A Reformed approach to the bible has never focused on a hyper-literal reading of the text. For John Calvin, the truth of scripture comes through God’s accommodation to our human condition. This is the beauty of a Reformed hermeneutic that takes the human aspects of the bible seriously. And yet, a hyper literal reading of the bible has made inroads into the Reformed community. Along with this is an underlying anti-intellectualism that lumps wisdom and schooling together. While Christian academic institutions are not beyond critique, they are increasingly under attack by those who are suspicious of higher education and the liberalizing effect they believe it has upon young people. Social, cultural, and political issues have been collapsed into a debate over how to read the bible, or what it means to be a true Christian.
This approach to reading the bible is at odds with reformational thinkers whose work provide the foundation for Christian institutions of higher learning. Within the Dutch reformational tradition, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck established a framework for Christian education in which faith is integral to the exploration of the various creational spheres. They saw the bible as:
“…The book for Christian religion and Christian theology. For that end it is given. For that end it is suited. And therefore it is the word of God, poured out upon us through the Holy Ghost.”(Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics p.416)
However, the Calvinistic principles of accommodation once again inform the scope of the bible. Bavinck writes,
The writers of Holy Scripture probably knew no more than their contemporaries in all these sciences, geology, zoology, physiology, medicine, etc. And it was not necessary either. For Holy Scripture uses the language of daily experience which is always true and remains so. If the Scripture had in place of it used the language of the school and had spoken with scientific exactness, it would have stood in the way of its own authority.Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics p. 417
Kuyper describes how scripture bears the mark of a servant:
As the Logos has not appeared in the form of glory, but in the form of a servant, joining himself to the reality of our nature…so also, for the revelation of His Logos, God the Lord accepts our consciousness, our human life as it is…The spoken limitation of our language, disturbed as it is by anomalies. As a product of writing, the Holy Scripture also bears on its forehead the mark of the form of a servant.Kuyper Principles of Sacred Theology p. 419
Neither Bavinck nor Kuyper held to a fundamentalist view of biblical inerrancy. Bavinck writes:
In the thoughts are included the words, and in the words, the vowels. But from this it does not follow that the vowel points in our Hebrew manuscripts are from the writers themselves. And it also does not follow that all is full of divine wisdom, that each jot and tittle has an infinite content. All has its meaning and significance very certainly, but there in the place and in the context in which it comes forth.Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics p. 419
This view of biblical authority and interpretation encourages the exploration of the world through science. Knowing that the message of the bible is the revelation of God and God’s love for this world frees the Christian community to take seriously the insight gleaned from these forms of study. There will always be conflict at the boundaries as Christians explore new ideas and new insights, but these conflicts do not undermine the fundamental reformational view of the bible as God’s Word.
Whether people outside of the reformational tradition accept what Calvin, Kuyper, or Bavinck say about scripture is not the point. More problematic is when people within the tradition import a view of biblical authority and inerrancy that is not part of their theological heritage.