“Let us lay hold upon Him and plead with Him to vindicate His own truth . . . that the church may be revived and masses of people may be saved.” –D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Revival: An Historical and Theological Survey, p.23)
The Bible works. The Bible is true. The Bible works precisely because it is true.
But what precisely does that mean? What does the Bible do?
I ask because the fact is there are many, even within the ranks of Evangelicalism today—even among ministry leaders within Evangelicalism today, that doubt this.
The widespread dependence upon other things, rather than the Bible to produce the desired effect of ministry labors. Things such as programs, celebrities, music, staging, choreography, lights, lasers and smoke (yes, I’m serious!), marketing, makeup, organizational structure, etc., etc., etc. To any combination of these add generous seasonings of hype, pizzazz and zest and you’ve manufactured a “move of God.” The crowds will follow.
And in all things change is essential. We have a culturally inbred disdain for anything that we even think might smell of “yesterday.” New sells. Old repels. It is enough to make one wonder about the shelf-life of the things of God. Things like prayer and the Bible.
We are—in a word—pragmatic. Pragmatism is not concerned with whether something is true. Pragmatism asks “Does it work?” It has no time for anything it deems to be theoretical. Philosophizing and dreaming are deemed a waste of time. Just tell me, “Does it get the job done?” Thus the famous line by the TV psychologist: “How’s that working for ya?”
As good 21st Century, North American Christians we take the same basic approach to the things of God. If it doesn’t “work,” we conclude, without a moment’s hesitation or even a nanosecond of reflection, that we need to just move on to the next ministry technique, trend, fad or hot topic. If people aren’t buying the Bible right now, try talking about their needs. If they aren’t interested in gathering for prayer, talk with them about what they are interested in. The hope—latent and under the surface, almost so much so as to be completely forgotten—is that eventually they’d come to like the Bible and be willing to pray.
The concern in all this is: who defines what it means to “work”? Does it mean, as we hear people say, “That just doesn’t work for me”? What do we mean when we say the Bible works? By whose definition? By what standard? On whose timetable?
I am afraid that in all this we forget that we live and labor on an eternal continuum. This is not just something we should do, a perspective we ought to have, but something that is in fact real. Eternity is real. And if it is, the finish line is not where we—bound by and living in time—naturally conclude it to be. So I ask, when is it ever time (in this world) to decide something, defined and demanded by the Bible as unchanging, “doesn’t work”? It may not appear to be effecting the change we long for and, indeed, which God promises—but is that the fault of the Bible or is it possible that the fault resides elsewhere?
If we abandon the Biblical and embrace a time-defined pragmatism in ministry, when are we ever going to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
Perhaps our contemporary spiritual bankruptcy is because we’ve drawn artificial, time-bound, self-centered timelines by which we decide if something “works.” Maybe things don’t “work” because we’re using them to the wrong ends or are evaluating them along an arbitrary timeline.
Could it be that our preoccupation with self is something to be repented of, rather than something to be cultivated and coddled in marketing our newest ministry strategy. Is it possible that our impatience with the Bible and prayer as “terribly inefficient” betrays the real reason the power of the Scripture doesn’t show up more often in our thoughts, words and actions. Maybe all this “doesn’t work for me,” precisely because we’ve got “me” in the center of everything when the center of center stage is reserved for Someone Else.
The Bible is true. It is for that very reason that it works. The Bible does what it says and performs what it promises. It may not do as I wish. It may not cater to my interpretations. It may not inquire about my deadlines. But it will do just what it says it will do. If that appears not to be true, step back and examine the grid by which you are examining the Bible. Today may be too soon to prove the Bible “works” (for not all is promised to us instantly), but I can assure you that tomorrow will prove the ultimate failure of whatever you may have substituted in its place.
“I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else, in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else. This call to preach is so put upon him, and such pressure comes to bear upon him that he says, ‘I can do nothing else, I must preach.'” –D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (p.105, Preaching and Preachers)