I recently talked with Thomas R. Schreiner, the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, about biblical content and its importance today in contemporary culture and the church. Below is our interview.
JM: Tom, you’ve spent your life committed to studying and teaching the Bible. Isn’t a rather archaic thing to be doing in our contemporary world?
TS: It is archaic in one sense, but sometimes the old truths are the best truths because they are the true truths. I could answer this in a number of ways, but here I want to say that I see no evidence that contemporary people, who have abandoned the scripture, live happier or more fulfilled lives. Instead many marriages are dissolving, many children grow up in homes plagued by fighting, and many wander from thing to thing in utter boredom. If they only knew the riches and the beauty promised to them in this so-called archaic book! We long for the scriptures when we recognize that Jesus offers us living water that satisfies the thirst of our hearts.
JM: How do you answer the charge that the Bible is not reliable, that historical criticism since the Enlightenment has rendered it little more than a religious relic of personal individual experiences?
TS: Charges like this can’t be answered in a satisfactory way with a brief answer. Many fine evangelical scholars have demonstrated the truthfulness and reliability of the scriptures. At the end of the day, however, we can’t prove the scriptures are reliable. We can give answers to questions, but we can’t answer every question. I would suggest that the worldview taught in the scriptures explains best every facet of life. From the scriptures we see that human beings are magnificent and human beings are evil. We recognize that the choices we make in life are of eternal significance. I would suggest that every other worldview fails in obvious ways and that the biblical story makes the most sense of life.
JM: Given your passion for Scripture, how would you encourage preachers (like yourself) to bring God’s word into practical authoritative relationships with people in the pews?
TS: It begins with the scriptures deeply affecting us as preachers. If we study the scriptures deeply, if we drink them in as the fountain of life, if they radically change us, then our hearers will sense that same excitement (whatever our personality) when we preach from the scriptures. So, preaching isn’t just a running commentary on scripture. We need to pray and think as well about how to proclaim the word to our hearers. It helps to ask questions like: what does scripture says about our lives personally, about how we interact with fellow-members in the church, about our life at work and home, etc.
JM: There are a lot of “self-help” kind of models of Christianity out there. In what ways do you think the Bible addresses that kind of model of ministry?
TS: The Bible does help us, of course, but most of these models fail because they shoot too low. What I mean is that most self-help advice ends up being moralistic advice, and many people don’t have the resources to do what is demanded. The gospel of Christ promises something more beautiful and ennobling: a love relationship with God in which we are filled with God’s fullness. Knowing God’s forgiveness in Christ, which we have to relearn every day as Christians, is the heart and soul of being a believer, and the wellspring of a life changed by God’s grace.
JM: What’s your current passion in terms of research and publishing?
TS: I have a little book on Covenant coming out from Crossway this summer. I have also just submitted to Baker Academic a 2nd edition of my Romans commentary, and am just beginning to write a commentary on 1 Corinthians for the Tyndale Commentary on the New Testament. I also am hoping in the future to write a kind of running commentary on Acts and the Pauline letters for Baker.