After growing up in a couple squishy-evangelical churches, I headed to a conservative evangelical college, located South of the Mason-Dixon Line. And like many conservative Bible colleges in the South, this one had a pretty strict code concerning dress, alcohol, and movies. And like most strict Bible colleges, the campus burst with 18- to 21-year-olds full of angst and eager to put off the old garb of 20th-century fundamentalism and put on the new garb of freedom in Christ.

But there was also more serious types who turned against conservative evangelicalism. These guys now write blogs with bios that begin, "I grew up in a fundamentalist church and went to a fundamentalist Bible college..." They delight to show video clips of the lowest common denominator of what could pass for conservative Christianity and then conclude, "This is why evangelicalism has nothing to do with Jesus!"

These guys in college were smart, fast-thinking, and with my squishy-church background, I had little to rebut them. In fact, they often seemed reasonable. They came into debates with books from academic presses and drank fair-trade coffee before fair-trade coffee was hip.

Constant Battle


Inerrancy and the authority of Scripture became the center of what seemed like a constant battle on campus. Debates broke out in lecture halls and dorm rooms. Of course, it didn't take long before debates over inerrancy and the authority of Scripture led to debates over homosexuality and women in ministry. Cultural and emotional baggage seemed to be a part of every discussion.

I remember, at one point, someone gave me an old photocopied article by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim on why the doctrine of inerrancy was a modernist invention of Old Princeton---Warfield especially. The article made me feel stupid for believing in inerrancy, but I couldn't shake the feeling that giving up on inerrancy had more severe consequences for the authority of Scripture.

Other books would help shape my doctrine of Scripture and my conviction of its authority [here are two: Scripture and Truth (Carson and Woodbridge) and "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Packer)]. But the book that lit a fire in my belly and made me love Scripture was Roland Bainton's Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Luther's life put the issue of the authority of Scripture in the context of a life on the run, not blog comments.

Before reading Here I Stand, I knew next to nothing about Martin Luther, his works, or his life. But since then, I have read and reread Bainton's biography on Luther and become a student of his sermons and his treatises on justification and prayer. But it was page 144 of Bainton's biography, on Luther before the Diet of Worms, that caused a fundamental shift in how I thought about the Bible.

At this point, Luther was under trial for his writings and told to denounce them. When asked to answer, he gave a long speech instead of a straightforward declaration. This frustrated his accusers, so they pressed him. "I ask you Martin---answer candidly and without horns---do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"
Luther replied, "Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simply reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason---I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other---my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."

Luther had spoke in German. He was asked to repeat in Latin. He was sweating. A friend called out, "If you can't do it, Doctor, you have done enough." Luther made again his affirmation in Latin, threw up his arms in the gesture of a victorious knight, and slipped out of the darkened hall, amid the hisses of the Spaniards, and went to his lodging. Fredrick the Wise went also to his lodging and remarked, "Dr Martin spoke wonderfully before the emperor, the princes, and the estates in Latin and in German, but he is too daring for me" (emphasis mine).

I underlined and circled, "my conscience is captive to the Word of God" and wrote in the column: "Is my conscience captive to God's Word? May it ever be!"

As a pastor, parent, husband, or writer, may my conscience ever be captive to the Word of God.

John Starke is lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.

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John Starke


John Starke is lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.