I read an article recently in which the phrase, “old school religion” turned up. In its reference to someone dying for the sins of the world, the sentence evoked Christianity. This wasn’t religion in general. It wasn’t Buddhism or Islam. The teaching that a savior died for the sins of the world doesn’t appear in Hinduism, Baha’i, Sufism. They weren’t meant–neither were the Jains, Druids, or Native Americans. This was a clear reference to the Christian doctrine of salvation—the death of Jesus on a skull-shaped hill called Golgotha in Jerusalem–i.e., substitutionary atonement (Isaiah 53). I get it. I got the reference when I read the piece. The take away was the descriptive, “old school.”
Old school? It’s a fairly common tag, especially among the college students I’ve taught. For clarity, I went to the Urban Dictionary: “Old school–Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect” (https://www.urbandictionary.com). Had to scratch my head. I’d missed the “high regard” part. High regard didn’t fit the tone I was hearing. I checked the definition and noted the past tense. This detail seemed to match the tone to the missing idea, the sense that whatever “old school” item warranted the label, it used to be held in high regard. “Old school” wasn’t loving it. This was no shout out. What I was hearing was more like “outdated, old-fashioned, worn-out, irrelevant.” Was I wrong? Didn’t think so.
Another lexicon confirmed the suspicion: “The informal phrase old school dates back to the 19th century and is of English origin. It can be found in print in the 1852 version of the classic novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It means that something or someone is behind or out of date with current trends or thinking” (theidioms.com). Bleak House is Dickens at his SJW best. He’s going after the cumbersome and corrupt English legal system of the day. It is dense, impenetrable, and crazy-making as a poisonous London fog, smog-laden and disorienting. “Old school” turns up in Dickens’ long-winded battle cry against all that. I read the big novel long before the expression was cool and couldn’t find it now if I looked for a week.
What interests me was that the writer of the article treating Christianity as a has-been seemed to make the point as a comfortable assumption–no effort to explain, no need to defend, just an intention to suggest, “Christianity is old school. Everyone knows it.”
Am I about to defend Christianity, to say it is relevant, for today, au courant? No, my views on that point are fixed, and I’ll leave that apologetic for others. I’m here to speak for the Christian Bible, long dismissed as old school by many–from American founders to scholars at the edge of the hottest topics in their fields— history, science, psychology, philosophy, politics.
John Rendle-Short talks about “the life-and-death struggle which convulsed the Christian world in the 19th century—and especially following the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. It was not, of course, the scientific theory of evolution only which gave problems: Nietzsche, with his ‘God is dead’ philosophy, the political views of Marx and Engels, the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, the application of ‘survival of the fittest’ ideas to extreme capitalism, and the higher criticism dogma of some theologians leading on to modernism and present-day liberalism—all these had one thing in common: a disbelief in the historical accuracy of the Bible (https://creation.com/19th-century-revolt-against-the-bible).
The “higher criticism dogma” Rendle-Short mentions is still a topic of discussion among Christian thinkers. In his The Hoax of Higher Criticism, Gary North writes: “Beginning in the late seventeenth century, Socinianism (a precursor of Unitarianism) and Deism steadily replaced Trinitarian Christianity in the thinking of the intellectual and political leaders of the West, beginning most importantly with Isaac Newton (who at least took seriously the Bible’s historical texts.” North cites, Isaac Newton, The Chronology of the Ancient Kingdoms, Amended Introduction, 5 and continues, describing trends “moving in ever more openly heretical steps in the eighteenth century to Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire in Europe, as well as Hume and the Marquis de Sade, and in North America, to such figures as Franklin, John Adams, and Jefferson. Jefferson actually produced his own highly expurgated Bible” (http://www.garynorth.com).
The New Testament Thomas Jefferson created was a literal cut and paste item that involved scissoring out all references to the supernatural. Owen Edwards, writing for the Smithsonian Magazine, says, “Much of the material Jefferson elected to not include related miraculous events, such as the feeding of the multitudes with only two fish and five loaves of barley bread; he eschewed anything that he perceived as ‘contrary to reason.’ His idiosyncratic gospel concludes with Christ’s entombment but omits his resurrection. He kept Jesus’ own teachings, such as the Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.’ ‘The Jefferson Bible, as it’s known, is “scripture by subtraction,” writes Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University.’”
