What Conception of the Scriptures and of Scripture Authority Should Underlie the Work of the Modern Missionary?

William K. McKibben
1907 The American Journal of Theology  
In this our day, for the first time in a millennium and a half, for the first time indeed since their first encounter, Christianity and the great ethnic religions stand eonfronting each other, face to face. A procession of new nations is coming on the stage, their religious systems continuing their ministrations unabashed in the presence of Christianity. Their commerce, politics, and literature, their merchants and travelers, their schools and science, their achievements in war and peace, all
more » ... ar and peace, all certify that the messengers of Christianity to these eastern nations are to encounter systems possessing the vital elements of religion in no small measure. If these ethnic systems are stronger and purer than any Christianity ever met before, so also is Christianity better able to match herself with them than ever before. The distance that separates the men of today from the men of yesterday, which John Fiske tells us is an immeasureably wider gulf than ever before divided one generation of men from their predecessors, measures advance, not retrogression. The age, to be sure, is skeptical regarding the antique. It calls for the facts, and heeds no dictation. It has forgotten its theology, it doubts the divinity of church machinery. But it is inspired with a worthier conception of Jesus, with a clearer vision of the coming social order which, on the manward side, is the equivalent of the Kingdom of Heaven, and with a deeper consciousness of God, than any generation since the men who personally knew Jesus. It defines its missionary work as nothing less than bringing the world into living, personal relations with God, continuing, so far as in us lies, the work of Jesus, who, in the profound words of Adolf Harnack, sought to bring every man face to face with God-God and the soul, the soul and its God. 580 This content downloaded from 041.089. In rising to its new responsibilities, Christianity, when fairly confronted with the question, recognizes the propriety of leaving behind any elements that are local, temporary, or accretionary, that it may go unencumbered on its errand. If God were to give us a new Paul we hold it certain that he would refuse to carry abroad accretions dear to the western Christian heart, just as he would not carry to Europe the rites, sabbaths, and festivals dear to the Jewish Christian heart. It need not be said that the missionary's conception of Scripture should be the best, the truest, within his power to reach; such as best comports with historical facts and with the spirit of Christianity, so far as modern research can establish them. Time was, and still is, when the Scriptures were conceived of as a body of pure divine truth directly and miraculously communicated. Portions of them were traced by the finger of God on stone tablets. Other portions were dictated from heaven as to an amanuensis, or communicated as by a spiritualistic trance. If, as some prefer to say, the thought and language were suggested rather than dictated, the same result is reached: we hold in our hands, especially in the original manuscripts, the veritable dictations of the voice of God, inerrant, infallible, and of absolute authority, the only and complete rule of life and conduct. Large parts of this body of oracles relate to cosmogony, astronomy, angelology, and demonology; beasts, birds, and reptiles discourse in human language; sea-monsters, sun, moon, and stars, storms, and oceans, act as allies of the representatives of God; governmental, priestly, and sacrificial systems are elaborated to the last degree; and all is by the direct voice and authority of God. This conception of an inspired, inerrant, and authoritative scripture, a legacy from the rabbis, remained unchallenged down to the Reformation. For a time the reformers asserted a certain unorthodox liberty with the Bible, notably Martin Luther, who said portions of the New Testament were no better than straw; but the exigencies of controversy soon stiffened up the relaxing orthodoxy. The Catholics claimed the support of an infallible authority, the pope.
doi:10.1086/478717 fatcat:n3ywu7ogknahdacex37iz55twu