I was once playing video games for a few minutes when I was confronted with a worldview alien to my own. “Question everything,” a quiet voice said while the game loaded. The little voice went away, and the bombing of enemy citadels soon commenced, but that moment has stuck with me ever since. In it, I heard the spirit of the age—and the temptation of the ages.
Ever since the serpent’s first words to Adam and Eve, humanity has wrestled with whether God can be trusted. The snake questioned God, and planted in the minds of Adam and Eve doubts over whether Yahweh had truly spoken, and spoken truly. Satan targeted the truthfulness of God, initiating an unending series of challenges to this doctrine.
The truthfulness of Scripture is a perpetual issue for evangelicals. Today, however, the church faces a related challenge: the goodness of Scripture.
We are being asked at every turn to prove why Scripture’s perspective is morally sound. If the preeminent question of past generations was “Is the Bible true?,” today we’re being asked “Is the Bible good?” Sure, Scripture may have epistemic authority. But does it have moral authority?
Modern Challenges to the Goodness of Scripture
The battle over the Bible, as Harold Lindsell famously called it, is no new struggle. During the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, and the inerrancy debate, evangelicals went to work on their doctrine of Scripture. With documents like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) and the writings of scholars like John Woodbridge, Roger Nicole, Tom Nettles, L. Russ Bush, James Boice, and J. I. Packer, the church today possesses a bedrock of sound theology. B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and J. Gresham Machen have heirs whose names they never knew.
But while various challenges to this core idea will continue, the church must also direct major attention and energy to the matter of Scripture’s goodness. Challenges here are legion today, both in our own hearts and beyond. We commonly hear that the God-initiated bloodshed of the Old Testament is morally debased. Both professing evangelicals and non-evangelicals argue God was wrong—even “immoral”—in acting to wipe out the Canaanites who sought the destruction of his people. In similar terms, the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement leaves us with a God who’s supposedly vindictive and blood-obsessed. Marcion’s heresy yet lives.
The plan of God is seen as not loving and therefore not good. It’s wrong of God to elect some and damn others, so his love is reworked and universalized. Though this rebranded theology sounds good—who wants to be anti-love?—it does violence to the biblical God of Romans 9 and his perfect will.
Moreover, in a carnal age that equates one’s appetites with one’s identity, God’s design for human sexuality is roundly questioned. It’s unfair of God, we often hear, to make people different, with different roles in various spheres. This demeans people, goes the objection, so texts like 1 Timothy 2 are reworked and explained away. The plan of God for human sexuality also isn’t sound; it’s unkind of God to leave people who have no inborn attraction to the opposite sex without the prospect of marriage. To see homosexuality as sinful is fundamentally cruel (contra Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9–11).
The list of objections to the morality of Scripture—and beyond this of God—stretches further still. When this is the case, make no mistake: it’s not morality that is on trial, it’s God. He is being judged, and found wanting.
We Must Answer Well
Christians need not fret about these challenges. Scripture speaks to them, and addresses the subject of divine morality without hesitation or qualification. We could go so many places in Scripture to establish this; the oxygen-rich air of Psalm 19:7–9 is one of the clearest. We need to read, and freshly hear, the psalmist’s confession:
The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
The connection in this passage between God and biblical morality is unmistakable. Law, testimony (teaching), precepts, commandment, rules—all these are God’s, and all these are flawless. Teaching from God is perfect. It does no harm; it needs no interrogation; it bears no flaw. While the church no longer keeps much of the old covenant law, God’s moral will is unerring and totally trustworthy. You can stake your life on it, and know with absolute certainty you’re secure in the Lord.
We see in the New Testament that Jesus himself, the very Son of God, derived unshakeable confidence from the fact he spoke the “commandment” of God. So he said, soon after entering Jerusalem on his way to the cross:
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me. (John 12:49–50)
We’ve become accustomed to the image of a self-sufficient, essentially self-sent Jesus. But his actual testimony indicates the Father sent him, told him “what to say and what to speak,” and thus imbued the Son’s ministry with the Father’s authority. Because of the commission and communication of the authoritative Father, the Son speaks authoritatively. Because he speaks authoritatively, Christ can be trusted. Because he can be trusted, our quest for “eternal life” terminates with him.
This means that Jesus is true, good, and the one who saves. He has the authority of God, and in the fullness of this state he carries out the ministry given him by the Father, and then passes it on to his apostles, disciples, and the church (Matt. 28:16–20). His Word, written by his followers, does not come from the will of man, but from the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19–21). As such, it is unerringly true and unswervingly good—from roots to branches, Genesis to Revelation, the doctrine of creation to the doctrine of last things (2 Tim. 3:16).
As the authors of Scripture, the apostles make no mistakes. Paul is never wrong; God never misses the moral mark. The Bible is true. And because it is true it is virtuous. Scripture has made good, you could say, on its goodness.
Recovering Our Confidence
The church must recover its confidence in the moral authority of God. We must speak up like past Christians, and must not be timid about unpacking the elegant, life-giving worldview created in Christ. If God is God, he is perfect. He never overdoes things; he never underplays things. He gets the balance exactly right, and sets the mark in his Word just where it should be set.
We must handle objections with skill and fidelity. We should, in fact, question many things, especially the received wisdom of a secular age. But not the Scripture. From start to finish, the Bible is true. From start to finish, the Bible is good.