Navigating The Mountain of Biblical Authority

My daughter’s boyfriend, Matt, works in the High-Tech Performance Apparel industry. (I always thought the height of high-tech apparel was the Converse high-top.) He’s an avid sportsman and a NOLS leader trained in Alaskan sea kayaking, mountaineering, and glacier-navigation.


Matt recently described two kinds of people who buy performance gear and apparel. Some buy because they use it. These are the active outdoor sports enthusiasts who know that high-tech boots can make or break an Alaskan hike and that the right carabiner might save their life.

And then there are the tech-geeks who academically argue the advantages and demerits of chromoly vs. stainless steel alloys in their boot crampons.

You see them in Starbucks disputing metal fatigue, manufacturing processes, and moisture-wicking properties. The problem is: you see them sitting in Starbucks, not climbing their next mountain.

Alas! When it comes to biblical authority, too many Christians are like tech-geeks.

The Undermining of Biblical Authority

The reliability of Scripture came under attack during and after the Enlightenment; especially (and oddly) by Christian leaders themselves. In a Christmas Eve sermon in 1806, Friedrich Schleiermacher (a seminary professor) told his congregation that the actual event of Christmas (a baby born to a virgin) isn’t important, just the mood of joy when we imagine it.

A hundred years later, Rudolph Bultmann (another seminary professor) wrote, “It is impossible to use electric lights and the wireless … and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.”

When they proclaim that the “facts” of Christmas don’t matter and that the “spiritual realm” doesn’t exist, they directly attack the reliability of Scripture. Because the Bible insists on the facts of Christmas and the reality of a spiritual world.

To address these flaky professors, real answers were needed.

(What’s with those seminary profs anyway? If you no longer believe the Bible, retire, take a sabbatical, or take up basket weaving! Don’t expect us, like lemmings, to follow you.)

To counter the attack on God’s Word, theologians and pastors for the last two hundred years have been arguing for the trustworthiness of the Bible. And that’s right. The Bible is trustworthy and that we should argue for its authority.

But I wonder if we’re just debating in Starbucks.

Use It or Lose It

A friend of mine from university trusted the authority of the Bible. His life verse was, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The problem was, he rarely read it.

Sure, he believed it is literally God’s Word, but he didn’t find it life-giving. He scolded me for carrying a small New Testament in my back pocket; it was too disrespectful. He  wouldn’t even underline his Bible; his Bible he kept on the shelf.

He was sitting in Starbucks and not climbing the mountain.

Why Do We Read Scripture?

We absolutely need to examine the inspiration of Scripture. We plan to entrust our lives to it; we don’t want to use a Kmart carabiner on a climb up Mt. Everest. But we must examine more.

Why do we read the Bible? For more than finding proof-texts that the Bible is God’s Word. Once we trust it, we need to use it. Otherwise, who cares? Accepting its authority is simply getting the right gear for your life.

Let’s not leave that gear on the shelf.

We read Scripture in order to personally meet Jesus. The Bible promises that in it we actually come to hear God. And that—how to hear God in Scripture—should be the focus of our teaching. We spend so much time arguing for Scripture that we we’ve forgotten to teach how to use it.

(By the way, could you get me another double, nonfat, hazelnut latte in a to-go cup please?)

Let’s Drink Our Coffee on the Mountain

I wrote the Scripture Meditation Plan with the single goal of helping people personally hear God through biblical meditation. (All you have to do is subscribe and you’ll have access to the plan. Contact me if you need help.)

Let us not merely respect God’s Words, let’s read them; and not merely read them but “delight in them and meditate on them day and night” (Ps. 1:2). And in that meditation, we leave the coffee shop behind and finally begin to see God as we climb Mt. Everest.

Or should I say Mt. Sinai.


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What do YOU think?

14 thoughts on “Navigating The Mountain of Biblical Authority

  1. Wonderful insight! Your article has me thinking about some of the reasons the tech geeks stay in the coffee shop, and I think these can relate to the obstacles that prevent us from walking out our faith as well.

    1 – Our lives are too busy with other priorities. Climbing the mountain sounds like a wonderful experience, but it isn’t important enough to move from the to-do list onto the schedule; and climbing a real mountain isn’t something we can squeeze in by multitasking. So instead, we content ourselves with spending a few minutes discussing the gear while we enjoy a cappuccino and check email on our smartphone.

    2 – In some ways like to the first, we look at the cost of actually purchasing the equipment, taking the time for the trip, and weighing the potential risk to our bodies. We are unwilling – or unable – to pay the price.

    3 – In truth, we don’t have any true desire to climb a mountain. We sit in the coffee shop discussing gear because it makes us look smart and edgy to our companions, but even if the mountain moved into our backyard we wouldn’t climb it.

    4 – We are afraid. We’ve heard about the terrible accidents that could happen. We do all the research into the gear as an attempt to bolster our courage, but we don’t really believe those cables and carabiners will keep us safe when the wind gusts across the rock face.

    • Janice,

      I LOVE YOUR LIST! I’m going to add one more, but first summarize yours:

      1 – Busyness

      2- Cost

      3 – Lack of desire (a content merely to look the part)

      4 – Fear

      And I add:

      5 – Self-deception; we think if we have the right “doctrine” of the Word, it’s good enough. But, that’s sort of like being satisfied with the menu when we’re supposed to actually eat a meal. (To mix the metaphor even more.)


  2. Ouch. This speaks so exactly to my location right now, I can barely breathe. Well done you. I might read this one to our Lenten gathering, rather than the first one.

  3. This reminded me of a story from the Desert Fathers:

    Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and did not eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote, omitting some phrases and with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and wishing to punctuate it, noticed that words were missing.
    So he said to the old man, ‘Abba, there are some phrases missing.’
    The old man said to him, ‘Go, and practise first that which is written, then come back and I will write the rest.’

  4. Dear Sam,
    I have read your blog for several years now. I have your book on my ereader. I appreciate your insights and perspective, and I love what I read/hear come from your heart. Thank you for this. Pastor MItch Coston

  5. This is a marvelous illustration. It relfects so concretely a recent change in attitude and perspective that God has been teaching me. The real mountain climbers invest in quality material because their lives depend on it. In the same way, I need to read and meditate on His word because my life and the lives of my husband and children depend on it. Eating daily His banquet of truth is the only way to stay full on Him. Thank-you for putting it so well, as always.