Is the Bible reliable, authoritative, or even necessary? DeYoung tackles these questions and more as he builds a compelling case for trusting and relying on Scripture as the Word of God for all of life.
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About the Author
Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, and assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He serves asboard chairmanof the Gospel Coalition and blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed. He is the author of several books, including Just Do Something; Crazy Busy; and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, haveeight children.
Read an Excerpt
Believing, Feeling, Doing
My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.
This book begins in a surprising place: with a love poem.
Don't worry, it's not from me. It's not from my wife. It's not from a card, a movie, or the latest power ballad. It's not a new poem or a short poem. But it is most definitely a love poem. You may have read it before. You may have sung it, too. It's the longest chapter in the longest book in the longest half of a very long collection of books. Out of 1,189 chapters scattered across 66 books written over the course of two millennia, Psalm 119 is the longest.
And for good reason.
This particular psalm is an acrostic. There are 8 verses in each stanza, and within each stanza the 8 verses begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So verses 1–8 all begin with aleph, verses 9–16 with beth, verses 17–24 with gimel, and on and on for 22 stanzas and 176 verses — all of them exultant in their love for God's word. In 169 of these verses, the psalmist makes some reference to the word of God. Law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, promises, word — this language appears in almost every verse, and often more than once in the same verse. The terms have different shades of meaning (e.g., what God wants, or what God appoints, or what God demands, or what God has spoken), but they all center on the same big idea: God's revelation in words.
Surely it is significant that this intricate, finely crafted, single-minded love poem — the longest in the Bible — is not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself.
The Poet's Passion
I imagine many of us dabbled in poetry way back when. You know, years before you had kids, before you got engaged, or, if you're young enough, before last semester. I've written a few poems in my day, and even if we were best friends I still wouldn't show them to you. I'm not embarrassed by the subject matter — writing for and about my lovely bride — but I doubt the form is anything to be proud of. For most of us, writing a love poem is like making cookies with wheat germ — it's supposed to be the real thing but doesn't taste quite right.
Some love poems are amazing, like Shakespeare's Sonnet 116: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds," and all that jazz. Beautiful. Brilliant. Breathtaking.
Other poems, not so much. Like this poem I found online by a man reliving his teenage romantic genius:
Look! There's a lonely cow Hay! Cow!
If I were a cow, that would be me If love is the ocean, I'm the Titanic.
Baby I burned my hand on The frying pan of our love But still it feels better Than the bubble gum that hold us together Which you stepped on
Words fail, don't they? Both in commenting on the poem and in the poem itself. Still, this bovine- and bubble gum–themed piece of verbal art does more with subtlety and imagery than the entry entitled "Purse of Love":
Girl you make me Brush my teeth Comb my hair Use deodorant Call you You're so swell
I suppose this poem may capture a moment of real sacrifice for our high school hero. But whatever the earnestness of intention, it is strikingly bad poetry. Most poems written when we are young and in love feel, in retrospect — how shall we say? — a bit awkward. This is partly because few teenagers are instinctively good poets. It's about as common as cats being instinctively friendly. But the other reason our old love poems can be painful to read is that we find ourselves uncomfortable with the exuberant passion and extravagant praise. We think, "Yikes! I sound like a nineteen-year-old in love. I can't believe I was so over-the-top. Talk about melodramatic!" It can be embarrassing to get reacquainted with our earlier unbounded enthusiasm and unbridled affection, especially if the relationship being praised never worked out or if the love has since grown cold.
I wonder if we read a poem like Psalm 119 and feel a bit of the same embarrassment. I mean, look at verses 129–136, for example:
Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
Redeem me from man's oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.
This is pretty emotional stuff — panting, longing, weeping streams of tears. If we're honest, it sounds like high school love poetry on steroids. It's passionate and sincere, but a little unrealistic, a little too dramatic for real life. Who actually feels this way about commandments and statutes?
Finishing at the Start
I can think of three different reactions to the long, repetitive passion for the word of God in Psalm 119.
The first reaction is, "Yeah, right." This is the attitude of the skeptic, the scoffer, and the cynic. You think to yourself, "It's nice that ancient people had such respect for God's laws and God's words, but we can't take these things too seriously. We know that humans often put words in God's mouth for their own purposes. We know that every 'divine' word is mixed with human thinking, redaction, and interpretation. The Bible, as we have it, is inspiring in parts, but it's also antiquated, indecipherable at times, and frankly, incorrect in many places."
