One of the sad ironies of modern evangelicalism is that we simultaneously know more and less about the Bible than ever before. Alarmist declarations about the death of the church in society must be tempered with levelheaded assessments of what has been accomplished for good in the name of Christ. As hard as it might be for some of us to admit, there is much to commend in American evangelicalism.
While threats to religious liberty and biblical definitions of gender and marriage represent unprecedented cultural challenges, and redefinitions of the boundaries of orthodoxy continue with unbridled scholarly bravado, we must not lose sight of the strides that have been made in the past forty years, especially in defending inerrancy. Evangelicals are well positioned and resourced to counter many of the pressures that may arise from both inside and outside the church.
The biggest threat evangelicalism faces is perhaps more pedestrian than programmatic. Developments in theological education at major colleges and seminaries, the proliferation of solid Christian literature, advances in biblical scholarship, the rise of evangelical and Reformed parachurch organizations, concentrated efforts in church planting and world missions, and the capitalizing of social media to disseminate the gospel represent large-scale reforms that are predicated on the belief that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word. Yet despite these gains, biblical literacy has plummeted not only in society but also in the church. We have accumulated more resources about the Bible and at the same time acquired little understanding of its content and meaning.
Our problem as evangelicals is not that we have failed to defend the Bible; our problem is that we have neglected to heed it. As Psalm 78 makes clear, our capacity to tell future generations of the “glorious deeds of the Lord” depends largely on how well we have attended to God’s Word in the present. When God bids us to listen to His instruction, He means more than for us simply to hear and regurgitate it. He intends for us to incline our ears, focus our minds, bend our hearts, and orient our lives to His Word (see Ps. 78:1–4).
Spiritual decline within the church rarely begins with overt heresy or full-orbed persecution. It often starts when God’s people are bored with the claims of truth—that is, when we know the truth but are no longer gripped by it (read Judg. 1–2). This is why the local church is so important for countering biblical illiteracy as well as upholding a commitment to biblical inerrancy. We gather together Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day in order to be awakened from our spiritual lethargy by the ministry of the Word. In all our strivings, we must continue to be a people of the Book: we must love it, study it, meditate on it, teach it, defend it, and live by it.