The Bible has had a lasting impact on Western society. Apart from Bertrand Russell, I cannot think of anyone who has ever denied it. And Russell’s denial (specifically, that nothing good ever came from Christianity) was unworthy of a man of his intelligence and education.


The Bible has had a lasting impact on Western society. Apart from Bertrand Russell, I cannot think of anyone who has ever denied it. And Russell’s denial (specifically, that nothing good ever came from Christianity) was unworthy of a man of his intelligence and education.



The Bible is critically important to our literature. If you removed every reference and allusion to the Bible from English literature, along with every idea dependent upon it, the works of our greatest authors would look like Swiss cheese. Of course you would lose Chaucer, Shakespeare and Donne. But you would also lose Hemingway, Steinbeck and Toni Morrison.



Many of our stock phrases were brought into English by the Bible. When the news commentator says “the writing is on the wall,” he’s borrowing from the prophet Daniel. “Sour grapes” comes from Ezekiel. Job gave us “by the skin of your teeth.” The Bible gave us phrases like, “a fly in the ointment,” “a drop in the bucket,” “a broken heart” and many others. 



The Bible informed the thoughts of America’s founders. Madison wrote, “If men were angels ... neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” But the fathers, operating from a biblical view of man’s sinful propensities, believed that internal controls were necessary, and set them in place in the form of the separation of powers.



Christians from all communions hold the Bible in high esteem. The Protestant reformation was carried on the watchword “Sola Scriptura” (“Scripture Alone”), and Martin Luther said that “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”



Catholics, too, honor the Bible. American theologian Scott Hahn asks, “What does the Bible have to do with the Mass?” His answer: “Everything. In fact, one could argue that without the Bible there would be no Mass …”



Among Evangelicals (where I fit best) the Bible is regarded both as authoritative for faith and indispensable for daily life. The Bible, as most Evangelicals will admit, may not have all the answers, but it introduces us to the Answerer, which is far more important. 



But one mustn’t think of the Bible as a magic bullet. Reading a verse or two to a dying man will not prevent his death and (depending on the man) may not even comfort his soul. Christians sometimes seem to think that we need only expose people to the Bible, and everything will come right.



This of course is not faith; it is superstition. And it has been proved false time and again. Bart Erhman, one of the foremost textual scholars in the world, is evidence of the fact. Erhman grew up in a fundamentalist church and went to a fundamentalist college. He took his Masters at Wheaton College, the bastion of Evangelicalism, and then went on to Princeton for his Ph.D.



As a student, Erhman’s stated goal was to prove the inerrancy of Scripture. As a teacher, he repeatedly casts doubt on the Bible’s trustworthiness with his books and lectures. Clearly, mere exposure to Bible teaching is not enough. Bible teaching is good and necessary, but Bible living is better and has a more profound impact.



Most of us have known people who use the Bible like a battering ram. They hit you with one verse after another to prove not the Bible’s point, but their own. The martial imagery here is not out of line, because these people are on the attack. What they do is neither Bible teaching nor Bible living, but Bible Tae Kwon Do — Bible-as-a-martial-art. 



But the Bible doesn’t work that way. It is not a battering ram. It is not even the key that unlocks a person’s heart. The heart has no keyhole; it can only be opened from the inside.



When it does open, the Bible can offer real encouragement, comfort and wisdom. “The entrance of your words gives light,” says the Bible writer. He knew — he had opened his heart. 



Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at salooper@frontier.com.