The second reaction is "Ho, hum." You don't have any particular problems with honoring God's word or believing the Bible. On paper, you have a high view of the Scriptures. But in practice, you find them tedious and usually irrelevant. You think to yourself, though never voicing this out loud, "Psalm 119 is too long. It's boring. It's the worst day in my Bible reading plan. The thing goes on forever and ever saying the same thing. I like Psalm 23 much better."
If the first reaction is "Yeah, right" and the second reaction is "Ho, hum," the third possible reaction is "Yes! Yes! Yes!" This is what you cry out when everything in Psalm 119 rings true in your head and resonates in your heart, when the psalmist perfectly captures your passions, your affections, and your actions (or at least what you want them to be). This is when you think to yourself, "I love this psalm because it gives voice to the song in my soul."
The purpose of this book is to get us to fully, sincerely, and consistently embrace this third response. I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts. In effect, I'm starting this book with the conclusion. Psalm 119 is the goal. I want to convince you (and make sure I'm convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated "Yes! Yes! Yes!" every time we read the Bible's longest chapter.
Think of this chapter as application and the remaining seven chapters of this book as the necessary building blocks so that the conclusions of Psalm 119 are warranted. Or, if I can use a more memorable metaphor, think of chapters 2 through 8 as seven different vials poured into a bubbling cauldron and this chapter as the catalytic result. Psalm 119 shows us what to believe about the word of God, what to feel about the word of God, and what to do with the word of God. That's the application. That's the chemical reaction produced in God's people when we pour into our heads and hearts the sufficiency of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the clarity of Scripture, and everything else we will encounter in the remaining seven chapters. Psalm 119 is the explosion of praise made possible by an orthodox and evangelical doctrine of Scripture. When we embrace everything the Bible says about itself, then — and only then — will we believe what we should believe about the word of God, feel what we should feel, and do with the word of God what we ought to do.
What Should I Believe about the Word of God?
In Psalm 119 we see at least three essential, irreducible characteristics we should believe about God's word.
First, God's word says what is true. Like the psalmist, we can trust in the word (v. 42), knowing that it is altogether true (v. 142). We can't trust everything we read on the Internet. We can't trust everything we hear from our professors. We certainly can't trust all the facts given by our politicians. We can't even trust the fact-checkers who check those facts! Statistics can be manipulated. Photographs can be faked. Magazine covers can be airbrushed. Our teachers, our friends, our science, our studies, even our eyes can deceive us. But the word of God is entirely true and always true:
God's word is firmly fixed in the heavens (v. 89); it doesn't change.
There is no limit to its perfection (v. 96); it contains nothing corrupt.
All God's righteous rules endure forever (v. 160); they never get old and never wear out.
If you ever think to yourself, "I need to know what is true — what is true about me, true about people, true about the world, true about the future, true about the past, true about the good life, and true about God," then come to God's word. It teaches only what is true: "Sanctify them in the truth," Jesus said; "your word is truth" (John 17:17).
Second, God's word demands what is right. The psalmist gladly acknowledges God's right to issue commands and humbly accepts that all these commands are right. "I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous," he says (Ps. 119:75). All God's commandments are sure (v. 86). All his precepts are right (v. 128). I sometimes hear Christians admit that they don't like what the Bible says, but since it's the Bible they have to obey it. On one level, this is an admirable example of submitting oneself to the word of God. And yet, we should go one step further and learn to see the goodness and rightness in all that God commands. We should love what God loves and delight in whatever he says. God does not lay down arbitrary rules. He does not give orders so that we might be restricted and miserable. He never requires what is impure, unloving, or unwise. His demands are always noble, always just, and always righteous.
Third, God's word provides what is good. According to Psalm 119, the word of God is the way of happiness (vv. 1–2), the way to avoid shame (v. 6), the way of safety (v. 9), and the way of good counsel (v. 24). The word gives us strength (v. 28) and hope (v. 43). It provides wisdom (vv. 98–100, 130) and shows us the way we should go (v. 105). God's verbal revelation, whether in spoken form in redemptive history or in the covenantal documents of redemptive history (i.e., the Bible), is unfailingly perfect. As the people of God, we believe the word of God can be trusted in every way to speak what is true, command what is right, and provide us with what is good.
