Several months ago, a church member sent me a photograph of a book and asked if I recommended its author. The book was titled Conversations with God (Book 3): An Uncommon Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch.
Walsch claims that the Conversations with God books are inspired by God. One day, as he wrote an angry letter to God, demanding to know why life was not working for him as he thought it should, he claims to have heard a voice behind him, saying, “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?” When he discovered that there was no one behind him, he felt God’s answers to his questions filling his mind and so started to write them down. He claims that God simply dictated to him and he wrote precisely what God told him to.
Walsche’s professed experience reveals, among other things, a misunderstanding of the doctrine of inspiration. The biblical picture of inspiration is very different from his experience. The biblical writers were not emptied of their own thoughts as they became passive channels through whom God dictated his truth. To the contrary, the books of the Bible reflect each author’s own style, vocabulary, and method of thinking, though God oversaw all of it to ensure that precisely what he wanted was written down. Luke, for example, carefully examined and compared earlier Gospel accounts and interviewed eyewitnesses as he painstakingly crafted the “orderly account” we know as the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1–4). God used all that research and careful attention to historical detail to deliver exactly what he wanted written.
Of course, when it comes to Scripture, Walsche’s misunderstanding is not the only extreme on which people—even professing Christians—err. The opposite end of the spectrum is equally dangerous. There are people—among them, professing Christians—who so emphasise the human authorship of Scripture that they effectively nullify divineauthorship. This is seen on display when people—professing Christians among them—reject the timeless authority of Scripture. When people argue, for example, that Paul’s instruction forbidding female elders, or the Bible’s consistent opposition to same sex relations, were nothing more products of the time in which the authors wrote, they effectively undermine the divine authorship of the Scriptures.
The biblical approach to Scripture takes both these truths into account: that Scripture was written by human authors but that God, at the same time, guided the authors to write exactly what he wanted them to write. John Stott used to call Christians to devotion to BBC: biblically balanced Christianity. He warned against emphasising one biblical truth to the detriment of another. We must be devoted to BBC when it comes to our understanding of Scripture. Peter highlights something of this in 2 Peter 1:16–21.
Peter’s readers seem to have missed biblically balanced Christianity by undermining the divine authorship of Scripture. He reminded them that he had been an eyewitness of Christ’s majesty (specifically, his majesty in the transfiguration) but told them that there was something even “more fully confirmed” than that vivid experience. “The prophetic word” (i.e. the Scripture) was an authority on equal footing to the very words and actions of Jesus. The Bible—all the Bible—is God’s authoritative word to his people. As they wrote Scripture, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” and to reject Scripture is to therefore reject the one who carried along the authors as they wrote. Rejecting the divine authorship of the Bible is as wrongheaded as imagining that the authors were mindless robots who penned God’s direct dictation to them. Here are two brief implications of a proper understanding of biblical inspiration.
First, if the biblical authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they wrote, Scripture is our supreme authority for faith and practice. To disobey the Bible is to disobey God. Christians must be committed to obeying where the Bible speaks. To be sure, the Bible does not speak to every specific issue. For example, the Bible will not directly answer whether masks are effective or vaccines safe. Those are questions for medicine and science to answer. But where the Bible does speak, it speaks authoritatively, and we must obey.
Second, if the biblical authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit, every text is meaningful. Some Christians are guilty of what is known as “red letter Christianity.” They think that only the words of Jesus matter, or that the words of Jesus are somehow more authoritative than the words of Paul or Ezra or James or Hosea. Peter tells us that every biblical author was carried along by the Spirit as he wrote. Therefore, every part of Scripture, properly interpreted, carries equal authority.
As you meditate this morning on 2 Peter 1:16–21, do so with the realisation that the words you are reading are the very words of God. Ask God to help you submit as you should to the teaching of Scripture as you recognise his authority in your life.
(By the way, I don’t recommend Donald Neale Walsch!)