A Guide for Bible Skeptics: An Interview with John Dickson
by Jonathan Petersen
The Bible continues to be the world’s bestselling book. Doubters, skeptics, and critics have attempted to discredit it, ignore it, and ban it. Yet the Bible has outlived them all. What is it about the Bible that is so compelling for countless generations? And how can you communicate to skeptics the Bible’s validity?
Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. John Dickson (@johnpauldickson), about his book A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible: Inside History’s Bestseller for Believers and Skeptics (Zondervan, 2015).
Dr. Dickson: It really depends what their doubts are. If they have historical questions, I try to tackle those. If philosophical, I do walk down that path. Ultimately, I want skeptics to actually read the Bible, because many of the criticisms thrown at Christians today are ‘secondhand’ one-liners out of the atheist playbook. There’s nothing like confronting the Book itself, personally, to really feel its force. I often say, give the Bible 100 pages, slowly, with some technical assistance, just like you would some other major classic of Western literature.
If I were a skeptic, where would you tell me to start an investigation of the Bible?
Dr. Dickson: No doubt, a Gospel. Eusebius tells us that the first evangelists of the post-apostolic era preached Christ where he was not known “and passed on the writing of the divine Gospels.” So this is an ancient form of engagement! One of the most enjoyable things I do in ministry is conduct short courses on the Gospel of Luke in my lounge room with a small group of skeptics and inquirers. Leading them through the life of Jesus raises all the usual questions—the existence of God, the problem of suffering, other religions, and so on—but keeps the conversation connected to the Bible’s center, Jesus Christ. In fact, the week I get back home from the US I will be running another of these courses. It is a privilege.
How do you sum up the “basic framework” of the Bible?
Dr. Dickson: The Bible recounts the interaction of God with his people. It is split into two sections, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). The Old Testament is the record of God’s dealings with his chosen people, Israel, and covers the time period from the “Beginning”—whenever that was—to roughly 500 BC. The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus (shortly before the AD 1 mark), tells of his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, and includes numerous texts written to the first generation or two of Christian believers, up to the end of the first century. A key thing to remember about how Christians read this big book is that they have always insisted on two simple things: first, that the Old Testament points forward to what Jesus would do in the New Testament; and, second, that we must therefore read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. The Bible is a story that stretches from creation to eternity, giving everything in between a particular shape and substance. In Bible-speak, this is called “salvation history” or “biblical theology,” an account of how God planned, revealed, and executed his purposes for the world.
It seems that most people don’t see how the Old and New Testaments reflect the same message. But you do?
Dr. Dickson: Yes, I do. The shape of both the Old and New Testaments is vertical and horizontal, partly about love for God and partly about love for neighbor. The Ten Commandments, which introduce all of Israel’s laws, consist of four commandments about what one does for God, followed by six commandments about the treatment of others…
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