Thomas C. Miersma is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

We have been considering the development of modern philosophy in its relationship to the development of the modern view of the doctrine of Scripture. That view, as we saw in connection with Immanuel Kant, fundamentally denies the possibility of revelation; it sets human reason above Scripture and subjects Scripture to the mind of man. The result is a fundamental divorce between reason and faith. The only place which Kant could find for religion was a certain feeling or sense of obligation and duty, of moral necessity. This sense or feeling had no basis in objective factual reality, the realm of pure reason and scientific inquiry, but belonged to the practical experience of human life and man’s relationship with the world. Kant had found a place for morality, in the feeling of right and wrong, in the human conscience. As this basis for morality does not lie in an objective revealed standard of right and wrong, good and evil, but in man’s own sense of right and wrong. It is inherently relative. If man’s sense or feeling changes or differs from generation to generation, right and wrong also change. Morality becomes purely relative.

Kant’s approach, however, while it had a certain regard for virtue and good order in society, really had no place for religion or the worship of God. It belonged to the theologian Schleiermacher, a contemporary of Kant to find a place for religion. Schleiermacher did not depart from the basic philosophical principle of rationalism: that man’s reason is the standard of objective truth; and like those before him he denied, for example, the reality of the miracles, but he found a place for religion in man’s experience of dependence upon God. Religious experience and feeling become the substance of religion and of a faith which is wholly subjective. The Bible, particularly the gospels, becomes the fruit of the disciples’ experiences of Jesus set down and recorded. As these experiences were personally illuminating and powerful, they were the means to renew their minds and understanding and to inspire them to think in new and holy ways. Thus revelation becomes merely man’s experience of God.

The effect of this upon the doctrine of Scripture and inspiration is far-reaching. Schleiermacher’s approach substantially reduces inspiration to the elevation of man’s mind and spirit by his religious experiences. It is fundamentally no different than the inspiration which motivates and guides a poet, artist, or composer, though it is a religious experience. Scripture is no more God’s Word of truth but a word of man religiously elevated by his experience of God, an experience which we may also receive from it. The Bible contains God’s word, but one cannot say of it that it is God’s word. Moreover that word is relative. It depends upon our subjective experience of it. The doctrine of inspiration is changed. The principle is rejected that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21), so that what was spoken and written was God’s Word, spoken by His Spirit, and not the word of man, though given through holy men. Instead, the principle of inspiration becomes that men being moved personally by the Spirit also spoke of their experience and insight. Scripture becomes a record of man’s subjective religious experience, which though in itself the word of man, contains God’s word.

The result of this approach to Scripture is to separate faith and reason, Scripture and revelation. Scripture as a book, the Bible, is a human document, filled with human errors, expressing human experiences in imperfect language. The religious experience it communicates of a transcendent being, god, cannot be fully expressed in human language; and the authors therefore must resort to poetic flights of language and mythological narrative constructions to tell the story of their experience of god and his work. Moreover the authors, as men found in a certain place and time, are men shaped by their culture and limited world view, which also affects their writings. The Bible becomes a book which is to be treated psychologically and as a literary document.

Schleiermacher himself did not go as far as we have indicated in the above description. In fact he was attempting to battle with the philosophy of his day. But he did so upon rationalist grounds and erred in doing so, with the result that he became the father of modernism. At the root of this approach to Scripture is a fundamentally different conception of faith in its relationship to Scripture from that which we hold as the Reformed view.

