An Interview With Dr. Hans Bayer
Seven core values amplify and clarify how Covenant Theological Seminary understands its purpose. In the second installment of our series on these Core Values, Dr. Hans Bayer, professor of New Testament, explains the Seminary’s view of biblical authority.
Core Value #2: Biblical Authority: We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and, thus, it is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. We believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, and, thus, we affirm the inerrancy of the original manuscripts whose objective truth it is our responsibility to interpret in accord with the principles of Scripture and to proclaim in accord with the imperatives of the gospel.
How did biblical authority come to be a core value of Covenant Seminary?
It is the result of a careful study of the past. The first recorded question of Satan in Scripture is, “Did God really say . . . ?” We must commence at the beginning: Are we on this planet as a consequence of chance and evolution, or are we creatures of a personal God who is involved in our lives? Are we alone and left to our own devices, or is there a creator to whom we are accountable and who communicates with us? The answers to these questions have huge consequences—not only philosophically, but also personally and communally as well.
However, more specifically, the history of the people of God who listen to the self-revelation of the Creator is marked by a key factor: Whenever the people of God turn away from God’s reliable self-revelation, there is spiritual and actual death in all imaginable areas of life. When the people of God return to God’s Word, there they find redemption, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation—basically spiritual, emotional, and relational vitality. Obviously, we still see much unhealthiness in churches because they are, according to Martin Luther, a “hospital for the sick.” The church is always called to be an ecclesia semper reformanda (a church in constant reformation) as it seeks to live before God. But where the Word of God is upheld in its inerrant authority, there is the hope of the gospel.
How is this understanding distinct, and why is it important to emphasize this?
The individual and communal submission to the authority of God’s self-revelation in Scripture has its history in the remnant and believing part of the people of Israel throughout the ages, as well as in the believing Messianic church throughout the past 2000 years. In contrast to the Protestant churches, the Orthodox and Catholic leaders did not, historically speaking, give the Scriptures to the people. Subsequent to the Reformation, the Enlightenment brought yet another challenge to the centrality of the Word of God. Since then, churches and seminaries have had to wrestle with undermining questions regarding the authority of the Scriptures. Many churches and seminaries in different parts of the world have succumbed to the pressure to place reason and, more recently, experience, as normative and sufficient over and against God’s self-revelation. The consequences are, individually and corporately, spiritual and moral death.
How do Covenant Seminary professors teach biblical authority to students?
Above all, we seek to live under the authority of Scripture—individually and corporately. We also seek to teach it in the controversial contexts of philosophical, scientific, historical, linguistic, and personal/psychological arguments, observations, and questions. Concretely, we teach the rationale of the authority of Scripture in our department of Biblical and Systematic Theology as well as in such classes as “Covenant Theology” and “Biblical Introduction.” We seek to apply it, however, to all specific disciplines at Covenant Seminary in the areas of theology, psychology, and pedagogy.
What are the pastoral implications of a different view of biblical authority?
The pastoral consequences cannot be overstated: Dethrone God’s reliable self-revelation in Scripture and you are your own god or you are worshipping some god-substitute. History demonstrates time and again what destructive moral and political consequences this can have (Communism, Fascism, materialism, radical Islam). We believe that God’s Word reveals a fundamental and comprehensive perspective on reality which serves as the framework for living redemptively in the totality of reality.
How do we promote a biblical hermeneutic that recognizes biblical authority?
Based on God speaking authoritatively, reliably, and understandably, we seek to exemplify and to teach a theocentric world-and-life view, which commences with a Christ-centered approach to the triune God. In this view—in which humans and cultures are “glorious ruins” (i.e., precious, but in dire need of redemption due to the deep-seated alienation of mankind from God)—Scripture serves as a compass for all of life. Classes such as “Covenant Theology” seek to engender a biblical view of the natural world as God’s good creation, of God’s redemptive history in the context of general history, and of the fact that our personal life stories have a wonderful place in the unfolding of God’s redemptive history. We are, among many other concerns, actively seeking to exemplify a biblical way for men and women to develop and use their gifts to their full potential and express them in complementary ways. This approach reflects the glory of the Godhead and does not succumb to male chauvinism or absolute egalitarian demands. Besides other passions, we are very concerned about overcoming racial discrimination and contributing to efforts with this focus.
What are some obstacles that pastors and other church leaders face when teaching from this viewpoint? What would you say to those who are struggling with this?
To many people, upholding biblical authority may appear to be offensive both to the intellect and ego. With the resurgence of the evolution/creation debate, to give a popular example, an old issue has surfaced which challenges pastors and churches as they reach out into modern society. What is the worldview, the framework within which we function? For example, is it that of naturalistic materialism (a view gradually embraced by Charles Darwin) or a theistic worldview which acknowledges a creator? Actually, many contemporary worldviews are products of—or reactions to—enlightenment thought in which man’s reason or experience is the center of and norm for all of reality. This poses challenges and opportunities. I would encourage those who are being challenged in their view of biblical authority to see the deep unity of Scripture, its historicity; its disarming realism (which corresponds so profoundly to the world we live in); its counter-intuitive focus on the incarnation and self-sacrifice of Christ as ultimate love; and its powerfully redemptive provision to live godly, authentic, reconciled lives in dependence upon the triune God.
Who are historical figures/Church Fathers who have promoted this view and to whom professors often refer? Can you recommend helpful texts for further reading?
The writings of Clement of Rome, Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and Louis Berkhof come to mind. For contemporary works, people might want to consult R. Laird Harris’s The Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures, John Wenham’s Christ and the Bible, and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, to name a few.
How are you encouraged in seeing this understanding of biblical authority in the lives of students and alumni?
Life is a challenge and a battle. I am encouraged how this challenge, this battle, is being fought by students and alumni based on the core compass of God’s reliable self-revelation—Scripture. Through it, our students and alumni are called to dependence upon and worship of the triune God. We see much fruit. The fact of God reconciling us to Himself through the atonement of His son is the hope and source for reconciled relationships with one another as well as the means by which we are healed from our brokenness. It is the only foundation for growing toward a truly authentic and worshipful life.
Dr. Hans Bayer is professor of New Testament at Covenant Seminary. This article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Covenant magazine.