The Bible: Treasure Or Trash?

The Bible: Treasure Or Trash?


Western civilization is made up of many building blocks; to understand it, we have to examine those foundations. One important block that can’t be ignored
is Judeo-Christian thinking based on the Bible. Yet today that foundation stone is little understood. Craig Evans: A generation ago you could assume
that the general public had basic understanding, you might say, of the biblical narrative, of the basic
story of the Bible. You cannot assume that now. How well do we really know the Bible? Have skepticism and modern scientific thinking
stripped it of value? With an eye on the human condition, this is Insight. There are many aspects that are foundational
to the development of Western civilization. It emerged over many generations and many places. In order to understand it, we have to think
about those foundations that were laid down. Most historians would agree that the earliest influences in Western thinking came to us from the Greeks. Consider the influence of Greek culture on
how we think and what we do. Whether it’s politics or architecture, mathematics
or medicine—the way the ancient Greeks pursued knowledge, and the results, have come down
to us today. In turn, when the Romans conquered the Greeks,
they added their own stamp. Their ideas have also greatly influenced us:
the notion of empire; the development of several European languages from Latin; certain building
and engineering practices; forms of administration, law and agriculture—all come to us from ancient Rome. Overlaying these Greco-Roman foundations is another that has come under a lot of abuse in recent times. The influence of the Bible on Western culture
is well known but increasingly avoided, even trashed. In the case of the English-speaking world, the Bible framed a couple of very important developments: an enlightened government and,
eventually, human rights. A key player was Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king. Alfred became one of the most influential
English rulers, earning the title “Great.” Like Charlemagne, whose example he probably
followed, Alfred was a scholar king who knew the value of learning. Concerned about his people’s ignorance of
God, he ordered the translation of religious works from Latin and encouraged the nobility
to read and write English. Alfred was equally dedicated to justice for
the weak and dependent. One of his most far-reaching decisions was
to codify laws based on those given to Moses in the book of Exodus. This became the basis of English Common Law
and Magna Carta, setting down principles that were in turn transferred to the New World, becoming fundamental to the Constitution of the United States. What Alfred was able to achieve in his 28-year
reign was the reintroduction of values-based learning, and for a while he partly broke
the grip of the Dark Ages. Today we may be on the verge of a similar
time of ignorance of things biblical, another kind of dark age. Craig Evans is a respected author and
university professor. I asked him about the state of biblical knowledge
among the general public. His reply was troubling, in that he suggested
that even believers, who claim to live by its principles, are becoming more and more
ignorant of what it actually says. Evans: “A generation ago you could assume
that the general public had basic understanding, you might say, of the biblical narrative,
the basic story of the Bible. You cannot assume that now. Not only in the general public but in most
congregations—church congregations— the biblical illiteracy is simply amazing. And so people who regard themselves as Christians,
they hardly know what is in Scripture. And that is the big change, in my view, from
the last generation to where we are today.” But what has happened is not just an increase
in biblical illiteracy; the problem goes deeper. Over the past 150 years, basic biblical truths
and values have come under attack on all fronts. The influential thinkers of the 19th century—men
such as Darwin, Marx and Freud— put forward such convincing falsehoods that most today
cannot believe that humanity had a Creator. Instead we’re told that blind and random
chance fathered us to live out desperate lives of competition for survival at the mercy of
our unconscious minds. And there are other reasons for the decline
in biblical understanding. Contributing to the problem is the growth
of skepticism about God and any thought that there might be absolute values. Much of the biblical narrative has been trashed
for no good reason. I asked Craig Evans why we should listen to
the skeptic rather than the believer. Evans: “I don’t know. The skeptic doesn’t know what he’s talking
about. The sad thing is that a lot of believers don’t
know what they’re talking about either. And so it’s a toss-up between, you know,
two groups arguing about things they don’t know very well. But the skeptic, I find, is either arguing
from a personal perspective—it’s autobiographical, a problem relationship with a parent or something, a personal tragedy, a divorce or something that’s happened, but it’s not well rooted in either the evidence or the facts— or it’s not well argued. Unfortunately, for a lot of Christians, they
can’t see through that either, and the way they respond to that is hardly better. And that, and that concerns me, and that’s
why I believe that we’ve got to get past this postmodern, irrational, subjective thing
and get back to the idea of “You know what? It’s good to be informed.” We need to know what’s really going on,
what the actual evidence is, what really is there that we can sit down, study, look at
and understand what it is. That’s exactly what we encourage on this
website, vision.org. Here you’ll find many articles, books, videos,
and even a study course dedicated to overcoming biblical illiteracy. It’s not enough to say, “I don’t believe
in God because I know nothing about Him.” It’s not enough to say, “I’m skeptical
about God because I haven’t read or studied His book.” If you’d like to begin the process of discovering
what so many have trusted in over the centuries and the narrative that is a treasure trove
within Western civilization, search the term “religion and spirituality” at
this website vision.org. For Insight, I’m David Hulme.

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