We maintain with the Heidelberg Catechism, LD VII, Question and Answer 21, that faith is a certain knowledge and hearty confidence. By the knowledge of faith is meant first of all that faith is rooted in the objective revelation of God’s Word set forth in Scripture. Scripture is word for word the Word of God. The truth is set before us in it. The direct, plain teaching and instruction of Scripture is the only rule of faith and life (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article VII) with divine authority. The plain teaching and directive of Scripture in its unity is truth, propositional truth. The history set forth in it is sacred, revelatory history, but it is so as history. Jesus Christ as He is set forth in the types and shadows of the Old Testament and upon the pages of the gospels is revealed to us in exactly what is said concerning Him. This truth is the content of faith. And while the knowledge of faith is more than a mere academic apprehension of this truth, it is rooted in its objective character. The knowledge of faith, the certain, assured knowledge of faith, is a believing knowledge, which is not only acquainted with the contents of the Scriptures but which receives them by the work of the Holy Spirit with the sure and certain conviction that they are God’s Word, the truth, and therefore also the truth for me. Jesus set forth in the Scriptures is what the Scriptures say He is. He is my Savior. This bears the fruit of a hearty confidence in the love of God. Faith is therefore knowledge and confidence. It is not a mere feeling, but has an objective foundation. Its contents are known with the mind; it is a reasonable faith whose truth can be studied, systematically developed and set forth, both as far as doctrine is concerned and also as the rule of life. It is not relative. The objective foundation and the inward subjective appropriation, truth and experience, are in perfect harmony.

The modernist definition of faith arising out of Kant and Schleiermacher is quite different. Faith is not knowledge and confidence but revelatory experience and confident feeling. It is inherently non-rational. Knowledge, if it has any meaning in connection with faith is the knowledge of experiential illumination, on the order of an Oriental mysticism like that found in Hinduism. Faith is the subjective emotional response to this revelation. Objective truth as a standard outside of man, having authority over him, does not exist. Faith and reason are separated from one another and really have nothing to do with one another. Reason and knowledge, objective truth, belong to the realm of human science and are subject to the bar of human judgment. On this plane the Bible is a human book. “Faith,” however, finds it a medium of mystical revelation, a source of religious experience and feeling. The Scriptures then are not God’s Word, but contain it, and become God’s Word to us only when we experience them. The result is two separate and distinct lines: reason and faith (feeling and experience), which have nothing to do with one another. The Bible may be a tissue of lies, mythology, or what have you, and it fundamentally makes no difference. What matters is the leading of the spirit, so-called, and our experience that God is speaking to us. This mystical conception of Scripture is the fundamental fruit of the separation of faith and reason. The result is that in the history of the doctrine of Scripture, following the rationalistic aspect of this philosophy put into practice, we find the Bible subjected to all the speculative ingenuity of human reason exercised in unbelief. The Bible is reduced to a compilation of sources repeatedly edited by different men. It is treated in the Old Testament as a combination of various pagan influences. The worship of Israel is reduced to a variation of the cultic practices of the Canaanites. The prophets are explained as merely religious zealots or fanatics, and their writings are explained in sociological-political terms. The New Testament becomes a collection of documents fabricated by the early Christian church out of remembrances. Paul and Peter belong to different and antithetical schools of theology. The disciples’ belief in the resurrection of Christ is regarded as the result of a kind of group or mass hysteria arising out of a refusal to accept Jesus’ death. The historicity of any part of the Bible is practically denied unless proven by the science of archaeology.

At the same time the irrational line of faith continues to find in the experience of Jesus and of God set forth in the Bible new inspiration for modern religious life. Jesus becomes an idea, not a person, a political revolutionary which inspires us to social and political revolution, a personal metaphor of human experience as one who suffered. Faith has been reduced to mystical experience, in itself irrational, a matter of mere feeling, a leap in the dark. Scripture, like any other literature, becomes a source of inspiration, quickening the spirit of man to higher thoughts beyond himself.

Between the Reformed view and that of the modernist there is no common ground. We believe and confess the God of the Scriptures Who has revealed Himself in His Word. The god of modernism, of the new hermeneutics, is an idol. The Jesus of man’s imagination, of modern religion, has nothing to do with Jesus Christ our Lord. For the same reason, the battle lines which are presently drawn within the Reformed churches over Scripture are fundamentally a matter of faith and unbelief and of the worship of God and the worship of idols under the guise of Christian terminology.