Volume 18 - Issue 1

Personally Speaking

By John Wenham

I came to active faith at the age of 16. I had been brought up in a loving, liberal Christian home and was being educated at a boarding school. I believed in God and respected Jesus, but I had a passionate interest in science and it seemed to me quite unreasonable that anyone in the 20th century should believe that the creator of the universe had somehow become man and had lived in Palestine for 30 years. At school we were studying Daniel and the Maccabees as a subsidiary subject for the Higher Certificate. Our teacher (a brilliant man) used S.R. Driver’s Cambridge commentary on Daniel and we used R.H. Charles’ Century Bible. I had lapped it all up—the miracles were obviously legendary and the predictions were written after the events.

However, my sister had recently been converted and she and her friends prayed me to a Scripture Union holiday party in Switzerland, where I too asked Jesus to come into my heart. Having made a confession of faith before some boys from my school the prospect of returning there was somewhat daunting. But the Bible had come alive to me and I found myself praying with great fervour. I soon found it necessary to get my ideas sorted out. A little book on Daniel (rather like Joyce Baldwin’s Tyndale OT Commentary) convinced me that it was good history and genuine (prediction. The next year we studied Genesis and I was initially persuaded of the JEDP analysis, till I read James Orr, The Problem of the OT, which convinced me of its falsehood. I also read the biographies of Hudson Taylor and C.T. Studd with great delight, and I observed the fact (which appealed to my scientific outlook) that these men believed the Bible and found themselves empowered to evangelize the world. This straightforward belief in the Bible as the Word of God was given a firm theological foundation y far me by reading B.B. Warfield’s Revelation and Inspiration.

In those days, the standard advice given to evangelicals at university was: ‘Whatever you do, don’t read theology.’ Though phased on much painful experience, I could see that this policy had no future. It was essential that bad theology should be countered by good theology, so in my third year I took the plunge and read for the Cambridge theology tripos Part I. At that time I had been made secretary of what became the Religious and Theological Students Fellowship, and I tried in 1937 to organize our first conference. We got quite a good student attendance, but evangelical scholarship was at such a low ebb that we could not find a single senior scholar to come and defend the Bible for us. Three of us read student papers.

My paper was on ‘Our Lord’s View of the OT’, which argued that Jesus regarded its history as true, its doctrine as authoritative and its wording as inspired. I was beginning to believe that this was the proper starting point for a sound Christian view of Scripture. This paper later became a Tyndale OT Lecture. I showed this lecture to Henry Chadwick, not knowing that he was one day to become Regius Professor in both Oxford and Cambridge. He entirely approved my conclusions, but added: ‘It leaves some big questions unanswered.’ I had shown that Jesus was a good first-century Jew. But as a real man, must he not have shared the ignorance and errors of his day? This was the first of a score of major questions which have to be answered by anyone who decides to pursue this line.

I decided to try to write a major book tackling these questions. I worked in my spare time for nearly 30 years and then sent a fat manuscript to IVP entitled ‘The Christian View of the Bible’. Their wise response was: ‘This is too ambitious for an unknown author; better break it up into instalments.’ I produced Christ and the Bible quite quickly. This tackled Jesus’ authority as a teacher (perhaps the most important thing I have written), his authorization of the NT, the extent of the canon and the problem of textual corruption. The Goodness of God (later renamed The Enigma of Evil), dealing with the moral difficulties of the Bible, followed shortly after. Easter Enigma dealt with the biggest question of biblical harmony. Finally, as a result of working in the synoptic problem seminar of the Society for NT Studies, I produced Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke, which is a call for a new paradigm in synoptic studies. Now I am working on a book arguing the apostolic authorship of John’s gospel and showing how it relates to the synoptics.

My earlier books are now out of print, but I am thankful that they are coming back into print with their old titles, but as volumes of a series. Thus Christ and the Bible will appear in 1992 and The Enigma of Evil in 1993 as Volumes 1 and 2 of The Christian View of the Bible. All four or five volumes should be in print together, making a stronger argument than when taken separately. Alas, there is no prospect of a book refuting JEDP, in spite of all my reading in this area. This is sad, for I believe that Wellhausen has done more than any other scholar to undermine trust in the Bible. He has taught much of the church to distrust Christ. I hope someone else will write this book. At the present time, evangelicals seem very unsure of how to handle these biblical questions. It seems to me that the answers given in these books are needed now quite as much as when they first appeared.

The question is asked: How does one keep one’s spiritual edge when immersed in much study? I would suggest three things: (1) Get your basics clear—Christ is our teacher, believe his Scriptures, don’t let too many unsolved problems accumulate. (2) Keep prayer as a priority. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls. ‘Lord, take not your Holy Spirit from us.’ (3) Keep the vision of world evangelization always in mind and witness to your neighbours—remember they need the Saviour, and we have a wonderful Word to pass on.

John Wenham