What Should I Feel about the Word of God?
Too often, Christians reflect on only what they should believe about the word of God. But Psalm 119 will not let us stop there. This love poem forces us to consider how we feel about the word of God. We see that the psalmist has three fundamental affections for God's word.
First, he delights in it. Testimonies, commandments, law — they are all his delight (vv. 14, 24, 47, 70, 77, 143, 174). The psalmist can't help but speak of God's word in the deepest emotive language. The words of Scripture are sweet like honey (v. 103), the joy of his heart (v. 111), and positively wonderful (v. 129). "My soul keeps your testimonies," writes the psalmist; "I love them exceedingly" (v. 167).
But some people say, "I will never love the word of God like this. I'm not an intellectual. I don't listen to sermons all day. I don't read all the time. I'm not the sort of person who delights in words." That may be true as a general rule, but I'll bet there are times you get passionate about words on a page. We all pay attention when the words we are hearing or reading are of great benefit to us, like a will or an acceptance letter. We can read carefully when the text before us warns of great danger, like instructions on an electrical panel. We delight to read stories about us and about those we love. We love to read about greatness, beauty, and power. Do you see how I've just described the Bible? It's a book with great benefit to us, and one with grave warnings. It is a book about us and those we love. And most of all, it's a book that brings us face-to-face with One who possesses all greatness, beauty, and power. To be sure, the Bible can feel dull at times, but taken as a whole it is the greatest story ever told, and those who know it best are usually those who delight in it most.
Over and over, the psalmist professes his great love for the commands and testimonies of God (vv. 48, 97, 119, 127, 140). The flip side of this love is the anger he experiences when God's word is not delighted in. Hot indignation seizes him because of the wicked, who forsake God's law (v. 53). Zeal consumes him when his foes forget God's words (v. 139). The faithless and disobedient he looks upon with disgust (v. 158). The language may sound harsh to us, but that's an indication of how little we treasure the word of God. How do you feel when someone fails to see the beauty you see in your spouse? Or when people don't see what makes your special-needs child so special? We are all righteously indignant when someone else holds in little esteem what we know to be precious. Extreme delight in someone or something naturally leads to extreme disgust when others consider that person or thing not worthy of their delight. No one who truly delights in God's word will be indifferent to the disregarding of it.
Second, he desires it. I count at least six times where the psalmist expresses his longing to keep the commands of God (vv. 5, 10, 17, 20, 40, 131). I count at least fourteen times when he expresses a desire to know and understand the word of God (vv. 18, 19, 27, 29, 33, 34, 35, 64, 66, 73, 124, 125, 135, 169). It's true for all of us: our lives are animated by desire. It's what literally gets us up in the morning. Desire is what we dream about, what we pray about, and what we think about when we are free to think about whatever we want to think about. Most of us have strong desires related to marriage, children, grandchildren, jobs, promotions, houses, vacations, revenge, recognition, and on and on. Some desires are good; some are bad. But consider, in that jumble of longings and passions, how strong is your desire to know and to understand and to keep the word of God? The psalmist so desired the word of God that he considered suffering to be a blessing in his life if it helped him become more obedient to God's commands (vv. 67–68, 71).
Third, he depends on it. The psalmist is constantly aware of his need for the word of God. "I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!" (v. 31). He is desperate for the encouragement found in God's promise and rules (v. 50, 52). There are a lot of things we want in life, but there are few things we really need. The word of God is one of those things. In Amos's day the most severe punishment to fall on the people of God was a "famine ... of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). There is no calamity like the silence of God. We cannot know the truth or know ourselves or know God's ways or savingly know God himself unless God speaks to us. Every true Christian should feel deep in his bones an utter dependence on God's self-revelation in the Scriptures. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).
