December 18, 2017

Comments on – The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Don Johnson

In “The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture,” Frank M. Goodchild begins with a line that is a touchstone for fundamentalism: “I accept the Bible unmutilated.” On the whole, the message is a rallying cry for the Bible, the source of all we know for certain about God and the world he created. In these comments I’d like to highlight some striking points made by pastor Goodchild in his message.

We value careful scholarship and study of the Bible, but this message reminds us not to forget the Spirit of the book:

Grammar and lexicon and historical acumen are no doubt valuable in their places, but men may know the Bible well without them. And, on the other hand, men may feel that they know the source of every paragraph in the Book, and the historical setting of every incident recorded in it, and the biography of every word that is used, and yet altogether miss the inner meaning of the Book. It is as true today as ever it was, that some things are “revealed to us through the Spirit.” And I cannot escape the conviction that we get more from the Book if we approach it in sympathy and gratitude, than if we come with challenge and criticism. Scholars who are disposed to sneer at the average man’s attitude toward the Bible, should remember that it was to very plain men that Jesus Christ said, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to them it is not given.”

We live in an age which puts incredible pressure on Bible-believers. This is not a new thing in the history of the world. The men who wrote the Bible faced pressure and antagonism on a scale that often surpassed anything believers have faced in recent times. The antagonistic environment in which the Scriptures were written inform our doubts and fears.

And the unity of the Bible is all the more remarkable when you remember that its teachings were often at variance with the notions that prevailed among the people with whom some of the authors lived. Men are usually profoundly affected by the ideas of their time. … And no doubt the Biblical writers betrayed many of their life relations by the ideas they express and the way they express them. Yet in the great thing for which God was using them, to reveal to men his own character; his abhorrence of sin; his grief over their fall, and the method by which they must be redeemed — in that one great thing the Bible writers are held absolutely true, and they always found themselves in instant revolt against the things that would in any way corrupt their thought.

Consider the revolutionary character of the Bible, as it overthrows both the gods of the ancient world and the various idols of modern times:

Moses shows God creating the sun and moon and stars. Now you know that the sun and moon and stars were the gods of the nations round about the Jews. But, in Moses’ view, they were simply the creatures of God’s hand. The more you read that story and reflect upon it, the more marvelous it will seem to you. All through that first chapter of Genesis, Moses is demolishing the gods of the heathen. With almost every stroke of his pen a god goes. And, if you are familiar with the isms of today, and the prevailing false philosophies, you will find that that chapter demolishes them with equal effectiveness. And by the time any reader gets to the end of that chapter, instead of worshiping any creature, he finds himself bowing before the Creator of heaven and earth and all that in them is.

Returning to the subject of scholarship, most of our readers will be well aware that the Bible has been under relentless attack in the last century and a half. No matter how often liberal notions concerning the Scriptures are refuted, some antagonistic scholar will come up with another scheme to discredit its pages. It is not surprising that such attacks have led some to hunker down behind anti-scholastic barricades and view with suspicion those who give any attention to scholarly arguments. Early in the message, Goodchild addresses these concerns:

I am free to confess that during all these years I have felt no fear about the Book. I have enjoyed an unshakable conviction that it is God’s Book; that he is able to take care of it; and that he will take care of it. The people who have sat under my ministry know that I am not afraid of criticism of the Bible as such. The spirit of some critics, however, I have unsparingly condemned, and their dicta I have unhesitatingly repudiated. But criticism, so far as it means a careful, intelligent, honest, and scholarly study of the Scriptures, I have always welcomed. The Bible itself invites and common-sense approves it. The higher the claims a book makes for itself, and the more positive its demands for our obedience, the more searching our scrutiny of it should be. I have no use for a superstitious credulity that is determined to believe the Book, no matter what its contents. And I have no use, on the other hand, for the critic, who is determined not to believe the Book, no matter what its contents. The blind believer and the blind disbeliever are equally fools — both of them having cast reason to the winds. And I do not know but the man who professes to believe in the Bible, but denounces those who undertake to examine its contents and manifests fear for the results of an examination, does the Bible more harm than the worst critic of the Word can do. It is another case of our needing to have the Lord take care of our friends, while we ourselves are quite able to take care of our enemies. He does not believe in the Bible who hugs it to his bosom and runs off with it into the darkness of superstition and traditionalism, fearing to bring it to the light, lest its statements be disproved. But he believes in the Bible who confidently seeks to have all light possible shed upon it; who says, “The more light, the better,” and who feels that the more we study the Bible, the more we shall see what an infinite treasure we have in this Book of God.

Although some fundamentalists have been antagonistic to scholarship, this ought not be our stance. We should be willing to understand the arguments of critics while determining to trust the Bible to stand up to the criticism. Time and again the Bible has stood the test, it will not fail us in the days to come.

Finally, a few observations concerning this speaker. Frank Goodchild, from his message, seems a sincere, conservative, Bible-believing pastor. He would become the second president of the Fundamental Fellowship, following J. C. Massee, who delivered the Opening Address of Baptist Fundamentals. Both Massee and Goodchild are considered to be moderates during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. Massee in particular abandoned the Fundamental Fellowship because of alleged harshness of some. Even in this particular message, you can catch a few phrases that sound a little softer than a strong fundamentalist might be expected to utter. In those days, men were sorting out what they would do about the forces of modernism in the Baptist ranks. Those who joined the Pre-Convention Conference (the source of Baptist Fundamentals) were concerned, but they never did achieve a unity of purpose. This would lead, ultimately, to the defeat of fundamentalism in the Northern Baptist Convention and the rise of separatist Baptist fundamentalism. Hard lessons would have to be learned and hard decisions made.

There are many strengths which we can appreciate in the message, “The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture.” We ought not to forget that those strengths have to be coupled with courage in the face of the relentless attacks on the Scriptures that occur in every age.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Baptist Fundamentals series:


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Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelto Our Baptist Heritage (2)

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Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

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