For the Word of God is living and active… Hebrews 4:12
E.L. Mencken was
an American journalist, social commentator, skeptic, and self-identified atheist
who died in 1956.
He once observed, “If the Bible is true, the fundamentalists are right.”
Given his worldview, that statement
appears both paradoxical and even confusing to 21st century ears.
Here’s some context: the religious “fundamentalist/ modernist controversy” ignited within Presbyterian churches in the US and raged throughout the western world in the 1920s and 30s.
Essentially, the label fundamentalist
was a pejorative term attached to those who took the Bible literally, believed
that God was involved in the affairs of men, recognized that Jesus is God, and
as the God-Man rose from the dead after His willing sacrifice on the Cross for
the sins of mankind.
The modernists – what today we’d label as liberals – denied much, or all, of those tenets of faith.
And the mocking by the modernists
caricatured the fundamentalists as unthinking, backwoods-ish and hopelessly out
of step with the times.
But in a classic case of theological
reductionism, the issue that caught the headlines in the press was that of
creation vs evolution: which best explained the beginning of the universe in
general and life in particular?
Can the biblical creation account of
Genesis be trusted? And if not, can anything in the Scripture be believed?
Then another question arose: should
the modernists, the progressives, the liberals continue to be classified as Christian?
J Gresham Machen bluntly stated in 1923 what was obvious to many: “despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology, modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.”
In our day, it appears that the
defining wedge issue for many Christians and the churches they attend may be
that of contemporary societal norms of sexuality, transgenderism, and all that
is implied by DIE (diversity, inclusion, equity).
Does accept mean promote?
Does tolerance mean to embrace?
Essential language is being
And in an age when biblical literacy among self-identified Christ-followers is abysmally low, many are not aware that their churches have ignored – or outright rejected – biblical truth.
But the Word of God proclaims itself
to be living and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.
So, in what way is the Bible living?
The Greek language of the New
Testament has 3 word families that can be translated as life in English.
refers to physical life and is the Greek word from which our English term
biology is derived. Jesus uses it in the Parable of the Sower: but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries…(Luke 8:14). The term is often
translated by English words like livelihood, that which is necessary to sustain
2) psuche is the psychological or soul-life, encompassing the mind, emotion and will. That’s why Jesus said For whoever
wants to save his life (psuche) shall lose it (Matthew 16:25). As
may be obvious, it is the root for the English words psyche or psychology
zoe as found in the New Testament, means life divinely given, abundant and eternal. Consequently in his Gospel prologue, John says of the Lord Jesus – the eternal Logos – In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4). Here the Greek word refers to the transcendent
vitality; the uncreated, eternal life given by God; the divine life uniquely
possessed by God.
Consequently, zoe is used when addressing
issues of abundant and eternal life in the teaching of Jesus: Because narrow
is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life (Matthew 7:14)
And in the theology of Paul: even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans
That brings me back to Mencken: “If the Bible is true, the fundamentalists are right.”
Confident in the truth of the living Word – that which is empowered by the very Spirit of God – we need to reaffirm our commitment to living with a diet of God’s Word in our lives, and faithfully proclaiming – and living out – the biblical Gospel of Christ.
British explorer William Perry took
a crew to the Arctic in the 1820s. After charting their location by the stars, the
expedition began the treacheroust, arduous, and exhausting journey northward.
After hours of incremental progress and
nearing exhaustion, Perry took their bearings.
To his absolute disbelief and
eventual horror, the co-ordinates indicated that they were further south than
when they had started! The ice flow on which they trekked was moving south more
rapidly than they were hiking north.
The point: with every step, the hikers believed - by their own sense of progress - they were nearing their objective. However, the truth was exactly the opposite: they were blind to their regression.
Takeaway: may the words – and the warning – from the pen of the author of Hebrews be our constant reminder and hope:
For the word of God is living and
active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to
dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12,13).