Psychology, politics, the courts and lawyers also had a part in marginalizing the Bible.
On his thirty-fifth birthday, Sigmund Freud was given a Bible by his father. “Jacob Freud gave the Bible to him with a most moving dedication, composed into a very particular way of petitioning Freud to return to the Torah. ‘My dear son, in the seventh year of your life the spirit of the Lord began to move you and said to you: Go, read in my Book that I have risen, and there will be opened to you the sources of wisdom, of knowledge, and understanding. You have looked upon the face of the Almighty have heard and striven to climb upwards, and you flew upon the wings of the Holy Spirit. For the day on which you have completed your 35th year I offer it you for a remembrance and a memorial of love. From your father, who loves you with unending love, Jacob Freud.’” In the first episode of the PBS series, The Question of God, Ana-Maria Rizzuto observed: “He invited [his son, Sigmund Freud] to use the book again and to get the richness from the book. But Freud could not do it” (Sigmund Freud: “Interpreter of Dreams,” Program One). The godfather of psychology put aside the Bible.
As for politics and the legal world, we need only cite Tennessee v. Scopes, the so-called “Scopes ‘monkey’ trial,” in which Clarence Darrow opposed William Jennings Bryan in a public face-off between advocates of Darwinian evolution and biblical authority. The issues have been described as follows: “The Scopes Trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was the 1925 prosecution of science teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school, which a recent bill had made illegal. The trial featured two of the best-known orators of the era, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, as opposing attorneys. The trial was viewed as an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, to publicly advocate for the legitimacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and to enhance the profile of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).” (https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/scopes-trial).
The Bible as controversy isn’t a new subject. Many biblical passages suggest a spirited debate with skeptics who questioned the validity, relevance, and authority of the Book. The Bible seems to need defending, no better example than the 176 verses of Psalm 119. Why would a psalmist celebrate the Bible if it hadn’t been attacked? Many have spoken in its defense. Their actions attest to the authority of biblical histories, admonitions, laws, warnings, prophecies, and affirmations. Biblical poetry is said to contain every human emotion in psalms loved the world over. Consider the following evidence that Scripture in plain-text form has been received as God’s word–i.e., authentic, authoritative, pertinent to every action and decision.
“When Moses came and told the people all the words and ordinances of the LORD, they all responded with one voice: “All the words that the LORD has spoken, we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD (Exodus 24: 3-4a). That these were God’s words, God’s commands, is a given. The authority of the written texts isn’t questioned.
Joshua takes up the mantle Moses left him and as he assumes it, God says, “Be careful to observe all the law that My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left so you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night that you shall be careful to do all that is written in it. For then you will prosper in your way and you will have good success” (Joshua 1: 7b-8).
The psalms attest to the authority and relevance of the Bible, affirming it as God’s communication to humans. David writes, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119: 11). Again in Psalm 119, “They word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105). And again, “Forever, O LORD, your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119: 89). One verse seems to contest evolution: “The beginning of your word is truth and eternal are all your righteous precepts” (Psalm 119: 160). The beginning? The Book opens this way: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Translators handle Psalm 119: 160 in various ways in an apparent effort to avoid conflict with Darwinian evolution.
Paul said this about the Bible: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that God’s person may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17). Peter agrees, as his quote from Isaiah, the “prince of prophets” suggests: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the LORD endures forever” (I Peter 1: 24b-25; Isaiah 40: 8).
In the prologue to his gospel, John describes Jesus as the Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1: 1). The Bible ends with warning, a sobering coda: “If anyone takes away the words of this book of prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22: 19).
Persuasion is a delicate thing. To think how it happens is an exercise in self-discovery. The Bible invites us to be persuaded, to accept its teaching, records, and literature as our best source for understanding who we are, who God is, and what he expects of us. Hear the invitation: “Taste and see that the LORD is good. The one taking refuge in him is blessed” (Psalm 34: 8). Is the Bible old school? We are free decide the question for ourselves, but this is certain: Where the Bible is no longer held in high regard, Christianity and Judaism will also be dismissed.
with thanks for a great image–toa-heftiba-724121-unsplash