Biblical Authority – Critical Book Review

Biblical Authority is a book written by James T. Draper and Kenneth Keathley in 2001 about the authority of the Bible in the Body of Christ. The main content of the book is summed up in eight chapters equaling one hundred and forty four pages, starting with a forward from Herschel Hobbs. It also begins with a four page preface, giving the reader a brief overview of what he or she is about to read in detail. For further understanding and research you will find end notes and a brief description of each of the authors located in the back of the book.

The purpose of this book is to cast some understanding on a controversy that revolves around the issue of authority. The main argument is the idea that a critical issue among all Christian people today is the matter of authority. If this is true, then it is essential for the Christian to sufficiently understand Biblical authority and the dangers we face in our interpretation of Scripture, which is exactly what this book attempts to provide for its reader. The church today faces many issues, but according to Draper and Keathley it faces none more critical than where it receives genuine authority and who the source of that authority is.

This book looks at the key problems that face the church relating to the Word of God and evaluates many of the simple steps people take that slowly and sometimes unknowingly draws them away from Biblical authority. It deals with how we perceive truth and how we know that the Bible is the true. Draper and Keathley discuss modern critical thought, reader response criticism, and postmodern hermeneutics as pertaining to the scripture to help the reader further understand how we have come to this point and why we need to have a strong Biblical foundation. The book also observes three different thoughts on the idea of Biblical authority; reason or rationalism, ecclesiastical authority, and divine revelation.

In order to help the reader understand that divine revelation is not a new issue the Book also delves into the history of Biblical authority among the church leaders through the centuries past. Not only does it broach the heritage of Christians in general, but it also looks specifically at the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and its founder’s belief in regards to Scripture.
Finally, this book looks to the Bible to see what it says about itself. Draper and Keathley discuss the key passages dealing with Scripture and its own claim to be the final authority of believers. It wraps up the last chapter by taking a look towards the future and discussing where Christians should go from here.

Draper and Keathley identify the problem as being “Christians who slowly move away from the historic position on the nature of the Bible.” They go into great detail describing human reasoning, church authority, and divine revelation, identifying peoples shift in their Biblical worldview by way of their own reasoning and traditions. This is somewhat of a slippery slope. Once people begin to deviate from the truth, however small it may be, they begin a process that will soon be out of hand. I agree with this assessment, as I have seen it too many times. While things start out small and people reason away only a few things, in the end it simply gets bigger and bigger until they are far from the truth.

This book also goes into exceptional detail in describing the Historical-Critical Approach to the Bible and the dangers of taking it too far. While I do not believe that the Historical-Critical Approach is bad, within itself, I do find that it can be a dangerous tool if used in the wrong way. I believe this is the point that Draper and Keathly were trying to make in their explanation. The main problem with using the Critical approach happens when our understanding of the Bible is that it is a human book and not divine. If we see the Bible as man made and not divine revelation then we can decide what the Bible means in our own interpretation of it using the tools of the critical approach to further our own delusions. However, the Bible’s meaning was determined by God who inspired men to write it. The Historical-Critical approach can be a handy tool, but not if it is used as the sole interpretation process and only if you come into the interpretation process with the right predispositions. When using any method of interpretation we must begin with the idea that the Bible is divine revelation. To trust the methods of interpretation over the authority of Scripture will lead directly to a lesser view of the Bible.

Another danger in Scripture interpretation mentioned in this book is existential and postmodern philosophies. Postmodernism seems to be a vast ocean of thought that I have difficulty grasping and yet it is said to be so prominent in our society. It was appropriate to mention postmodernism and its effect on interpretation, however it left me disappointed because I expected more. I believe postmodernism could have been explained with a little more detail and with a greater understanding of how it relates to the critical issue of authority. After all, Draper and Keathley take fourteen pages to describe the historical-critical approach to interpretation and roughly two pages to talk about postmodernism and its effect.

Having a faulty view of scripture, slowly deviating from the truth of Scripture, moving from divine revelation to human reasoning, misusing interpretation approaches, and buying into imperfect worldviews or philosophies are just some of the things that will slowly lead the Christian to a flawed view of Biblical authority. One more example of things that lead us astray mentioned in this book is that of comparative religions and pluralism. To believe that different religions simply borrowed stories from each other and all religions basically get you to God is to deny the authority of Scripture and to accept the authority of mans own inclinations.

This book not only explains the many things that damage our view of Scripture it also provides proof that Biblical authority is not a new concept. Draper and Keathly start out by listing several quotes from early church fathers to reveal the Church’s historical position on Biblical authority. They spend a chapter on Baptists’ historical position on Biblical authority to further emphasis the fact that from our earliest beginnings the integrity and accuracy of Scripture was an integral part of the church. Instead of simply making reference to people, the authors use actual quotes from people and confessions to provide further evidence. Some may claim that the “people who are intent on maintaining the church’s dedication to the full authority of Scripture” are creating divisiveness and confusion among Christians and moving away from what Christianity is supposed to be, when in fact it is the other way around. Those who weaken the authority of Scripture are the ones moving away from our heritage and creating confusion among believers. They are the ones leading God’s people astray.

Another important element in understanding the issues of authority is discussing what the Bible says about itself, dealing with what is really meant by the expression, Biblical authority, and arguing for the sufficiency of Scripture. This book offers several strong arguments for Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency. If the bible is inerrant, then it is also the ultimate authority in our lives. Draper and Keathley take several opinions against Biblical inerrancy and then argue a case for inerrancy with each one. Not only do they make several strong arguments, they also take time to explain what they really mean by Biblical authority. I think the three chapters that deal with inerrancy, sufficiency and the real meaning of Biblical authority are by far the strongest parts of this book. While the liberal thinkers use verbal tools to discredit the thought of Biblical authority, this book shows the flaw in each argument and deals with what Biblical authority actually is and why it is the truth that should captivate our hearts.

As Southern Baptists, what do we do now? That question is the premise of the final chapter. The future of our convention and our churches depends on the choices we make today regarding the authority of Scripture. While the authors admit that this book may not have the final answers to the question, they believe that it is at least a stepping stone on the way to finding the solution.
I believe that the issue of Biblical authority is a critical issue and I agree with Draper and Keathley’s conclusions. This book is an excellent aid to help others understand the issues involving Biblical authority. It’s an important asset to the Christian because this subject is so critical to our future and the future of Christianity in general.