Many evangelicals have learned to regard the Bible and system as mutually exclusive. They believe that the Bible is a wonderful, moving book of stories, whereas a system is cold and rationalistic. Worst of all, they see a system as something that men (particularly Calvinists!) impose on the Bible. But the idea of the Bible as a system of truth is not cold, deadening, or imposed on the Bible. Rather, the idea is inherent in the teaching of the Bible about God and about itself. The God of the Bible is truth, and that truth is coherent in Him. He is not a mass of irrational or internally contradictory truths; He is always consistent with Himself. And since the Bible is the revelation of that same God, the Bible is internally consistent. It is not bits and pieces of religious thoughts that bear no relation to one another. The Bible is the progressive unfolding of God’s plan and activity to save His people in Jesus Christ.
The Bible is a book from which emerges a clear and coherent system of doctrine. Doctrine means “teaching.” Reformed Christians have always believed that the teachings of the Bible form a system that we can comprehend, express, and summarize. We express that summary in the confessions of our churches.
The great system of the Bible, briefly stated, is that God created man good, but man rebelled against God, losing his original goodness and any ability to restore his relationship with God. To redeem fallen man, God formed a people from whom His own eternal Son would be born as a man. That Son, Jesus, perfectly obeyed the law of God, suffered on the cross bearing the wrath of God in the place of His people, rose gloriously from the dead, and ever lives to rule over and protect His people. One day Jesus will return in glory to make all things new. In the meantime, His church is to preach His Gospel, calling sinners to faith and new life in Him. The great message of the Bible from beginning to end is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19).
As the church teaches this great system of the Bible, it focuses on God, Christ, sin, and the grace of salvation. It recognizes that while the Bible may be useful to overcome stress and raise good children, that is not its primary message. Christ calls His church to make known the great things of the Bible. Otherwise, the church loses the Bible—and the Gospel.