The Bible Tells Me So by David Mills

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The Bible Tells Me So

Everything You Need to Know About Morality & the Bible David Mills

A colleague once attacked me in a meeting, then cut off my response by turning to our supervisor, thrusting his fist into the air, and declaring, “ I’m not interested in the past, I care about the future!” In one move he managed to insult me, prevent me from responding, and portray himself as (in contrast to me) both forgiving and idealistic. This sort of linguistic terrorism leaves most of us stumbling over our own feet, while our opponents trot smugly over the finish line.

One feels much the same when engaged in arguments, especially arguments over sexual morality, with our liberals. Liberal or skeptical Christians have been inventing and field-testing ways of getting around biblical teaching for a very long time, and they have gotten very good at it. They are now so sophisticated that average Christians, who are called to pursuits other than biblical scholarship and theology, can give no convincing answers to their exotic proposals for revising the Christian faith.

Two Observations

I will take sexual morality as an example, not because (as our liberals keep hinting) orthodox Christians are afraid of sex, but because it is where the debate on biblical teaching has been most clearly joined.

Unlike the modernists of old, our liberals are usually quite happy to let us believe in the Virgin Birth or the bodily Resurrection, or for that matter praying in tongues, presumably on the assumption that it keeps us occupied and out of their way. They only object when we dare to argue for moral limitations and ideals they have long ago abandoned. They will tolerate the most extravagant supernaturalism, as long as it is not assumed that the supernatural makes binding statements about human sexual behavior.

Orthodox Christians (with the embarrassing exception of groups trying to raise money) actually talk far less about sex than the representatives of liberalism. Some Christians on both sides are rather unhealthily concerned with sex. They have sex on the brain, which, as someone remarked, is an odd place to have it.

But if we tend to talk a lot about sex, we do so because it is the aspect of the inherited Christian moral teaching most directly challenged by our culture and, sadly, by powerful and vocal movements in our own churches. The use of sex is the question of the hour. To accuse orthodox Christians of being obsessed with sex is somewhat like accusing firemen in a city victimized by arsonists of thinking too often about fires.

The Authority of Scripture

The question of what the Bible really says is a problem because, when members of the major churches discuss moral questions, surprisingly enough they are all still talking about the Bible. Even the most radical Christian still appeals to the authority of Scripture, or to be more precise, to Scripture as an authority. Whatever limitations he wants to put upon that authority, or other authorities he wants to add, he still looks for what support he can find in the Bible.

In Living in Sin?, for example, Bishop John Spong attempted to ground his moral innovations in the Bible. He argued that though we should ignore the Bible’s prohibition of sex outside marriage because “science” tells us that some people are not made for marriage and current social practices tell us that many want sex without marriage, we should endorse its belief in monogamy.


David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.

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