Reviews Theology

Review: Can I Really Trust the Bible?

Barry Cooper. Can I really trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks. UK: The GoodBook Company, 2014. $7.01 (Amazon). 81 pages.

Christian or not, perhaps you have even asked it yourself. “Can I really trust this old book?” The Bible is the most loved and hated and read and critiqued book in the history of the world. It makes some drastic–almost unbelievable–claims. If nothing else, it’s worth reading just to know those claims. But sooner or later, we are confronted with that nagging question.

Barry Cooper, an author and speaker from London, has written a short book answering that question and a few others about the most significant book in human history. It’s basic yet intellectually stimulating; serious yet witty. It will challenge your assumptions and shatter some categories about what the Bible is and is not.

Cooper lays out his book in five chapters. The first two answer one question, “Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?” in two different ways. First, he addresses what the Bible says about itself. In chapter two, he takes on the importance of why we write things down and record them in books. In chapters three and four, he answers the question, “Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?” by addressing how the Bible came to be, issues of translation, and apparent inconsistencies or contradictions in our Bibles today. Finally, in chapter five, Cooper answers the question, “Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?” Here, he aims at exposing the reader to the sweetness of God’s word–that experientially it is glorious and shows itself powerful and true.

To keep this review to a reasonable length (that is shorter than this short book!) let me point out three important issues Cooper emphasizes which you might find helpful:

  • Cooper emphasizes the unity of what is written down. Cooper is right to say that the Scriptures are a diverse unity. Written from many perspectives, across centuries, and throughout the world, its single, unified theme is that God is redeeming a people for himself which culminates in Jesus Christ. “[The Bible is] like flicking between 66 different [radio] stations and finding that each is advancing the same story, a grand symphonic drama that grows in beauty as it develops” (38).
  • Cooper emphasizes the importance of writing things down. We write down what is importance to us. Wouldn’t it make sense if God were going to reveal himself he would have it recorded in writing? The problem is that many people think the writers of the New Testament were crazy, primitive, unenlightened religious freaks who concocted stories. But that hardly seems plausible. Cooper comments, “What becomes very clear as we read the New Testament is that the Bible documents aren’t the wild-eyed delusions of lone religious fruitcakes who’ve spent way too much time in a cave. Many of the remarkable events described in the Bible are historical incidents which had multiple eyewitnesses; hundreds, even thousands of eyewitnesses” (40). God used men to write things down, and for our benefit no less.
  • Cooper emphasizes the ramifications of writing things down. The Bible is a brutally honest book. No one in this world would benefit financially or socially or professionally from writing down such self-deprecating things. As Cooper states, “The Gospels are too counterproductive to be legends. If the early church wanted to fabricate stories about Jesus that would make them and their writings more credible, why include so many details that seem to undermine such an aim? For example…why make Peter…appear so cowardly–unless it was what actually happened?” (47). Cooper also points out that if the biblical authors’ writings were false, they could have easily been disproved by any one of the many eyewitnesses who were alive when their writings circulated (65).

In the end, the most important part of Cooper’s book is that, as the final chapter explains, there must be a personal encounter with the God of the Bible and then we must put the Bible into action. Only then we will trust it. He writes, “When you see the sun, you know it’s bright. When you taste honey, you know it’s sweet. When you see Jesus Christ in Scripture, you know he is Lord. And when you put God’s word into practice, you know it’s for real” (80).

If you’re a Christian and wrestling with the reliability of the Bible, read this book. If you know someone who’s processing these kinds of issues, give it to them as a gift (it’s only $7). And if you’re not a Christian and have been bashing the Bible for months or years, give it an honest, open-minded read (after all, you are probably open-minded about a lot of other things, right?). If I still haven’t convinced you, watch the promo video of the book below to whet your appetite.

Reviews Theology

The Reason for God (Chapter 2)

These are direct quotes from the book. If it is my paraphrase, it will marked by an asterisk (*) after the page number.

Chapter 2: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be [a God]. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order. (23-24)

If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed, you can’t have it both ways. (25)

From C.S. Lewis:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. (26)

Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. (28)

Jesus, the God-man, underwent more evil and suffering than we could ever imagine, and he bore the agony of death on the cross. Therefore, we truly know God is Immanuel (God with us) even in our worst sufferings. (31*)

For the one who suffers, the Christian faith provides as a resource not just its teaching on the Cross but also the fact of the resurrection. The Bible teaches that the future is not an immaterial “paradise” but a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21, we do not see human beings being taken out of this world into heaven, but rather heaven coming down and cleansing, renewing, and perfecting this material world….Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and the Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with  a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation. (32, 33)

From C.S. Lewis:

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. (34)