June 23

Last week I mentioned an article by an English professor at a secular university in Texas. She assigned her first-year students a section out of their Rhetoric textbook: the Sermon on the Mount in the KJV. Of course the responses she received were interesting and varied. And some were a bit disconcerting, though maybe not unexpected.

One student said that the passage should not be taken literally, saying instead that the Scriptures should be used “as a guide—not law,” and that much of the teachings “are irrelevant to current life-styles.” Another remarked that the doctrines taught are from “an era in the past which cannot be brought into the future in the same context. This essay now cannot be taken the same way it was written. It can be used as a guideline for good manners.”

Is the Bible irrelevant today? Is it to be used simply as “a guideline for good manners,” and not as the authoritative Word of God by which we are to live our lives?

Here is an excerpt of some of the professor’s conclusions, which I believe are spot-on.

  • The Bible remains offensive to honest, ignorant ears, just as it was in the first century. For me, that somehow validates its significance. Whereas the scriptures almost lost their characteristically astringent flavor during the past century, the current widespread biblical illiteracy should catapult us into a situation more nearly approximating that of their original, first-century audience. The Bible will no longer be choked by cloying cultural associations.
  • Certainly this prospect presents a number of frightening possibilities also. The underpinnings of society as we know it, already sagging dangerously, may collapse completely. As Western civilization expends what little biblical capital it has left, we may find ourselves living impoverished, not in just the post-modern age but in the New Barbarism, a sort of fluorescent Dark Age, like the inside of a mall.
  • On the other hand, those who dream of something brighter than fluorine and neon—or pastel posters—to illuminate their lives, may, by these living words, be lured outdoors into the true light.

You might be thinking, “Yes, that’s the way things are today! We’ve really seen a digression in the last few years.”  One of the scariest things about these comments—the assignment is from 1987!! If anything, I would say the situation—Biblical illiteracy and disrespect, the rejection of Biblical values, etc.—is worse now than when this article was written.

And yet, in the same way, those who have not rejected the Bible have an even greater opportunity today to illuminate our lives and the lives of others by the true light of these living words. But it will take more than just whining about the way things are. It will require us to be authentic in our faith and lives. It will require us to actually read and study God’s Word rather than just claiming we think it’s important. It will require us to actively engage those around us so that they too can be transformed and brought into the true light.

Bill Allen

Dr. Bill Allen preached at South Fork from 2005 to 2015. He received a Bachelors degree in Bible from Oklahoma Christian in 1978, a Masters in Bible from Abilene Christian (ACU) in 1988, and a Doctor of Ministry from ACU in 1992. He now preaches at the West Erwin Church of Christ in Tyler, Texas.

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