I Believe in the Holy Scriptures (Edgar Dewitt Jones)
|Central Woodward Christian Church (Detroit) -- Building now Little Rock Baptist Church|
Today our Wednesday Bible Study group, which has been on hiatus since we finished the Gospel of Mark in June, is regathering for a one-off look at a sermon preached in 1940 by Edgar Dewitt Jones. Jones is essentially the founding pastor of the congregation I now serve. The sermon, titled "A Personal Confession of Faith," is intriguing because in it Jones speaks to his beliefs about God, Jesus, the Church, the Disciples of Christ, even the United States. Yes, he has a section in which professes his belief in the American Republic. It is a profession of a pragmatic liberal, you might say broad church, theology. It is reflective of mainstream liberal Disciples of Christ thinking in the first half of the 20th century. I am going to reproduce the entire section, which is three paragraphs in length. Note the emphasis on progressive revelation within Scripture. It does have some of the supersessionism that was found in even liberal Protestantism, but I should note that Jones was good friends with the Rabbi, whose synagogue sat across the street from the Detroit location. I invite you to read and reflect on this message. I invite you to consider where Jones might fit today, how might he have evolved in his thinking? Note-- information in brackets are my insertions.
I believe in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, as a book of life, a literature of immense inspirational value. I can never recall the time when I could not lay my hands on a copy of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible was in my boyhood home. The large family Bible was there as well as smaller editions of the famous old book. I was reared and educated in a religious communion that has always made much of the Bible. Part of my education was received in an institution called the College of the Bible [Lexington Theological Seminary], presided over by a man [J.W. McGarvey] whose knowledge of the Scriptures and devotion to them was truly remarkable, a college where the students studied the Bible itself and memorized immortal passages from the Scriptures. I believe in the Bible as a supreme literature that was assembled slowly, gradually, as the Jewish people became a nation. Then the church of Christ produced the New Testament. It grew out of the life and ministry of Jesus and his disciples.
I believe in the progressive revelation or development of truth and light as unfolded in the Holy Scriptures. I like much the way in which Alexander Campbell described the stages of this unfolding process. He called the era of the patriarchs "The Starlight Period"; the Mosaic dispensation, "The Moonlight Period"; and the Christian era, "The Sunlight Period." And a believe with grand old Pilgrim Pastor Robinson that there is more light to break from God's word.
I do not think of the Bible as a volume miraculously compiled, but as the slow growth of a literature in which the Spirit of God and the spirit or mind of man combined and so gave to the world the Holy Scriptures. All the theories of inspiration interest me, though I have never found one that altogether satisfied me. I do not think of the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle of prophecy or a storehouse of proof texts or cryptic expressions that cannot be understood save in some supernatural way. It is a book of life, not of enigmas. I believe in the Bible as a progressive revelation of God, reaching its culmination in the radiant life and ministry of Jesus. I can say with deep sincerity that I subscribe to Whittier's words so gloriously true---
We search the world for truth. We cull
The good, the true, the beautiful,
From graven tomb and written scroll,
And all old flower-fields of the soul;
And, weary seekers of the best,
We come back laden from our quest,
To find that all the sages said
Is in the Book our mothers read.
-----Edgar Dewitt Jones, A Man Stood Up to Preach, (St. Louis: The Bethany Press, 1943), pp. 184-185.
I invite you to reflect on Jones' message, but not only on it, but on the way in which we approach Scripture. In what ways do we encounter truth when engage it? How is it a book of life, without being a storehouse of proof texts?