What we believe and feel about the word of God are absolutely crucial, if for no other reason than that they should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus. As we'll see, Jesus believed unequivocally all that was written in the Scriptures. If we are to be his disciples, we should believe the same. Just as importantly, the New Testament teaches that Jesus is the word made flesh, which means (among other things) that all the attributes of God's verbal revelation (truth, righteousness, power, veracity, wisdom, omniscience) will be found in the person of Christ. All that the psalmist believed and felt about the words from God is all that we should feel and believe about the Word of God incarnate. Our desire, delight, and dependence on the words of Scripture do not grow inversely to our desire, delight, and dependence on Jesus Christ. The two must always rise together. The most mature Christians thrill to hear every love poem that speaks about the Word made flesh and every love poem that celebrates the words of God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Taking God At His Word"
Copyright © 2014 Kevin DeYoung.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Believing, Feeling, Doing 11
2 Something More Sure 27
3 God's Word Is Enough 43
4 God's Word Is Clear 57
5 God's Word Is Final 71
6 God's Word Is Necessary 85
7 Christ's Unbreakable Bible 95
8 Stick With the Scriptures 111
Appendix: Thirty of the Best Books on the Good Book 125
General Index 131
Scripture Index 135
What People are Saying About This
“My trust in God’s Word is greater, my submission to God’s Word is deeper, and my love for God’s Word is sweeter as a result of reading this book. For these reasons, I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
David Platt, Pastor-Teacher, McLean Bible Church; author,Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
“This little book is a highly readable introduction to Scripture’s teaching about Scripture that preserves the contours of a responsible and informed doctrine of Scripture, without getting bogged down in arcane details. Buy this book by the case and distribute copies to elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and anyone in the church who wants to understand a little better what the Bible is. Bad doctrine springs in part from ignorance. Blessed are those teachers and preachers in the church who, like the author of this book, combat ignorance by getting across mature theology in a lucid style that avoids generating theological indigestion.”
D. A. Carson,Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
“One of my prayers for the next twenty years of ministry, if the Lord sees fit to grant me that, is that we might see the level of biblical literacy exponentially grow. For that to happen we must learn what the Scriptures are and how heavily we can lean on them. Kevin DeYoung serves this end well in Taking God At His Word. May the God of the Word be known and cherished all the more because of this little book.”
Matt Chandler,Lead Pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; President, Acts 29 Church Planting Network; author, The Mingling of Souls and The Explicit Gospel
“This is a brilliant, succinct, yet thorough study of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, based on what Scripture says about itself. Clarity and passion are the distinguishing marks of Kevin DeYoung’s writing, and this may be his finest, most important work yet.”
John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California; Chancellor Emeritus, The Master’s University and Seminary
“If you’re looking for a clearly and simply stated doctrine of Scripture, here it is. Kevin DeYoung has accomplished his aim of communicating what the Bible says about the Bible. He’s done it with the qualities we have come to anticipate from him: efficiency, pastoral care, wit, and rigor. Most of all, he has let the Word speak for itself."
Kathleen Nielson,author; speaker; Senior Adviser, The Gospel Coalition
“In eight brief, easy-to-read chapters, DeYoung lays out beautifully the classic evangelical understanding of the nature and importance of the Bible in the life of the believer. Particularly helpful are the chapters on the sufficiency and clarity of Scripture, showing us why the Bible is enough and how its basic teaching can be understood by every reader. These are two key points. If we do not believe the Bible to be enough and that its teaching is clear, then we will be carried here and there by every wind of doctrine. I urge you to buy your own copy and read it. There is important teaching here.”
Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, Grove City College
“Attacks on the nature and authority of the Word of God have continued, unabated, since the serpent spoke to Eve. DeYoung’s book is the best place to start for anyone who wants to understand how properly to think about Scripture, and why it must be affirmed as God’s self-attesting authority.”
K. Scott Oliphint,Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology and Dean of Faculty, Westminster Theological Seminary
“This is the book I will be handing out to those searching for true spirituality, to those who want to hear a special word from God, and to those who want an improved knowledge of God. Kevin DeYoung convincingly teaches that God has adequately spoken to his people. Taking God At His Word is an accessible defense of the doctrine of Scripture, from Scripture, aiming to renew our trust and delight in God’s Word.”
Aimee Byrd, author, Why Can’t We Be Friends? and No Little Women
“The longer I do ministry, the more I appreciate a truly simple booka book that rightly orients me to reality; a book that says important things in accessible words; a book worth taking to heart; a book written to care for the reader’s soul; a book that helps to change how you live. Taking God At His Word is simple. It will help you know what you believe and why. It clarifies the foundation for all practical ministry. Because the Bible is God’s own saving Word, you have something helpful to share with others who hurt, who struggle, who stray, who find life confusing.”
David Powlison,Late Executive Director, Christian Counseling &Educational Foundation