“The site is not the source.” In bodywork, this maxim means that where the client feels pain is probably not the location of the real problem. Back pain can be the result of an ankle injury that didn’t heal completely; pain in the elbow can come from chronic tension in the neck, and so on.
The same holds true in theology. We feel the pinch in a lot of areas lately, and we usually set about defending at the site — the place where we feel the pinch.
The Bible suggests a different approach. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” If we’re hungry, eating is not the only, or even the first, solution. The first thing is to go back to God’s Word.
The Battle Belongs to the Lord by K. Scott Oliphint makes this line of thought explicit in the field of apologetics. When pressed by various apologetic challenges, the believer should, above all, look to the Bible for instruction and help in defending the faith. Oddly, this is the very thing people are reluctant to do — and often that reluctance is encouraged by apologists. Not so here. Aptly subtitled The Power of Scripture for Defending our Faith, this work walks the reader through a series of Scriptures that prepare him for defending the faith. Here you will not find eleven proofs that Christ rose from the dead, or calculations of the odds of life arising in a prebiotic soup, or forty-nine fulfilled messianic prophecies. This is much more basic, and vastly more important, than that: the basic attitudes of the apologist and his necessary reliance on Scripture.
The topic of reliance on Scripture, especially in the context of apologetics, instantly gives rise to another sort of skeptical challenge: how can we know for sure what Scripture is actually saying? After all, the reasoning goes, even if we knew for sure that the Bible is the authoritative source of truth, there are so many different interpretations. Who is to say which is the right one?
It’s not actually that hard, says Mark D. Thompson, author of A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture. Not, of course, that there aren’t difficult passages, but Scripture is clear, and presents itself as such. If one is going to believe in the Bible at all, one will be forced to believe in the clarity of the Bible. As Thompson says in his closing paragraph:
So what then is the clarity of Scripture? How might we summarize our exploration of this doctrine? The clarity of Scripture is that quality of the biblical text that, as God’s communicative act, ensures its meaning is accessible to all who come to it in faith. To confess the clarity of Scripture is to adopt the same attitude as Jesus demonstrated in his own use fo the Old Testament. It is to align ourselves with the confidence of the apostolic writers, who appealed to the Old Testament as intelligible and decisive even when addressing predominantly Gentile audiences. It is to be bold, even brazen, as we follow the example of Augustine and ‘take and read’. The practice of reading in the light of this confession will be serious and attentive. It will not be content with superficiality or with a uniform literalism that flattens the variety of genre and literary feature found throughout this text. It will take seriously the text we have (not pining for some ideal text beyond our reach) and expects that these very words have the power to cut deep and heal profoundly even today. In short, a confession of the clarity of Scripture is an aspect of faith in a generous God who is willing and able to make himself and his purposes known. God has something to say and he is very good at saying it.
He is indeed, and that thought may be the thing most missing from most critical discussions of how human language can convey to us ideas of “heavens too big to see,” in C. S. Lewis’ phrase.
“The site is not the source.” Theology today — to say nothing of daily church life — lies buried under mountains of thorny problems. If we could manage to take the Bible seriously, not in any way eroding its authority and relevance to the matters at hand, how many of these thorny problems might simply melt before us like morning dew?
Tragically, many will never find out. If you’d like to be one of them, then by all means avoid these two books.